Merry Christmas to all of my readers and family and friends. Please enjoy this very special recipe from the Clearly Delicious archives for my all-time favorite family treat. Made by one Linda Jones of Richmond, ME, Coconut Date Balls are a recipe instilled in my childhood and will forever be my favorite dessert. I look forward to making this recipe for my friends and family in the years to come, and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to throw these ingredients together. You won’t regret it!
(originally posted January 1st, 2011)
“Is that how you eat?!” Linda said contorting her face in shock as she accentuated the word “eat?!”
I was savoring my first bite of her Coconut Date Balls for the first time in 10 years.
“Yes! Well…kind of. This is how I eat Coconut Date Balls!” I quickly replied (with Linda, you have to be quick).
The nutty ball batter with its melted butter, sugar, and chopped dates and nuts rolled in shaved coconut must be, hands down, the most delicious bite-size treat I have ever had. I just couldn’t get enough of these date balls. Linda’s batch yielded 22 (easily 24 if made a little smaller) and within one day of making her first batch, I had eaten 12. Yes, 12. I am a grown woman, and I am not ashamed of this fact.
Pictured: the perfectly even and concentric date balls made by Linda in 2011. We used parchment paper to keep the balls from sticking to clean surfaces, and I just love the antique-pink counter-top shining through in this image from Linda’s kitchen island.
As any food writer will tell you, there are certain recipes that take you back to a specific time and place.
Perhaps because scent and taste are so closely related with memory, or perhaps because a recipe is just so good it seals up everything you experience with it like some time capsule waiting to be unlocked.
Linda’s Coconut Date Balls unlock so many experiences for me: the first time I had them, my ten-year-old self devouring every date ball in our Christmas tin, and vivid memories of watching Linda make the balls the previous Christmas, getting her hands dirty and swearing like a French sailor.
Pictured: THE Hope Maine Community Cookbook of which the recipe originated. It’s simple, tacit, and a great piece of small town living. I would given dozens of dollars to have a copy of this book. Dozens.
These are my favorite memories associated with these date balls, but it wasn’t until this year that I discovered the even more rich origins of this recipe.
This treat doesn’t come from some Betty Crocker Cookbook, or some family recipe, but a truly small publication by the Hope Volunteer Fire Department in Hope, Maine, circa 1986. Originally published to raise money for the Hope Volunteer Fire Department, the cookbook itself is a fascinating piece of small town publishing noting that “the South Hope women have formed an Auxiliary and work to raise money to benefit the Substation.”
The book itself could have originally been ordered for $5.85 a copy and all proceeds went straight to the town.
Pictured: coconut Date Balls shot this November 2012 by Heather McCelland at The Advocate’s White Christmas shoot! It’s great to see a small town recipe evolve into a featured dish in a Christmas issue of a state publication. Who’d have guessed?
These Coconut Date Balls are more than just my favorite childhood treat, but part of a larger process of “tried and tested recipes in this book are contributed by those wishing to help with the maintenance of the Hope Volunteer Fire Department.” Memorable, Flavorful, and a Piece of Small Town Charity? Now that’s Clearly Delicious!
Coconut Date Balls
Yield: 2 dozen balls
Calories: 129.5 calories (see here for full nutritional information)
Prep Time: 5 to 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 to 30 minutes
This recipe comes from the 1986 Hope Fire Department Country Cookbook (Hope, Maine), page 93. Although the book had a limited printing (probably 100 copies, give or take a few), the recipe is reprinted here courtesy of Linda’s vast repertoire of local cookbooks. Originally, the recipe was submitted by one Jessie Jacobs of Hope, Maine.
* ½ cup butter
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 egg, beaten
* 1 cup dates (un-sugared, whole), cut up*
* 2 cups Rice Krispies
* ½ cup nuts, chopped (i.e., Walnuts)
* ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
* dash of salt
* sugared shredded coconut, for rolling
Note: if using chopped sugared dates, cut down the sugar to ¾ cup. This recipe assumes that you are using whole, un-sugared dates.
1. According to the Hope, Maine, Country Cookbook, this recipe may be summed up in four très petites sentences:
Cook first 4 ingredients on stove 5 minutes. Cool slightly and then add rest of ingredients. Make into balls. Roll in coconut.
Now, I’m going to assume that Jessie Jacobs (the Hope resident who submitted this recipe) was limited for time when she penned this recipe and submitted it to the 1986 cookbook, so allow me elaborate:
Begin by adding butter, sugar, egg, and dates on the stove top. Melt down butter and sugar with egg and dates for five minutes on medium-low heat stirring constantly. Allow to cool for one to two minutes.
2. Add Rice Krispies, nuts (walnuts), vanilla, and a dash of salt. Mix to combine.
3. Using the wooden spoon with which you’ve been stirring the batter, scoop up the desired size of dough for your coconut date balls. Scrape batter off of spoon with a fork into the coconut. Using the fork, roll the ball until it is fully coated. Transfer ball to wax paper and repeat.
Makes 22-24 balls (2 dozen). Enjoy!
This recipe was re-published for my “Fresh Ideas” Column for Louisiana’s state newspaper, The Advocate, on Thursday, December 24th, 2012. You can read the reprint here.
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Written by: Helana Brigman