A Date for a Trip to Death Valley
RV travel in desert environments such as Death Valley National Park calls for a keen eye and a curious palate. Each byway leads to exciting mineral landscapes, brief but dramatic wildflower blooms, ghost towns, and canyons so narrow they can’t be navigated in a motorhome.
All roads lead to Furnace Creek, a sudden burst of lush green peppered with date-palm trees. Indigenous tribes survived Death Valley on foods such as cactus fruit and starchy cactus pads, fish from hidden streams, and wild birds (date palms were introduced later). Today the oasis at Furnace Creek is home to a full-service RV park; a western village with eateries and saloons; a grocery store; a museum; and, down the road a piece, a luxury resort where RV campers congregate for an eye-popping, gourmet Sunday brunch.
To be honest, the dates used here are imported. Harvesting the tons of fruit that fall from the towering trees is too labor intensive. When they fall, they’re left on the ground to provide fodder for the coyotes and small mammals that roam the area.
Nevertheless, date-and-nut bread is a traditional treat here as well as a boon to RV cooks because it’s so versatile. Spread it with jam or peanut butter for a snack. Toast and butter it or slather it with yogurt to make a brawny breakfast. It fortifies simple meals of chili, soup, or stew when served on the side. It freezes well and keeps for days in the refrigerator, so it’s a good choice for big-batch baking on an extended RV trip.
Here’s a simple, shortcut recipe for date and nut bread—perfect for savvy RV galley cooks. On the road, it’s best to bake it in foil pans that provide extra protection when loaves are wrapped for the freezer or refrigerator. The recipe is easily doubled or tripled.
Date-and-Nut Bread Recipe
- 2 ½ cups biscuit mix
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 8-ounce carton caramel yogurt
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange extract
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup chopped, pitted dates
- ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Thoroughly grease a 9x5x3-inch foil loaf pan or two smaller foil loaf pans. Set the oven for 375 degrees F. In a clean bag, shake the biscuit mix, sugar, and baking soda to mix. Set it aside. In a bowl whisk the yogurt, canola oil, vanilla, orange extract, and eggs until well blended. Dump in the bag of dry ingredients and stir until everything is evenly moistened. Do not over-mix: If batter is too thick, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water.
Fold in the dates and nuts, put the mixture in the prepared pan or pans, and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the loaf is firm and a toothpick put in the center comes out clean. Cool 4 to 5 minutes in the pan, then gently use an ice pick or knife point to make 20 to 30 shallow pin pricks in the bottom and sides of the foil pans for more even cooling.
When the loaves are completely cool, wrap them, pans and all, in plastic wrap (for the refrigerator) or plastic wrap and tin foil or freezer wrap (for the freezer). Let the loaves “season” several hours or overnight for easier slicing. You can refrigerate them for up to a week and freeze for up to three months.