Project 52: Rationing - Week 39 - Chinese Chews

I've been doing some studying and research on an interesting aspect of the WWII American homefront. Most people who have learned a bit about WWII know about the sad and unfortunate internment of Japanese-Americans in camps in the U.S. There are a number of autobiographies about the topic which are both touching and mournful.

Well, lately I've also wanted to learn more about the other Asian-Americans' stories like the Chinese-Americans and even the Korean-Americans. Their stories are actually a bit harder to come by, but from what I have learned there is a lot of fascinating history there!

When the Japanese Americans were put into internment camps, it put the other Asian-Americans in an awkward place - should they stand up for the inhumanity of such an act by the American government? But if they spoke out against it would they be targeted as being friendly to the Japanese? As it was, most Americans couldn't tell the different Asian cultures apart and many Chinese-, Filipino-, and Korean-Americans suffered persecution and violence as a result of the despised Japanese, enemies to the United States. So in the end, many of them spoke out in favor of the internment.

What in the world does this have to do with food or rationing? Hang in there! I promise it's coming. :-)

There is actually a personal side to this story. No, I don't have Asian ancestors myself, but my great-aunt married a Chinese man. In the 1930s. In the mid-west! Recently, I have been learning a lot about her from my great-uncle who is still alive, and I am completely fascinated with her. Why did she marry a Chinese man and in the mid-west of all places, in the 1930s?? My great-uncle with his amazing memory was actually able to tell me. She, in fact, was greatly influenced by a book, of all things. It's called The Vintage of Yon Yee by Louise Jordan Miln published in 1931. It's the story of a Chinese-British young woman and the two men who love her - one is British and the other is Chinese. I decided to read it myself and it was amazing. The story is an intriguing look at the culture and feelings toward mixed marriages of that time. I think it would be a fabulous book club read that would generate a lot of conversation! Anyway, it's incredible that my great-aunt was inspired by such a book to marry a Chinese man in the 30s when prejudices were so high and right before the outbreak of WWII. It was such a rare thing to happen and I have really grown to admire her brave and unique decision.

So, why am I telling you all of this? Well, of course it has to do with this week's ration recipe! It's always interesting to see how Americans take another culture's food and make it their own. Pizza is a great example. This week's recipe for Chinese Chews is actually a holiday cookie recipe. The recipe asks for dates and pecans and besides those two things there's nothing that special in them. Why in the world are these cookies considered Chinese? Is it really the dates - or the pecans - or both? I have no idea. Is it an altered version of a Chinese cookie? Your guess is as good as mine. But someone at some point must have thought so.  (If you are very familiar with Chinese cuisine and can answer these questions, by all means please let me know!)


In any case, let's get on to the recipe. It calls for dates, pecans, flour, 1 CUP of sugar, 2 eggs, salt, and baking powder. There's a reason why this recipe was in the holiday sweets section!

dates, sugar, salt, baking powder, pecans, flour, eggs

 In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, then add the sugar.

The recipe says the dates and the pecans need to be "cut". I thought this was an odd term. But then when I tried to put my not-so-fresh (and very dried out) dates in my food processor... man, that was a mistake! Pretty much nothing happened. I only hope that my little, ol' food processor doesn't hate me. I ended up having to chop the nuts and dates with a knife. Seriously, use some fresh dates! They're softer and easier to cut. :-)

"Cut" the pecans and dates. Whatever that means...
 Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt over the dates and nuts in a bowl. Add the sugar/egg mixture and stir until combined.

The dough is pretty stiff.

Then spread the mixture out on a greased pan. I didn't trust that this sticky mess would come off even a greased pan, so I used parchment paper. It was hard to get the mixture very thin because of all the dates and nuts.
I forgot to take a picture before putting it in the oven. Pardon the poor oven lighting. :-)

Bake for 40 minutes at 325º - 350º F. *sigh* That is a terrible range! I baked mine at 335º and I think it was still too hot. I'd opt for the lower temperature just in case. Or lessen the baking time to 30 minutes.

This recipe makes 20 "pieces".

Arrg! This recipe was so vague! 20 pieces of what? Is it a bar? Is it a cookie? I think it would have made better cookies, but I was just following directions, people.


Okay, so I took my first bite and... it was like biting into a bowl of raisin bran cereal without the milk. I am not joking. These things taste exactly like raisin bran! Which is strange because there are no raisins and no bran in the recipe.

When they were warm they were fairly soft, but when they cooled they are quite the workout to eat! No wonder they call them chews. But the Chinese part? I'm still clueless on that one. If you end up making these, you might as well throw in some Chinese five-spice. It might take away the sense of eating a bowl of cereal and it would lend the recipe title a bit more legitimacy.

These "chews" weren't bad. But they were stinkin' sweet. One entire cup of sugar devoted to these is a bit much. If you're feeling adventurous tweak the recipe to your liking and let me know! From looking around the internet, this seems to be quite a traditional holiday cookie too. So if you don't like this recipe, you can always look around for a different one!


From Westinghouse Health-For-Victory 1944 Year 'Round edition
(The recipe doesn't mention adding in the salt, but just add it in with the flour.)

P.S. I just found a great blog post at Simplyrecipes.com about making a version of Chinese Chews and she did a lot more historical digging than me. Check it out here! (The Chinese thing is still a mystery though.)

Comments

  1. This is fascinating! The mysterious Chinese Chews! I might not try this one out! :P

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  2. My mother in law introduced me to Chinese Chews thirty five years ago, and she didn't know where the name came from, either. Our recipe is a little bit different, and the cookies/bars taste NOTHING like raisin bran! Our recipe is similar but a stick of softened salted butter mixed with the sugar and eggs starts the whole thing off, and we do not use baking powder. My son grew up making these with his Grandma and he makes them now (with my assistance chopping up the dates) Suggestion for the dates, pit them or buy them pitted and put them in the freezer overnight and they will be easier to chop. Our family is Italian, Greek, Cypriot, and these cookies have all the ingredients that are familiar to our cooking. One more thing: We make them in a pan and when they have completely cooled, we slice them into small squares and bury them in powdered sugar before filling our cookie tins and boxes. They are not too sweet at all, and are the perfect bite of sweet after a large Christmas dinner. REMEMBER, ADD THE BUTTER! ENJOY!

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    Replies
    1. Wow, your recipe sounds so much better! I like the idea of adding the butter and burying them in powdered sugar at the end. I'll have to try your version for sure! It's so great that the recipe is part of your family heritage and that your son is making them now. The recipe lives on!

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    2. This is such a delicious cookie/bar. My son made them with his grandparents from when he was little. His Grandma passed away six years ago and Grandpa two years ago. That's when the base of operations shifted to my house. My side of the family now requests them for the holidays, and we give out small tins to give to my brother and sister for their houses. We are not big sweets eaters, as our Italian custom is to have fruit and nuts at some point after dinner, and later a small sweet of some kind with coffee. So my sister bakes Greek sugar cookies, anisette toast and ricotta cookies, which along with the Chinese Chews, is just about right for a bite of sweets. The Chinese Chews seem to fit in nicely with the Mediterranean, not too elaborate or sweet, spread of cookies. You won't be disappointed with how they turn out with the butter. Also, walnuts can be substituted for the pecans, if you wish. Enjoy, and Happy 2019!

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    3. What a wonderful family tradition! Thank you for the suggestions for the cookie. I'll need to find another wartime version of the recipe to see if it can be less sweet. Your traditional cookies sound so tasty!

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