Happy to spend a few more days with my Italian-American grandfather before he passed, I took a chance to rifle through his and my late Nana's recipe boxes, stuffed to the brim with hand-written cards, newspaper clippings, and even a weathered spongecake recipe written in Italian. Slowly working my way through these family recipes, I recently tried this hand-written dessert recipe for Monadnoch Bars... and ended up with a cake. Research in online newspaper archives revealed that Nana's recipe is likely adapted from a recipe for "Debbie Stewart's Monadnock Bars" from page 18 of the July 9, 1962 Telegraph (Nashua, NH), in a column called "Country Flavor" by Haydn Pearson. Nana added 1 c flour and subtracted 1/2 t almond flavoring -- so those desiring more bar, less cake, should try that original version. Dates and chocolate are still the stars of Nana's cake adaptation. —lydiaencyclopda
Combine chopped dates and boiling water and let sit until the mixture is cool. Set aside.
Meanwhile, cream the sugar and shortening until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla to the creamed sugar and blend well. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.
Pour the watery date mixture into the creamed sugar and mix well. Slowly add the mixed dry ingredients. Combine well.
Pour batter into a 15 x 10" greased baking pan (breaking the batter up between two differently-sized pans will also work, just monitor the cooking time for each). Sprinkle the chopped chocolate and nuts on top.
Bake in a 350° oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove and let sit before enjoying.