Recreating a Tearoom Treat

Through the mid to late 20th century, department store tearooms gave shoppers a place to relax and regroup. Originally a clever marketing ploy to keep customers in the store, the tearooms became a beloved part of the community. Many were known for their regional specialties. That’s the case with Miller & Rhoads, one of the department stores that I frequented as a child growing up in Richmond, Virginia. My cousin and I saved our money from allowance and babysitting, then took the Westhampton 16 bus downtown. When we tired of sampling cosmetics and choosing outfits for each other to try on (some aspirational, some ugly), we stopped for lunch. Our tastes ran more towards burgers and fries than Missouri club sandwiches or turkey pot pie. We usually skipped dessert, saving our money for candy that we could savor after we returned home.

When I saw a pamphlet of Miller & Rhoads recipes from 1957-1985 (“Remembering the Miller & Rhoads Tearoom,” produced by the Virginia Egg Council, 2012), I became nostalgic. I don’t remember these “absolutely addictive” Date Ball cookies, but they suited my current craving for a bite-sized treat. The basic combination of Rice Krispies in a sticky base reminded me summer camp, when we made vats of Rice Krispies treats with melted marshmallows. Yet the other flavors – browned butter, pecans, and dates – now match my grown-up palate. Miller & Rhoads sold the cookies for holiday gift-giving. But why wait? These no-bake treats are going onto my (small and safe) Thanksgiving table. I cut the recipe in half; my adaptation is below.

Miller & Rhoads Tearoom. Source: Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

Miller & Rhoads Date Balls

Makes approximately 24 1-inch balls

1 stick butter

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 pound chopped dates

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon milk

2 cups Rice Krispies cereal*

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Approximately 1/2 cup coconut

  1. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter. Add the sugar and dates. Bring to a boil, stirring. Boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly (approximately 5 minutes).
  2. In a bowl, beat the egg, vanilla and milk. Add to the date mixture. Cook on high another 2 minutes, stirring.
  3. Remove from the heat and add the cereal and pecans. *Note: I added about 1/4 cup of cereal because the mixture seemed too sticky.
  4. When cool enough to handle, use your hands to form into 1-inch balls. [If you pick up a handful of batter and hold it for a minute or so, it hardens slightly and becomes easier to shape]. Roll each one in coconut and let cool completely. These freeze well.

About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers. Somehow I ended up with a cooking gene that I brought with me from Richmond, Virginia to my current home in Boston, Massachusetts. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir and a novel. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and other American recipes with a past.
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