To make date bars, combine 3 cups of chopped and pitted dates, 1/4 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water in a saucepan, and cook over low heat. Stir the filling mixture for about 10 minutes until it thickens, and cool for five minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 F, and grease a 13-inch x 9-inch pan with shortening. Stir 1 cup of packed brown sugar and 1 cup of softened butter or margarine in a large bowl.
Stir 1 3/4 cups of all-purpose or whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 cups of instant oats, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda into the brown sugar mixture until it becomes crumbly. Spread half the mixture into the baking pan, and top it with the filling. Spread the remaining crumb mixture over the filling, pressing lightly. Bake the bars for 25 to 30 minutes, until they are light brown. Cool for five minutes, and cut into squares.
To make coconut date bars, evenly sprinkle 2 tablespoons of unsweetened and shredded coconut across an 8-inch baking dish. Firmly press 1 pound of softened, pitted dates into the baking dish until the bottom is covered. Top the dates with the remaining coconut shreds. Press 1/4 cup of toasted, finely chopped walnuts into the dates. Cut into squares before serving.