Dates are available pretty much all the year, but we associate them particularly with Christmas time. I’m sure many people of my age remember the long boxes of dates with a little wooden prong to stab the sticky fruit to pop in our mouths, taking care not to swallow the long thin pointy stones. We had them at other times of the year, but then they were compressed into blocks and they had to be sliced and then chopped for cakes or biscuits or whatever anyone was using them for… my aunty used to put them inside buttered rolls as an exotic treat – or so it seemed to us! These days different varieties are available, of all different shapes and sizes. Some time ago, I wrote about them:
I like dates… not historical ones, although I find them quite interesting… no I mean the fruit, phoenix dactylifera… well, actually that is the name of the tree, the dactylifera part comes from the Greek for finger and it’s where dates get their name from. I never realised, all the time I’ve been eating them, that they are really good for me! I thought they must be not as healthy as other fruit because they are so sweet. They have loads of vitamins and minerals, antioxidant flavonoids (yes, really) fibre, no cholesterol, tannins and simple sugars such as fructose and dextrose. They are good for energy too.
There are over 7,000 metric tonnes of dates produced each year, and as you would guess they are grown all around the countries of North Africa and the Middle east with Saudi Arabia being the biggest producer, but they are also grown in parts of the USA and Mexico.
As well as a food source (for animals as well in some countries) dates can be made into wine, their young leaves used as a vegetable, the trees tapped for sap which becomes palm syrup or jaggery, Their seeds can be dried and made into flour, the flowers can be eaten, the buds used in salad… what a very useful tree!
I never really thought about date varieties, although obviously, like every other plant, there are many different dates from big fat ones, to smaller slender ones, golden and lush, dark and rich… I’m making my mouth water now! I think many people have heard of madjoul dates, what about barny, jebaily, khoudry or gharr? There seem to be an A to Z selection of dates, from afandi to zaewy!
I came across a couple of unusual recipes… Iraqi recipes:
- 4 oz butter
- 2 oz sugar
- 1 beaten egg
- 8 oz plain flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- ½ tsp cinnamon, ginger or spice of your choice
- 1½ fl oz milk
- 4 oz finely chopped but not mushed dates
- 1 oz chopped and pounded walnuts
- beat the butter and sugar together until pale and light
- gently stir in the beaten egg
- sift together the flour, baking powder, spice, salt and stir into mixture
- add the dates and walnuts and bring together as a stiffish dough
- pinch off balls of dough, and flatten slightly
- place apart on a greased baking tray
- bake in a moderately hot oven at 200°C 400°F gas mark 6 for about 20-25 minutes, until nicely brown
- leave on a cake rack to cool, dust with icing sugar if you wish, then enjoy