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Dates

Information about Dates plus Dates Recipes Collection

 

Ingredient of the Month 

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January 

2003

 

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Dates are the fruit of the date Palm,  Phoenix dactylifera which belongs to the family Areaceae,. Dactylifera is Greek word for ‘finger-bearing’.  The English word date derives from the Greek ‘dactylus’ and Hebrew ‘dachel’ which both mean finger. The fruit is a ‘drupe’ with a single seed in each. They are borne on clusters often weighing 10 kg or more. They contain several minerals including potassium,  phosphorus, calcium and  magnesium, vitamins such as  riboflavin, thiamine, folic and ascorbic acid, fats and easily digested sugars (glucose, sucrose and fructose).

 

Origin and History of Dates

 

The date palm  is probably the oldest tree cultivated by man. Dates have been cultivated and  traded from as early as 5000 BC and whilst dates were revered by many cultures, the Arabs seem to be the ones who hold it in the greatest esteem. Indeed, it is historically known that desert people, in particular the nomadic Bedouins, lived on dates and camel milk for months on end.

 

Evidence that the fruit was traded between India and the Arabian Peninsula dates back to the 1st Millennia BC,  via the already established Frankincense and Myrrh  trade routes.

 

It is easy to see how the use of this incredible fruit spread throughout the world; once dried, they are light to carry, self preserving (containing a high proportion of sugar) and with the nutritional attributes mentioned above, can be used as a major food source for dessert people, sailors on long voyages and armies as well as livestock.

 

 

Cultivation, Processing and Growing Dates

 

Many people will have heard of the large Majool Date which is mainly grown in Morocco, but there are others including  Barhee, Khalas, Zaghloul,   Naghal and Jaberi Fardh. They all differ in colour,  sweetness and texture. All in all there are over 600 varieties of dates grown world- wide .

 

Date Palms are dioecious that is to say there are male and female plants. It only requires one male plant to  every 40 or so female trees to produce good crops when grown on a plantation.  Now grown in tropical and sub tropical regions as well as in temperate  regions in USA, Australia,  and  Mediterranean areas, most start to produce fruit at about 6 years but reach maturity at about 30 years and continue to produce dates for a further 70 years or so.

 

The spathes containing pollen on the male trees appear in early spring when  pollination takes place. The  low level of fertilization obtained by wind or insects would certainly be insufficient for commercial production, so man assisted pollination takes place on plantations using both hand and mechanical blowers. During the growing period, the fruit which is borne in clusters, may be thinned to produce larger, better quality fruit. This is also done by hand.  

 

Depending on the variety, "fresh" dates are harvested  3-5 months after pollination, when they have slightly dried, coloured and ripened and have a moisture content of 35-40%.   However it takes about 200 days for the fruit to reach the Tamr stage at which point the date has only 20- 24% moisture content. These are the fruit which are used for packaging or further processing . Once the dates are cleaned and sorted,  some are  packaged as they are and others are pitted and made into a variety of products such as pastes, liquid sugar,  and date syrup.

 

 

Cooking with Dates

 

Dates can be used in a variety of both sweet and savoury recipes. When used in their dried form, they add a richness and sweetness unrivalled by most other dried fruit. They are particularly popular in middle eastern and North African cuisine.

 

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Fresh dates will last for 1-3 months if kept in an airtight container and up to 6 months if  stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They can also be frozen. Pick good quality fruit, wash and remove the stones, then dry- pack whole in rigid containers leaving a head space of about 12mm/1/2-inch. Use within 6 months.

 

Semi dried dates often sold in boxes, will keep for several weeks if kept well wrapped in their containers.

 

Dried dates, will keep for several months if kept in an airtight container; longer if kept in the refrigerator. Dried dates should be firm but not hard.

 

Dates can also be purchased chopped and sugared or pitted and pressed into blocks. These types are usually cheaper and particularly  suitable for use in recipes where the dates are cooked.

 

Date Recipes

 

Below is a small selection of both savoury and sweet dishes using this delicious fruit. More date recipes can be found using the search form.

 

Happy Cooking!

 

 

Date Appetisers Recipes

Blue Cheese & Date Bites    Veg   CD   PFC   15mins

Bacon Wrapped Dates     HT    PFC    25mins

Hot Spiced Dates    Veg   HT   PFC   25mins

 

Date Main Course Recipes

Fruity Wensleydale Salad    Veg   CD   MC   25mins

Stuffed Cabbage    Veg    HT  MC   100mins

Lamb stuffed with Dates   HT  MC   120mins

Chicken and Date Tagine   HT   MC   Moroccan   130mins

Date and Pineapple Stuffed Pork    HT  MC   135mins

 

Date Desserts, Cakes and Bakes Recipes

Almond Pudding with Dates   Veg   HT   Chinese   DP  15mins plus chilling

Date and Cream Cheese Dessert     Veg   CD   DP   25mins plus chilling

Date Biscuits    Veg   CD   CBF   30mins

Ginger and Date Scones    Veg   CD  CBF   30mins

Sticky Toffee Pudding    Veg   HT   DP   English   50mins plus soaking

Upside Down Date Cake     Veg   HT   DP   55mins

Date and Cheese Bread    Veg   HT   CD   CBF   60mins plus proving

Coffee Date cake     Veg  CD   CBF   65mins plus cooling

Date and Walnut Loaf     Veg   CD  CBF   70mins plus proving

 

 

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