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It’s A Date!

By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area


Freshly picked Medjool dates
Freshly picked Medjool dates

I mean that literally. It’s one of those delicious dried fruits that often don’t get their due. I usually think of raisins first and foremost for baking, and dried apricots for snacking. Then I move on to prunes and figs. Oh, and what about dates? They are just as delectable to incorporate into your muffins, coffee cakes, quick breads (breads made without yeast), and other pastries.

Dates are also wonderful tossed into salads, rice pilafs, stuffings for different meats, and made into appetizers with either bacon or goat cheese. Not to mention that eating fresh Medjools, with their caramel-like flavor, straight up is a real luxury. Let’s rethink their place in our pantry and recipes.

Dates “date” back to 4,000 B.C., when they were first cultivated in the area between Egypt and Mesopotamia. They are considered the oldest fruit on our planet. When we hear the phrase “the land of milk and honey” from Exodus in the Old Testament, it probably refers to date syrup, or silan, and not honey, as there is no evidence of bees that long ago.

Most of the dates in the world are grown in the Mideast, with Egypt the largest producer of dates. California is the biggest U.S. producer, mostly grown around the Palm Springs desert areas. The climate is similar to that of the Mideast. Dates need sandy, slightly rocky soil with lots of hot sun.

I had the good fortune to chat with a date rancher, Rick Olds of Desert Mountain Ranch last week. Since I personally didn’t know much about the fruit, I asked him to educate me.


Rick Olds, owner of Desert Mountain Dates, harvesting dates
Rick Olds, owner of Desert Mountain Dates, harvesting dates

Raising this fruit is not as easy as it looks. It takes a date palm shoot 10 years to actually bear fruit. I guess one needs to be really patient! Rick and his partner, Carter, started 14 years ago with 200 shoots, each one painstakingly planted by hand. Now they have a total of 300 trees, producing about 200 pounds of dates per tree each year. They do a brisk business to local residents as well as direct to consumers online at www.desertmountaindates.com,


Dates grow in clusters
Dates grow in clusters

Rick explained to me that date palms do not self-pollenate. The pollen is hand collected from the male trees and pollenated–you guessed it!–by hand to the female flowers. After pollination in the spring when the fruit begins to develop, each clump of dates has to be thinned out so the remaining dates develop into nice plump specimens. Harvesting in the fall is a three-step process, making sure only the ripest fruit is picked at its peak.


A date palm grove
A date palm grove

According to healthline.com, dates have healthful properties besides being high in fiber and antioxidants. They are rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Be aware: because they are a dried fruit, there is no shortage of calories in these little beauties. For unadorned eating, try to buy Medjool, the king of dates, or Declet Noor, the queen. Both cook and bake up wonderfully.

A year ago, I was given a large bag of dates. Unfortunately, I didn’t open them until recently. Too dried out to eat from the bag but, alas, I’ve been baking up a storm with them. I developed a dairy-free, dense date and nut-filled bread with undertones of coffee (why not?) and studded with chocolate chips. The bread gets better with age, developing a moister consistency on the second and third day. It’s great warmed and smeared with cream cheese.

Here at The Insider, we hope that you’ll hunt down the plumpest Medjool dates for your culinary pleasure. Let us know what recipes you come up with!

Date Nut Bread


Yield: 1 loaf, about 12 servings



2 c. chopped dates

1/4 c. vegetable oil

1 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. salt

3/4 c. packed light brown sugar

1 c. hot brewed coffee

1 lg. egg

1 Tbsp. brandy or rum (optional)

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 3/4 c. flour

1 c. coarsely chopped walnuts

1 c. chocolate chips or small chunks, optional

 

Spray an 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf pan with pan release.  Preheat oven to 350°.

 

Place the dates, oil, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar in a mixing bowl.  Pour on the hot coffee. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Allow mixture to sit for at least 15 minutes.

 

Add the egg, vanilla, brandy (optional), baking powder and flour. Beat gently with a wooden spoon until combined. Fold in the walnuts and chocolate chips in. Pour into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle top with cinnamon sugar.  Bake for 35 minutes.  Turn heat down to 325°. Bake an additional 20 minutes or until the center springs back.

 

Cool before slicing.


Split the pitted dates in half, then coarsely chop.
Split the pitted dates in half, then coarsely chop.
Pour on the hot coffee. This softens the dates and dissolves the sugar.
Pour on the hot coffee. This softens the dates and dissolves the sugar.
Blend in the egg, vanilla, optional brandy, and baking powder.
Blend in the egg, vanilla, brandy (optional), and baking powder.
Mix in the flour.
Mix in the flour.
Fold in the nuts and chocolate chips.
Fold in the nuts and chocolate chips.
Put batter in prepared loaf pan.
Put batter in prepared loaf pan.
Sprinkle on cinnamon sugar as a finishing touch.
Sprinkle on cinnamon sugar as a finishing touch.
 



Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.

6 comments

6 Comments


Guest
Feb 02, 2023

In a can, really?!

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Guest
Feb 01, 2023

Perfect for our upcoming holiday of Tu B’shevat. Thank you!

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Guest
Feb 02, 2023
Replying to

Happy to help!


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helene.bednarsh
Feb 01, 2023

OOH now I want to make that.... love it with cream cheese too, fond memories

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Guest
Feb 02, 2023
Replying to

Please make it, you'll love it!

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Rick Halberg
Rick Halberg
Feb 01, 2023

One of my early food memories is of opening a can of date-nut bread as a kid and spreading it with cream cheese! does anyone know where to get that? Still made?

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