Ideal Date

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured, Life & Society Topics: Ramadan Views: 5804

I've just read a fascinating article about dates, so much so that it has whetted my appetite in every sense of the word to make a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in search of the very best dates. Apparently date connoisseurs throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East consider the Khalasah - pronounced Kha-lah-sah to be the quintessential date against which all others are judged. Known as Khlas in Saudi Arabia, the name loosely translates as quintessential in Arabic. Its home is in the kingdom's eastern province, more specifically Hofuf the main city of the Al Hasa oasis. The very best growers, roughly 100 in number come from Al Mutairfi village and are considered to be the undisputed masters. The harvest starts in May and goes right through to October. 

I adore dates, the first I tasted came in the elongated timber box lined with a scalloped doyley edging. The shiny sticky dates covered with a disc of cellophane tasted strange but deliciously exotic to a six year old. My father had brought them home as a present for Mummy after one of his rare trips to Dublin - we all crowded around and were offered one to taste. My next encounter with dates was less exotic, at boarding school a block of dates still in its cellophane wrapper was unceremoniously placed on the table for tea every Thursday. At first we had no idea what we were supposed to do, then we simply ate them on white bread and butter - surprisingly delicious - I've always been fond of date sandwiches ever since - immeasurably better than sandwich spread which was Wednesday's treat!

I've experimented with dates on and off in biscuits, bars, tarts and cakes, but it wasn't until my first visit Morocco, that I tasted the plump succulent Medjool date - a revelation. I thought this rich chewy jumbo date must be the most delicious of all dates but now I read that it pales in comparison to the Khalasah.

The date palm Phoenix dactylera is thought to be the world's oldest cultivated fruit. Fossil records reveal that the date palm was widely grown in the Mediterranean and in Mesopotamia as early as the Eocene Epoch some 50 million years ago. There are many written references, among them a AKKadran cunuform text from about 2500BC, which mentions the date palm as a cultivated tree. The date palm flourishes best between 15 & 35 degrees north, principally in the arid areas of North Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Southern Iraq where dates have been a staple food not only for humans but also for animals for thousands of years.

I remember watching a flock of sheep ambling onto the lawn of our hotel near Taroudant in Morocco to hoover up the windfall dates every day.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimate that there are approximately 600 different types of dates and 90 million date palms in the world, producing in excess of 3 million tons a year. 

Dates are dates are dates as far as most of us are concerned - not so in date growing countries where there are specific terms to describe different degrees of ripeness.

Khalah when the dates are almost fully grown, have started to ripen but are still fresh and crunchy. When the dates are partially ripe or fully ripe they are referred to as Rutab. Tamr yabis is the stage when the dates ripen on the tree and are left to dry - they are the least perishable of all the dates.

California also grows a considerable acreage of dates mostly Medjool and Deglet noor. The latter meaning 'date of light' or 'translucent', is medium sweet and has a sweet nutty aftertaste. I tasted some delicious ones last year when Mr Bell the charismatic Moroccan owner of the ethnic food stalls in Cork Market gave me a box for a present. He explained that during Ramadan, Muslims break the fast at sunset with a sip of water and a few dates. Finally if we are really to appreciate dates, we shouldn't gobble them up as I've been known to do, instead one should let a date melt slowly in one's mouth. At first there will be no taste, then as the date begins to warm the outer skin will become detached and slide off. Soon the soft flesh will begin to fill the mouth with flavours of honey caramel and sweet potatoes, toffee, ... Try it, the texture will be a revelation, but apparently not a patch on the Khalasah - can't wait to taste it.

Date and Banana with Yoghurt
Serves 4-6

4-5 bananas
8 ozs (225g) stoned dates, fresh or dried
1/2 pint (300ml) yoghurt
a little cream

Arrange alternate layers of thinly sliced bananas and halved dates in a serving bowl. Spoon a little cream and yoghurt all over and chill for a few hours before serving. The yoghurt will soak into the fruit and give it a soft slightly sticky texture - sublime!

Source: Ballymaloe Cookery School

Some varieties of dates and their meaning

amer (amir) hajj - called "the visitor's date" 

barhee (barhi) (from Arabic barh, a hot wind) 

deglet noor (Arabic: 'translucent')

derrie or dayri - from southern Iraq 

halawy (Arabic: 'sweet') 

hayany - from Egypt (Hayany is a man's name)

iteema - common in Algeria 

khadrawy (Arabic: 'green')

khalasah (Arabic: 'quintessence')

maktoom (Arabic: 'hidden')

medjool (Arabic: 'unknown') - originally from Morocco, now mostly from USA 

sayer (Arabic: 'common') 

zahidi (Arabic: 'nobility'?)

  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured, Life & Society
  Topics: Ramadan
Views: 5804

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Older Comments:
To all the Muslim families I wish you Heartfelt Ramadan Mubarek.This article appreared in Gulfnews "The message of Islam And Muslims is modesty,Fairness,Security,Stability,Sympathy,Harmony and Kindness" May our hearts be filled these true moomin qualities with Allah's help.Ameen,Ameen,Ameen
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Ramadan Mubarak!
May Allah bless you and yours.
This is my fifth Ramadan.
I like to eat dates with mixed nuts.
Sometimes I stuff the dates with a few nuts
for a sweet crunch.
Peace and Blessings
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