By Shelly Detwiler, berry farmer and dietician
Let’s talk dates. Not a romantic date or dates on a calendar but the fruit, dates. Dates in Middle Eastern cultures have been a part of their daily diets and religious holiday treats for centuries — in the U.S. not so much. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that dates were introduced to this country. Per nationalgeographic.com, early movies such as The Sheik and One Hundred and One Arabian Nights helped begin our love affair with dates. Hollywood may have began the date craze but let’s face it, it’s all about the marketing! We fell in love with the mystery, the romanticism of clusters of dates hanging from palm trees surrounded by scantily clad women.
My dad loves dates and therefore my mom has always made date treats such as date nut pudding. Christmas wouldn’t be complete without her date nut goodies. My mom says it’s so much easier to find dates now than “in the olden’ days.” Local demand from the rise in the Muslim population, improved food logistics and grocery expansions have also helped their availability year-round.
Dates are commonly associated with the Christmas holiday. Sometimes seen overflowing in bowls and baskets. In recent years, the popularity of dates has gone off the charts, moving from the Middle Eastern theme to a more nutritional emphasis. Dates are packed full of fiber, potassium and antioxidants. They are used in bars to provide both energy and natural sweetness to athletes from the backyard to professionals. Dates can be used in baked goods to provide sweetness from a complex natural sugar rather than processed sugars. If you know of anyone on a paleo diet, they are allowed dates for this very reason. Deglet noor dates are the most common dates. They are dried and used in baked goods. Medjool dates are a fresh large, fat date packed with sweetness enjoyed alone or in new recipes from chefs around the world.
Agriculturally speaking, dates are very interesting. They grow in large clusters below fronds on a date palm tree in warm regions. Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq produce over 4.62 million metric tons of dates! The Deglet noor and Medjool varieties were brought to the U.S. in the early 20th century from Morocco. Southern California produces most of the 33,000 tons of dates grown in this country. Amazingly enough, all the Medjool dates can be traced back to the original oasis in Morocco!
It’s the Christmas season — a time of good cheer and treats a plenty. Add some chopped dates to salads, fruit bowls or enjoy a Medjool date as a sweet treat at the end of your meal. Try a new recipe below and enjoy nature’s candy this Christmas season. Merry Christmas from my kitchen to yours.
Eat well and healthy,
Cranberry Date Bars www.tasteofhome.com
1 pkg (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 package (8-10 ounces) chopped dates
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, melted
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a large saucepan, combine cranberries and dates. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes or until berries pop, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Stir in butter until crumbly. Press half into an ungreased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Bake at 350° for 8 minutes. Spoon cranberry mixture over the crust; spread gently. Sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture; pat down gently.
Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Combine glaze ingredients; drizzle over bars.
Maple Glazed Bacon wrapped Dates
24 pitted Medjool dates
5 oz. of cream, blue or goat cheese
12 pieces of bacon, cut into halves
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 375°.
Pour dates into a bowl. If not pitted, slice halfway through and remove seed. Set bacon on a cutting board, pour syrup into a separate bowl, pour sugar into a separate bowl, kind of like an assembly line.
Cut bacon into halves, giving you a total of 24 pieces. Or, if bacon is already somewhat small in size, cut bacon in half and add 4 extra slices.
Work with dates, one by one: start by wrapping a date in a slice of bacon and securing it with a toothpick. Then, dip bacon in syrup and cover it in sugar and place on a foil-lined baking sheet.
Repeat this process for all 24 dates.
Place baking sheet in oven and bake for approximately 7-10 minutes, flip then bake another 7-10 minutes through so bacon is cooked completely.
Remove from oven, sprinkle with additional sugar and enjoy!
Tip to add a little zip try adding a few drops of hot sauce or pinch of hot pepper flakes to the maple syrup.
Date Nut Thumbprints www.dishesdelish.com
2 sticks butter room temperature
1 cup brown sugar loosely packed
3/4 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 ounce amaretto
4 cups spelt flour (author says you can use white or half white/half wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups dates pitted, chopped
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup walnuts chopped
Chop the dates and place them in a saucepan. Add sugar and water. Set heat to medium/high and bring mixture to a boil, stir until thickened 5 – 10 minutes. Once thickened, turn off heat and add walnuts. Stir and set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
In mixer, place butter and brown sugar and mix until creamed. Add sour cream, amaretto and eggs. Mix until incorporated.
Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and mix until incorporated
Roll into 1 inch balls and place on cookie sheet. Stick thumb in each ball and fill the thumbprint with the date mixture.
Place cookie sheets in the oven. Bake for 11 – 13 minutes until lightly brown
Let cool for 5 minutes on cookie sheets before removing to wire racks. Makes 4 dozen.
Perfect English Sticky Toffee Pudding www.rockrecipes.com
8 ounces chopped pitted dried dates
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 extra large eggs
3 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp golden syrup or substitute dark corn syrup
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp golden syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
Add the dates and water to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for only a couple of minutes. Let stand for a few minutes while preparing the rest of the batter.
Cream together the butter brown sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the molasses and golden syrup and beat well.
Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture in three equal portions mixing until smooth after each addition.
Puree the date mixture in a food processor or blender before mixing in the baking soda.
Add this hot mixture immediately to the batter and mix until smooth. Pour batter into well greased and floured muffin tins and bake for about 18 – 20 minutes at 350 degrees F until the center is just firm. Serve warm with Toffee Sauce.
To make the toffee sauce: Bring all of the ingredients to a slow rolling boil for about 2 min before serving over the baked puddings.
Recipe Notes: If baking in a bundt pan be sure it is well greased and floured as described in the introduction to this recipe. Bake at 325 degrees F for 55-60 minutes.
Serve warm with the toffee sauce. Don’t be afraid to double the toffee sauce recipe. People may just ask for more!