- Food and Cooking
Want a Date?
How About a Date?
How about a date? It is sweet, full of nutrition, and very versatile. It is ancient and respected. No, I don’t mean for us to go out to dinner and a movie. I’m talking about the date palm, one of the oldest known fruit producing trees in the world.
The date palm has been documented in history since before any written language was developed. Pictures of palm trees have graced many artifacts found in the Middle East. But it was about 4000 B.C. in modern day Iraq that man first began to deliberately interfere in the fruit production of the date. Nature propagation of the date was by using the wind. When this occurs, very little fruit comes forth. But when the male and female flowers are deliberately planted together, fruit by the ton is available for your enjoyment. The date became extremely important in the lives of the ancient civilizations of the Middle East. As travelers and many of the nomadic tribes were moving across the dry land, the dates found in the welcoming oasis helped get them from one place to another while avoiding starvation or being stranded with a dead horse or camel. The fruits were used to sustain the travelers and the beasts of burden. Amazingly scientists have successfully planted a 2000 year-old date seed. This goes to show how strong dates are to survive the centuries.
The date palm can grow as high as 100 feet or more (on average growth is 1 foot a year) with not a branch on them. This “tree” is really a plant and is related to the lily, orchids, and bananas. It has a crown of leaves on top that grow as long as 20 feet. The fruit is produced in bunches very similar to bananas high up in the crown of leaves. Today the harvesting of dates is very similar to ancient times with men climbing the trees and shaking the fruit from the bunches. In some areas, “cherry pickers” are used to assist in this endeavor. The fruit is eaten fresh or dried as many in the States are used to. In most areas the fruit is sold in the same general locale, but dates grown in the United States are exported to various places.
The date palm is known for many uses. The fruit is eaten plain, in various dishes, used to make flour, as a coffee additive, and as animal feed. The young leaves of a palm tree are cooked and eaten as a tender vegetable in some areas. The fronds of branches are used as brooms, fuel, rope, hats, roofs and when dried as walking sticks. The plant stalks or “trunks” are used for housing and bridges. The sap of some of the palms is used in the production of sugar, molasses, and alcohol. It is even used in religious ceremonies.
The three major religions of the area are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three of these have strong date references in their scriptures and use the plant in many of their religious ceremonies. Jewish traditions have the date palm as important material in building the religious festival structures and recognized the fruit as one of the holy fruits used in many ceremonies. Christianity uses the palm fronds on Palm Sunday in remembrance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before His crucifixion. Islam probably holds the date palm in higher regard than any other religion. It is heavily stressed in the Koran and Mohammed stressed the palm as valuable property. It is noted and used for its curative characteristics and is treasured throughout the Islamic areas.
It is a symbol of peace and justice. Known for its gracefulness and beauty it is also used for sore throats, colds, fever, edema, and various stomach troubles. In several of the cultures, the date is considered the fruit that Eve gave Adam and was the fruit of the tree of good and evil instead of the Western tradition of the apple.
Today about 6 million metric tons are produced each year throughout the world. About 70% of all that sweetness is from Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iraq. It is still a valued and respected piece of fruit throughout the world prized for its sweetness and versatility.