Arabic legend tells of the date palm’s creation: “After God had finished molding Man from earth; He took the remaining material and shaped it into a date palm which he placed in the Garden of Paradise (Eden)”. While this is legend, it’s acutally not to far from the truth. Dates were an original food of early civilization, in fact drawings of the date palm are depicted in the caves of Neolithic man (about 7000 years old). Dates could also very well be the first cultivated tree. The Sumerians were cultivating date palms about 5,000 BC in lower Mesopotamia.
Dates were the main-stay food for travelers of the trading route from the Indus Valley of Pakistan across the Arabian and Saharan deserts to the western coast of Africa. The high sugar content of the fruit allows it to stay fresh for months which made dates an ideal food for these long journies. Travelers would eat the fruit and toss the pits, which created a scattering of date palm trees among the many oases lining the caravan route.
Dates were brought to the United States by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). After testing a couple locations, they found the Coachella Valley of California to be a perfect place to grow dates. Today, this area produces more than 30 million pounds of dates annually, and there are approximately 250,000 date palms planted across this valley.
Dates are high in natural sugar and carbohydrates, so they are terrific source of energy. With about 24 calories a date, they are also high in iron and contain more potassium than bananas. Yet they are virtually fat, cholesterol and sodium free! Dates are beneficial for anemia, constipation and fatigue. A small handful of five to six dates are equal to one fruit serving.
In the US, dates are mostly used in baking and this is unfortunate. Dates are much more versatile and in other countries they are added to salads, side dishes, sauces, stews, and much more.
Age to introduce: 10-12 months (pureed) Dates are like prunes, they are a natural remedy for constipation. If your baby is not constipated, dates may create more movement.
Toddler Treat: Stuffed Dates
Dates are sweet just like candy. The good news for mom and dad is that they are much more nutritious and count as fruit serving too! Stuffed dates are simple to make, can masquerade veggies, and taste great at breakfast, lunch, or snacks.
If you are having a holiday party, use this recipe to make a stuffed date platter for the kids. Once the dates are pitted, your chldren can pitch in to help stuff them too.
You’ll need whole or pitted dates and a stuffing ingredient.
Stuffing Ingredient Choices:
- Crunchy: Baby Carrots, Celery, or green pepper
- Creamy: Soft Cream Cheese, Peanut Butter
- Cheesy: Cheddar, Monterey Jack
- Nutty: Walnuts, Almonds
- Fruity: Granny Smith (Tart) Apples, Mango, Mandarin Oranges
If the dates are not pitted, don’t worry, removing the pit is hassle- free. Simply slice the date longwise with a sharp knife, open the date at the slit and remove the pit. While, the date is opened, simply stuff with your filling of choice and close it up.
If you have purchased pitted dates, simply open the date up and stuff them with your choice of filling and close them back up.
TIP: Mix and match the stuffing flavors for more eating satisfaction. Try one of these mixtures or make up your own:
- Chopped Celery and Peanut Butter
- Cream cheese and Carrots
- Monterey Jack Cheese and Apples
Dates For The Family
At the market: The most common dates are packaged in boxes or plastic containers, and found in the produce section. In some areas, fresh dates are available too. Dried dates can be found in the grocery section with raisins and other dried fruits. You may also see dates pressed into a block; they are usually the least expensive and can be fine for cooking when the recipe calls for date puree.
When buying dates choose ones with a shiny skin, and avoid very shriveled dates, or dates with sugar crystals on the skin. Dried dates should be firm, but not hard, and they should not be excessively syrupy.
Storage: Semi-dried/dried: 1-3 months in an air-tight container at room temprature or 6 months if the container is in the refrigerator. They can also be frozen for up to a year. Fresh Dates will last for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Dates can be sticky to work with, so here are few tips:
- To separate dried dates stuck together, you can microwave at medium power for 30-60 seconds. Cool for one minute before separating.
- You can also sprinkle a little flour on the dates to separate them quickly.
If chopping dates, use a pair of kitchen shears in place of a knife.
To pit dates, simply slice the date longwise with a sharp knife, open the date at the slit and remove the pit.
Easy ideas to add dates into your family meals:
Raisin replacement: Chopped dates can be an equal replacement for raisins in recipes. They’ll add an exotic sweetness, so whether it’s a favorite cookie, muffin or stuffing recipe – give dates a try instead of raisins.
A winning side dish: A sprinkle of chopped dates and nuts will quickly dress up a tossed green salad, couscous, or rice pilaf. Date-infused side dishes tase great with roast pork, baked chicken, or lentils.
Curry and dates – a natural pairing: This combination of sweet and spice is simply divine. Use chopped dates as a garnish to enhance the presentation and the flavor of any curry dish.
Quick Banana-Date-Nut Salad: Peel and slice 2 bananas in ¼ inch wide circles. Place the bananas in a bowl. Add 8 chopped, pitted dates, ¼ cup chopped pecans, and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to the bananas. Toss and serve. Awesome for breakfast with vanilla yogurt!
Winning (and Simple) Holiday Appetizers: Here are two quick, simple date appetizers that are unique and taste great!
Dates Wrapped in Bacon:You’ll need pitted dates, blanched whole almonds, bacon strips cut on half, and toothpicks. Put an almond in each date. Wrap a piece of bacon around each stuffed date and secure with a toothpick. Line cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place dates on foil and bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 15-18 minutes or until bacon is crisp and done. Remove to rack or paper towel; drain. Serve warm.
Blue Cheese Stuffed Dates: This is an adult version of the toddler treat. You’ll need whole dates (pitted), blue cheese, cream cheese and chopped walnuts. Start out by making a cheese mixture of equal parts blue cheese and cream cheese. Mix the cheeses together until smooth (you may need to add a little water to develop a smooth texture). Using a teaspoon, stuff the dates with the cheese mixture. Place the stuffed dates on a platter and sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Chill for 20 minutes and serve.