Monday, 14 December 2009

Christmas Sweets and Treats - Dates

Dates are the fruit of the date palm and have been a staple food of the Middle East for thousands of years and are believed to have originated around the Persian Gulf. There is archaeological evidence of date cultivation in eastern Arabia in 6000 BC.

In fact in 2008 researchers brought an extinct date palm back to life by resurrecting the oldest seed ever. They call it Methuselah, and the ancient seed was found at the cliff-side fortress of Masada. For centuries, the fruit seeds remained buried beneath the fallen citadel, once the luxurious palace of King Herod. The big question is whether Methuselah is a "boy," or a "girl" - in which case, researchers may be sampling its fruit by 2010.

In the Middle East dry or soft dates are eaten out-of-hand, or may be pitted and stuffed with fillings such as almonds, walnuts, candied orange and lemon peel, tahini, marzipan or cream cheese. Dates can also be chopped and used in a range of sweet and savoury dishes, from tajines (tagines) in Morocco to puddings, ka'ak (types of Arab cookies) and other dessert items.

Dates are also processed into cubes, paste called "'ajwa", spread, date syrup or "honey" called "dibs" or "rub" in Libya, powder (date sugar), vinegar or alcohol. Dates are also made into a sparkling date juice, used in some Islamic countries as a non-alcoholic version of champagne, for special occasions and religious times such as Ramadan!

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