Fresh dates

Availability: August through September.

Source: United States

Handling Tips: 45° F storage. Room temperature to ripen

General Information: The date is a mainstay of the Arab diet, particularly among those who dwell in the desert. Extremely high in sugar - up to 70 per cent of its weight - the fruit is a good source of protein as well as vitamins A and B. Arab nomads frequently survive in fine health for months on end eating nothing but dates and milk. Unlike many fruits, dates are already intensely sweet when harvested, and their high sugar content makes them self-preserving and extremely long lasting.

Fresh dates are often a misnomer. Virtually all of the dates we enjoy are not fresh, but have aged to a soft, moist, and very sweet product.

Fresh dates are hard, crunchy, a touch chalky, and not very sweet. Let fresh dates cure and use them in bread, puddings, or enjoy raw. High in potassium, iron and niacin.

Soft Bahri dates, from California, Israel, Egypt, and Tunisia, are sold on the "string" or stem. Unripe, they look like little golden tomatoes, turning brown, sticky, and wrinkled as they ripen.

History: Dates are considered to be the oldest known tree crop to be cultivated. For more than 6,000 years dates have been an important food source, allowing portability, long-term storage and most importantly, sugar and flavor. Originally grown only in the Middle East, the date business in the United States is credited to Frederick Oliver Popenoe. In 1907, Popenoe moved to Alta Dena and opened a tropical plant nursery named West India Gardens. After a few years he sent his sons Paul and Wilson to the Middle East and North Africa in search of tropical plants and trees for the nursery, and around 1913 his sons sent back 16,000 date offshoots from Iraq, Algeria and eastern Arabia.

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