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A unique fruit

Dwellers of the Middle East and North Africa were dependent on the date palm. Reference to it is found in eastern proverbs and poetry. The Bible calls it the `date tree’. Pliny, the historian acknowledges that there is an assortment of dates. Sun-baked bricks discovered in Mesopotamia record correct methods of growing it.

The palm stands on a strong trunk with feather-like leaves crowning the top. Far back in time, the `pagans, Jews and Christians used the leaves for religious festivals’ (World Book Encyclopaedia V.8)

Leading producers of dates are Egypt and Iraq, while Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Pakistan have orchards. In the scorching sun of Morocco and valleys of California the palms need irrigation to thrive. Those arid climates and alkaline soil are beneficial for the palm. It is beautiful to see groves encircling an oasis casting impressive shadows under blazing skies.

When the tender green dates ripen they turn russetred or golden with fine cellulose film covering the sweet flesh. The seeds are roasted, ground and makes a coffee-like beverage. Some green (date) buds are cooked as a vegetable, while excess seeds are crushed into fodder for camels and domesticated animals.

The Bedouin housewife prepares date dishes of distinctive flavours. Little cakes with date and almond fragments are delightful.

Dates formally make the staple food of Arabs, containing protein, sugar, minerals, fibre and a little fat. Another species give sap which made into jaggery. The fruit essence is also processed into pure, delicious wine.

An anecdote in a magazine commented on a Bedouin who received a letter one evening. There was no light to read it so his skilful wife “Kneaded a small cup from some dates, poured melted fat into it and inserted a wick of threads.

He read the letter by the light of this lamp, threw away the wick, drank the fat and consumed the cup”. (quote) The interplay of dates, its value as food and by what ways it mingles with Islamic culture, religion and society make this fruit quite unique.

- Caryl Nugara

 

 

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