Saturday, September 6, 2008

San Diego Foodstuff Quick Snack: Jericho Dates

Last night I was at dinner with my folks and friends of theirs in the Renaissance Towne Center near UTC. Next door to Chicago on a Bun (where I had some pretty good ribs, actually) is the new Renaissance Produce international market. So, after dinner we stopped by and the first thing that struck me was a pile of bunches of an unfamiliar fruit.


Not much to look at are they, but they looked interesting so I sneaked one from the pile and took a taste. Kind of crunchy. Sweet. There was a seed in the middle.

Now how I have lived so many years in Southern California without ever having seen dates on the vine is beyond me. But, that's in fact, what these are. The dates most of us are familiar with already are brown and dried. And sweet as candy. But you can get a sense of their future when you bite into one of these in their raw form.

I was told by the owners that these dates (there are about 30 varieties) are Jericho dates. Jericho is known as the city of palm trees and, according to the book Food in the Ancient World by Joan P. Alcock, Jericho dates were held as supreme above all varieties. They were imported by the Romans and used most frequently in sauces, the flesh pounded and added to spices like cumin and pepper as well as thyme, fennel seed and asafoetida root (common in Indian cooking and tastes a little like garlic). In one recipe, vinegar was added to moisten the mixture and then honey, oil, wine and liquamen (a type of fish sauce) were also blended in to finish the sauce, which would be poured over cooked chicken or other fowl.

The dates in the bunch I bought are about an inch long and starting to show soft spots. This is good. You don't want to wait to eat them until they spoil, but as they ripen and start to turn kind of funky looking, they get soft and sweet. So, I tried one that I had been avoiding as iffy when I was picking a bunch. Unlike the more perfect, beautiful fruit I had thought I should buy, I could really taste the distinctive mellow sweetness in this ripening date.

So, what do you do with them? They're wonderful chopped and added to baked goods. Try them as a unique companion to sharp cheeses. Experiment and incorporate them in a savory sauce for fish or chicken or pork. Simply snack on them. If anyone has any other ideas, let us know.

Renaissance Produce is at 8935 Towne Centre Dr. (I'll write more soon about the other items they carry.)


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