Dates -

In Persia, Arabia and northern Africa, the date palm forms one of the principal sources of natural wealth. The wood and leaves are used in every imaginable way, just as natives in other parts of the world use the cocoanut, and the fruit, fresh or dried, frequently serves the Arab as his only food. Its preponderating content is sugar, the protein percentage being small, but the sugar is of so pure and wholesome a quality that it is very easily digested.

The date palm commences to bear fruit at from six to eight years, continuing to one hundred years - and often for several centuries. It is particularly valuable to humanity because it will flourish under conditions which kill all other vegetation. Excessive alkalinity of soil and a hot, dry climate, which would make any other growth almost impossible, result in its very finest product. The finest of all dates are the Deglet Noor, from the "Sunken Gardens" of the Algerian Sahara, the palms growing in dells of sand, the lower parts of the trunks buried in the sand and the strong rays of the desert sun reflected from the sandy slopes on each side.

In addition to its own growth, it has converted many parts of the Sahara into richly productive zones, the shade it affords making it possible to grow figs, almonds, etc., in the oases.

The palms are divided into male and female trees. In a wild condition there are generally about equal numbers of each, but under cultivation one male tree serves for from forty to one hundred female trees, the fertilization of the blossoms of the latter being insured by tying to every flowering branch a sprig of the male flowers.

Under ordinary conditions a good tree will bear annually from sixty to two hundred pounds of fruit, the amount being sometimes increased by careful cultivation to from four hundred to six hundred pounds. The fruit is borne in bunches weighing from ten to forty pounds, hanging directly beneath the feathery head of the palm, the individual dates adhering to numerous slender twigs attached to the central stems. As the dates do not all ripen at the same time, the branch, after cutting, is usually placed in a dry and shady location for the green fruit to mature. For specially early fruit the first ripening dates are sometimes picked from the bunch before the branch is cut.

There are three principal types of dates - the Sweet, the only variety known outside the home of the palm; the Mild Sweet, generally eaten as a fresh fruit; and the Dry or "Camel" date, preferred by the Arabs as a general food article, both pressed whole and ground into date flour, as under proper conditions it will keep for years. The flavor of the Camel Date is excellent, but it is too dry to correspond to the ordinary consumer's conception of what the fruit should be.

Of the Sweet dates, the choicest are generally those which are large, softish but not sticky, not too much wrinkled, of a reddish or yellowish brown on the outside, with a whittish membrane between the flesh and the stone.

Nine-tenths of the supply imported into the United States comes from Arabia, chiefly by way of Smyrna. The bulk arrives pressed in large boxes, gunny bags or frails, but the finer types are packed in small fancy boxes, baskets, etc.

The choicest dates are those from Tunis, Algiers and Morocco. Among the best known varieties are the Deglet Noor, already referred to; the Tafilat from the Morocco Sahara; the Menakher, a long, large brown date from the Tunis Sahara, and the Rhars. The high price of these "fancy" dates is due to European competition for the comparatively limited supply.

Fard dates are a black, rather hard variety, extensively used for stuffing. Persian dates are generally lighter in color and of softer flesh.

The Rhars and similar varieties are especially full of sugary juice, and the Arabs make "Date Honey" from them by hanging the bunches up to drain. The fruit used is afterwards packed for general consumption, sometimes pounded and pressed into cakes.

A special method of preparation for the best oriental trade is to press out the juice of a certain number of dates and use this as a syrup in which to pack other rich dates in large vases.

The fermented sap of the palm, and also the fermented juice or syrup of the crushed fruit, are consumed locally as Palm Wine or Date Wine, etc.; the young leaves may be cooked as "Palm Cabbage," and the stones are ground into "Date Coffee," for human use or for cattle food, or are pressed to obtain "Date Oil."

In other parts of the world are found numerous special varieties of the date palm, among the most noteworthy being one common to South India and the East Indies, which is even higher in sugar content than the African or Arabian type. Date sugar from this palm is a commercial product of considerable value.

Another small fruited species gives a specially desirable date meal.

A considerable measure of success has already rewarded efforts to grow dates in this country, in several parts of California, Colorado and Arizona. The climatic and soil conditions have proved entirely suitable, and the result will probably be the transformation of sections so alkaline as to be otherwise worthless, into richly productive areas. The value of the product is inicated by the importation of twenty or more million pounds every year.

Stuffed dates are prepared in constantly increasing variety - filled with almond and other nut meats, separately or mixed with date, fig or raisin meat or the latter without the nuts; ginger, peanut or walnut butter, various forms of confectionery, etc.

Arround Dates in The Grocer's Encyclopedia

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