Sumerian legend claims that the date palm was Earth’s first fruit tree. According to their mythology, Enki (god of the freshwater ocean) created the tree with help from Inanna (goddess of love, fertility and warfare) and a raven. The raven pollinated the trees and irrigated the grove with an ancient tool called a shaduf. In ancient Mesopotamia, the date palm tree served as the inspiration behind the “Tree of Life” concept, which connects earth, heaven and the underworld and provides gifts of fertility, immortality and wisdom.
Dates are unique in that they have several stages of ripeness and can be eaten both fresh and dried (the way we most commonly know them). Their sweetness pairs well with cheese, meat and vegetable courses. Of course, they can also stand alone as a dessert course– they are quite sweet. Throughout history, dates have been called the “bread of the desert” and the “cake of the poor.” In many parts of the world they are considered an affordable source of nutrition, comparable to rice, wheat and potatoes. They are dried and easily preserved; because of their extended shelf life, they helped to sustain Arab sailors during long voyages at sea.
As one of the Seven Species mentioned in the Torah, dates are referred to as “d’vash” which directly translates to honey. Many scholars believe that the Torah’s mention of honey is actually date honey, or date syrup, rather than the kind produced by bees. Today I will walk you through the process of making this ancient condiment, which can be used in a variety of delicious ways. It can take the place of maple syrup or honey in many recipes, adding a depth of flavor to everything it touches. I often use it to liven up savory dishes or to enhance desserts. The date, known as a “tamar” in Hebrew, is a symbolic food for the upcoming Rosh Hashanah holiday as well. It takes a lot of dates to make a little date honey, so try to find your dates in bulk. I was able to find a two-pound package at my local grocery store for $5.50, which produces between 1 and 1 1/2 cups date honey. It’s a powerful, flavorful condiment and a little goes a long way. Definitely worth trying.
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Beauty shots and styling by Bethany Nauert.
- 2 lbs pitted dates
- 8 1/2 cups hot water or more if needed
- Place dates and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a low simmer and cook for 2 hours or until dates are very soft and starting to dissolve. If mixture begins to look dry, add a little more hot water; dates should be mostly covered by liquid throughout the process. By the end of cooking the liquid should be thick and brown.
- Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Pour the liquid through a strainer lined with cheesecloth into a large mixing bowl.
- Add small batches of dates to the cheesecloth (about 1 cup at a time) and give them a really good squeeze, trying to get out as much of the liquid as possible. Remove the pulp and continue with the remaining dates.
- Clean out your saucepan and pour the strained date liquid back into it. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat a bit and simmer for another 20-30 minutes or until liquid thickens enough to coat the back of a cold spoon. It should have the consistency of thick maple syrup. Remove from heat.
- Date honey will continue to thicken as it cools. Once it reaches room temperature, it should be similar to the consistency of honey. If the mixture isn't thick enough for you, feel free to warm it up again and resimmer. Careful not to overcook or overthicken.
Nasrallah, Nawal. Dates: A Global History. London: Reaktion, 2011. Print.
Vamosh, Miriam Feinberg. Food at the Time of the Bible. Palphot Ltd., Herzelia Israel. Print.
Interview with Dr. Tova Dickstein, Neot Kedumim Biblical Landscape Reserve, Israel.