Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Every day during the date season we watch the date-pickers put on their harness, wrap themselves around the tree trunks and then swing up the palms to remove ripened dates. Knives are sharpened and the dates are cut at the root of the branches.
Waiting for the smell of the date harvest and then the endless chewing of just-harvested dates is something we look forward to all year long. Countdown begins in February and the wait goes on until July, with regular tree inspections to ensure we're on target for first harvest.
We try to keep four or five varieties washed, cleaned and available at all times for our guests. Dates have been served with Arabic coffee for longer than anyone can remember and are offered from small woven baskets or glass dishes. Tahina [taa-Hee-nah] or sesame seed paste is always on hand for dipping.
My favourite dates are called suqarie [souQ-kar-ree] and come from just one town in central Saudi; Qaseem. These dates are both perfectly chewy (not too chewy, not too soft) and have the exact ammount of sweetness (not sickly sweet, just sweet enough to remind you of your childhood).
Putting those in your mouth and chewing is like entering food heaven; all talking stops and the whole brain enters the realm of ectasy and concentrates on the flavour. It shocks me every time that this perfection can grow from the middle of a desert, how is that?
When the man from Saudi brings us these dates once a year he is greeted as a hero throughout the house and there's never, ever enough to go round. Friends fornicate themselves upon us to have more and more; once eaten, there are simply no other dates that compare to these.
Types of Dates
Al Khunaizi [KH-nai-see]
Large and red. The most sugary and the driest, your mouth feels like it's lost its salavia when you chew these. Sold in September.
Al Khalas [KHa-las]
Enormous, very long. Often described by date addicts as the most delicious. Harvested in July/August.
Al Mebselli [meb-selli]
Deep yellow. Good to eat these 'half-half' (half soft, half hard). Sold in late July.
Sold September/October. Coconut-sugarcane-apple flavor. The softest, most maliable date. Used for cooking and freezes well.
Yellow, eaten when half soft, half dry. Crunchy and sweet.
(To Be Possessed) Sweet. Larger than other varieties.
Big and dark, like big cockroaches. Endless chewing on sweet gum.