Looking at my pale skin (it goes translucently pale-ivory under the Nordic skies), my friends sometimes forget that I am not (entirely) from around here. And then we walk by a tiny vegetable stall with a huge vaguely Middle-Eastern or Indian guy presiding over it, and I squeak and run and pick up a bunch of something that to them, looks like yellow plastic things-on-a-string, and wave them around in apparent excitement, drawing blank stares.
Then, they remember. Having lived in Israel, and shopped at a traditional shuk (market) on a regular basis, I tend to bless every deity between Jerusalem and Tokyo and some other ones on top when I find a good fruit and veg stall, one that’d stock proper pomegranates, quinces (yes, I am a quince nut!), and, among other lovely fruit that is not found in a Western supermarket, fresh yellow dates.
Dates are the fruit of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), one of the oldest cultivated crops in history. It is a beautiful tree that is both tough – it can take salty soil and dry climate and heat, and also produces an amazing fruit, which eventually ripens and dries to the soft, brown glazey consistency that most Westerners associate with dates they buy. But, in the initial stages of ripenness, dates of a lot of the varieties (especially the more recently-developed ones) are also sweet, not too tart, and absolutely lovely to eat.
Fresh dates that are sold in this manner are not intended for ripening further at home (some people have tried it, but I’ve not heard stories of it being too successful, nor have I tried it myself as I like them fresh). They are crunchy, with a texture reminiscent of a very firm pear, a lot of juicy sweetness, and just a tiny hint of tannin in the flavor. I can go through a couple of stems of them without realising it, because they are utterly addictive, similarly to how good grapes, or anything sweet in small bites tends to be.
Now, this post isn’t a recipe, precisely – but that is because I do not think these need one. Wash them in some running water, drain them so they don’t make a puddle, and eat them on their own, or alongside some tapas or antipasti (they go great with the salty charcuterie that I tend to favor). I’ve heard they are also good pitted and wrapped in bacon and then fried, which I am yet to try – and plan to, and will write about once I have but as these have a short season, that may not be until next year.
Why? This is why.
That was the state of my plate hours ago. By now, the situation has reached its inevitable end. And so did all the dates I’d bought.
Perhaps if I go back to the stall this week there’ll be a little more of them left? I can hope…
And, while I am on the subject, I would like to again, thank all the immigrant-catering vegetable stall and small Mid-Eastern and Indian and Chinese grocery owners in the Western Europe. Thank you. Without you, I’d have been utterly deprived of all the yummy foods which I am used to, or at best I’d be paying utterly insane prices at the fancy market hall downtown. I think more people should eat these wonderful things – and I certainly tell all my friends to frequent the veg stalls rather than the supermarket isles. The small greengrocers do us a service, and their job is a hard one – the least we can do is patronize their establishments.
And this, this brings me to the ranty part of this post. While googling dates and fresh dates to get references for this post, I ran across a blog which shall remain nameless (because I am polite like that). Said blog also mentioned a person who encounters fresh yellow dates at a Middle-Eastern grocer, and then… this blog proceeds to slam said grocer’s dress sense and manners.
Now, I wasn’t there and I can’t say anything about the manners of the older gentleman that she so mocked. Though, to me that still sounds rather suspicious, as even the West, most Eastern shopkeepers tend to adhere to their own style of doing business. They offer a taste, they tend to be friendly, and they are happy you are shopping with them and not the supermarket 20 meters away. Heck, the owner of our neighborhood dry cleaners always finds time to talk to us, and presses candy, and on a recent rainy-day visit, hot, freshly-brewed coffee on us. So unexpected rudeness from one of those people is just that – unexpected.
I don’t even think I need to mention that mocking someone’s dress sense when you don’t know just where they manage to get their clothes, and for how little – probably because they are feeding kids or saving for their education – is such a trashy, common thing to do, I don’t have words to properly address it. Not polite ones anyway. And I’ve been taught proper manners, unlike some people.
To sum it up – visit your ethnic market or shop. Ask the shopkeeper about things they are selling that look good. Buy them. Try them. Who knows, you may discover something else you like that’s just as addictive as baklava and hummus, which by now have taken the West by storm. Like halva. Or golden or green raisins. Or, these dates.