**’Forget hearts and flowers, this Valentine’s Day I’d love a pound of mouth-watering medjools.’**
Toronto Star, Food & Wine, by Cynthia David (Feb. 14, 2013) — Forget hearts and flowers, this Valentine’s Day I’d love a pound of mouth-watering medjools. With their velvety texture and syrupy sweet caramel flavour, these jumbo-sized dates with the glossy, crinkly skin are the rock star of the date industry. And they’re soaring off the charts in popularity thanks to recent marketing efforts.
Growing up, the only dates I knew were crammed into a dark brown block my mom hacked away at to make her famous date squares.
When I moved to Toronto, I discovered open boxes of fresh medjools in grocery stores and fruit markets along with dainty tongs so I could choose a few at a time for a special treat.
In the past few years, U.S. growers have decided to go big or go home, giving us one and two-pound tubs of Natural Delights medjools from the Bard Valley, which straddles the desert border between California and Arizona.
In the beginning, reserved for Moroccan royalty
Dates have been cultivated since 6,000 B.C. and grow in North Africa, the Arab world and Israel. Medjools, considered the king of dates, were once reserved for Moroccan royalty.
Shoots from Moroccan trees were brought to the U.S. in 1927. In 1944, their progeny were moved to Southern California to become one of 33 date varieties produced in the state.
Muslims consider these soft, meaty dates the perfect way to break their daily fast during the month of Ramadan.
Medjools grow in palm trees up to 15 metres high in stately groves called date gardens. American growers have fashioned a basket on a crane, a big version of the bucket our Hydro guys use, to scale the heights and tend their crop. As the fruit ripens, each bunch is covered with a sack to keep out the birds. Workers are hoisted back up the tree a few more times to harvest the mature dates by hand. Each palm produces more than 90 kilos of medjools a year.
If you’re trying to avoid refined sugar, crave a healthy snack or need some quick energy, make it a date! Keep a few in your desk drawer for emergencies.
Naturally sweet and nutritious, dates are also gluten-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free and Kosher. They’ve got fibre (3 grams per 2 medjools), iron and potassium if you need a break from bananas.
Select & Store
- U.S. medjools are harvested fresh between September and November and are available year-round.
- Look for medjools and other date varieties, including the smooth brown deglet noor, in the produce department beside bags of nuts or nestled among the bananas.
- Medjools should be plump, shiny and not too wrinkled. Ignore dates with broken or cracked skins.
- Keep them a few weeks on the counter or up to six months in the fridge. In the freezer they’ll keep up to a year.
- Refrigerate or freeze dates in a sealed bag or container away from foods with strong odours.
- Medjools are so simple to pit, there’s no need to buy them pitted.
- Five to six medjools yield ½ cup (125 mL) of chopped dates.
- For easier slicing and chopping, freeze dates for about an hour.
- Before processing dates in the food processor, rinse in cold water. They’ll chop better and cleanup will be easier.
- If your dates seem a little dry, place in warm water for a few minutes to plump them up.
- Slit medjools lengthwise, remove pit and fill with blue cheese, herbed cream cheese, peanut butter, coconut, ice cream . . . the sky’s the limit!
- For a five-star party appetizer, wrap cheese-stuffed dates with a strip of prosciutto or Serrano ham and bake at 400F (200C) for about 5 minutes.
- For more recipe ideas, sweet and savoury, visit natural-delights.ca
Medjool Date Pecan Chocolate Truffles
While I love medjools naked, this new recipe adapted from Natural Delights is truly scrumptious and the perfect V-Day gift. Don’t fuss with the dates once they’re coated with chocolate so they’ll harden to a smooth finish.
12 medjool dates, pitted
12 pecan halves
5 oz (150 g) dark chocolate (70%), chopped
2.5 oz (75 g) white chocolate, chopped
Using a small paring knife, cut a lengthwise slit in each medjool and remove pit. Gently open one date, stuff with a pecan half and squeeze closed. Repeat.
If you don’t have a double boiler, place chocolate in a small metal mixing bowl and place over a pot of simmering water. Don’t let water touch the bottom of the bowl.
Gently melt dark chocolate, stirring. Remove from heat as soon as it melts. Be sure to keep chocolate away from moisture, water or even steam.
Using a fork, dredge stuffed dates through the melted chocolate one at a time and place on a wire cooling rack to harden.
Pour melted white chocolate into a small piping bag or into a zip-lock bag with a small hole cut in one corner. Drizzle decoratively back and forth over each chocolate-dipped date. Cool completely before serving.
Makes 12 truffles.