Dates are the fruit of the date palm. The tree hails from the desert oases of northern Africa or the Persian Gulf and has a history so long experts can't pinpoint its origin.
The earliest carvings from Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations show that dates were already a well-established staple. In those regions, dates are still considered an essential of life and have about 800 distinct uses.
Desert Arabs have been known to maintain health for long periods on virtually nothing but dates and milk, and some authorities consider dates a nearly perfect food.
Most of their value lies in their high sugar content, ranging from 50 percent for fresh dates to 70 percent for dried ones. But they also contain a fair amount of protein, fats, vitamins A and B, minerals such as iron and magnesium, and high levels of fiber and potassium.
Most of the dates we get in the United States are of the large Medjool variety, although others, notably the Bardhi, are also available.
Most are sold pitted and packaged, chopped or whole. If buying in the bulk section, look for plump dates with smooth, shiny skin. Avoid those that are highly shriveled and those developing mold or sugar crystals on their skin.
Try adding chopped walnuts or pecans to the crumb mixture.
13/4 cups quick oats
13/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
8 ounces chopped dates
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
Set oven to 350 degrees. To prepare crumb mixture, combine all ingredients and stir until well blended. Press half the mixture into a well-greased 8-inch square baking dish.
To prepare filling, stir together all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until bubbly and smooth. Pour filling evenly over crumb mixture.
Spread remaining crumb mixture over filling. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cut into squares and serve when cool.
-- Recipe by Mildred Hennon, Newton, Iowa
NUTRITION PER SERVING: 290 calories, 12 grams fat, 3 grams protein, 46 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber and 160 milligrams sodium.
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