Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fresh Dates


One of the things I love about Marketplace On Oakton, my main source for groceries, is the variety of produce they have.  Every time I go shopping, I’m bound to discover something I’ve never heard of or eaten before.  A couple months ago, I came across some fresh dates and thought I’d give them a try.  I’m not sure what kind of dates these were, but I generally find dried Medjool dates pleasant enough.  However, I don’t buy dried dates very often because they can easily be overwhelmingly sweet.

Something with dried dates in them that I would buy often, though, are the stuffed dates at Avec.  It consists of “chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper tomato sauce.”  The balance between sweet, savory, acidic, smoky, and spicy makes it one of the best things to eat in Chicago.


Not knowing what to do with a fresh date, I sliced a small piece off and popped it into my mouth.  Almost immediately, I had to spit it out.  The skin of the date was incredibly astringent and bitter and left my tongue feeling like I had just licked a pool of acid.   After being punished for my ignorance, I peeled the date and took a bite.

The texture was slightly crunch and the taste was that of a date without the intense sweetness that is so characteristic of a dried one.  It was sweet, but definitely more mellow than a dried date and didn’t leave me thirsting for a glass of milk to quench the sweetness.  As such, I felt like it actually let the natural date flavor shine on its own.  I would definitely buy these fresh dates again when they’re in season and would say that I prefer fresh dates over dried ones.


As a fun experiment, I set a couple dates aside and let them age a bit.  Unsurprisingly, their sweetness became more concentrated as time went on.  The flesh darkened to a more familiar brownish hue and the texture became softer, losing most of its crunchiness.


Not only did Marketplace on Oakton have fresh dates, but they had 2 kinds of fresh dates.  These dates did not come attached to a branch and were labeled as “Chinese dates.”  According to Wikipedia, these are also known as jujubes and are not to be confused with the candy of the same name.


I wasn’t sure how to tell the ripeness of Chinese dates, so I picked some that were entirely brown and others that had patches of brown.  The flesh tasted pretty much like an apple.  Nothing too mind blowing, but I’m glad I at least tried them.  After learning my lesson with the other fresh dates, I didn’t risk tasting the skin.  Aside from that debacle, I’d say I had a pretty successful adventure with fresh dates.

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