If you’ve been noticing small, yellow-skinned, olive-shaped fruit in the market lately, and were too shy to ask your greengrocer about them, it’s time to meet the Barhi date, the harbinger of fall and the approaching New Year.
Still attached to its stem, the Barhi doesn’t look like the usual dark brown oval date. For starters, it’s bright yellow — a misleading color. Second — it’s firm, lacking the mushy stick-to-your-teeth consistency we’re accustomed to. But the most remarkable thing about the Barhi is that one can eat it before it softens (tip: you have to get it exactly at the point when it is just beginning to develop brown spots, or it will be too astringent), or stick it in the freezer where it will turn golden-brown and soft, like its wrinkled sweet sibling.
Sephardim like to include Barhi dates as one of the items on their tray of symbols used to celebrate Rosh Hashana, and many people festoon their sukkahs with bunches of them as decoration. Personally, they’re one of my favorite seasonal snacks, and I’m fond of other dates as well. I also find their history quite captivating.
The date palm was one of the most vital trees in biblical times and the tree most commentators assume is the actual source of the “honey” included in the seven species. Famed for its towering grandeur, feathery foliage and most of all, for its delectable fruit, its form inspired artists and coinmakers of old. The ancient Romans used the form of the date palm — though in an unpleasant association for the Jews — on coins stamped “Judea Capta,” or, Judea the Conquered. Still, for the Israelites, the date palm stood for peace and harmony, and its form decorated the Temple in Jerusalem as well.
The broad-leafed date palm held symbolic significance not only to the ancient Hebrews, but also for the nations that surrounded them. To the Egyptians, it represented fertility and immortality. Muslims also sanctified the date palm. According to the Prophet Mohammed, it is a tree of godliness.
In ancient times, dates were a nourishing food and an ingredient for producing wine and honey. Date pits were burned as fuel and ground as fodder. The leaves or fronds of the date palm could be woven into sleeping mats, saddle blankets, baskets, brooms, strainers and even sandals and fans. Its wood made good roofing and raw material for rafts and primitive boats, as well as fences. The fibrous substance it contained stuffed padded sleeping areas or was woven into ropes. In short, it was a veritable treasure trove from cap to root.
According to the Mishna, dates could warm the body, as well as satiate, strengthen, and act as a laxative, and today we know that dates are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Date syrup, known as silan, is a far healthier sweetener than sugar, providing you purchase the type without added sugar.
CHEWY GRANOLA BARS
Makes about 20
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- Half teaspoon cinnamon
- Half cup canola oil
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened date syrup (silan)
- Half cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
- Half cup of each, finely chopped: dates, apricots, dried pineapple, raisins or other dried fruit
- Half cup walnuts, finely chopped
- Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Line a 22 X 32 cm (approximately) pan with parchment paper. Oil the sides.
- In a small bowl, mix flour, oatmeal, baking soda and cinnamon.
- In a medium bowl mix honey, silan, oil, applesauce and vanilla. Mix the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, blend well and add the dried fruit and walnuts. Mix with a wooden spoon or hands into a uniform texture.
- Moisten hands and press mixture into prepared baking pan.
- Bake 15-20 minutes. Let cool and cut into 2.5 cm wide strips. Store in a covered box in the refrigerator or freeze.
Adapted from “Pashut Bari” by Phyllis Glazer for Modan Publishers.