A date with a date
" Far from the madding' scenes of war and despair, of slaughter and bloodshed, we seek a quiet corner of sanity and serenity. With heartfelt sadness and regret, we watch those holy days of Ramadan slip away, with the last rose of summer. What lies ahead is unknown. If only we could hang on a little longer to Ramadan's best practices and principles!
One of the basic staples of Ramadan is the fruit of the stately, graceful Palm.......the date. The holy prophet Mohammed, is known to have broken each day's fast at sunset, with a fruit or two of the palm, soaked in milk. Dates have long been one of the chief food articles of the people of the Middle East, particularly during the Ramadan season. There is a good reason for it. It is their high sugar-content that gives the fasting body an immediate sugar rush that recovers the body's equilibrium. This high sugar-content of glucose, fructose and sucrose is the very reason why most of us shy away from the sweetest of fruits. Were we to consider its health benefits, it would become a regular staple for us all year long.
No one seems to be sure of the date's place of birth. Some horticulturists believe it originated in the desert oases of North Africa. Others claim it was around the Persian Gulf. They do agree that the date palm was cultivated by man, before any other tree. Archeological evidence of date cultivation, goes as far back as 6000 BC in Eastern Arabia. Baked bricks made more than 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia, record direct instructions for growing the date palm. Travelers spread dates South and Southwest, to Northern Africa, Spain and Italy. They reached Mexico and California by the Spaniards around 1765.
The fruit's English name, date", as well as its Latin species name, "dactylifera", are both derived from the Greek word for finger, "daktulos". Judging from its oval-cylindrical shape, the name is most befitting. With or without the fruit, no tree is as haughty and towering than the date palm. It stands tall and straight, elegant and gallant, with its head reaching the heavens, its arms stretched out in prayer. Often, it gently sways with the desert's soft breezes, as it inspires many an artist and a poet. The stem is about the same thickness, all the way up. A crown of large leaves, shaped like feathers grows on top. A crown of large leaves, shaped like feathers, grows on top. The leaves have been used in religious ceremonies by pagans, Jews and Christians, since the earliest times. On Palm Sunday, Eastern Christians display palm leaves in their sacred ceremony.
Often associated with religion, dates are mentioned 50 times in the Bible. They also have a prominent place in Islam. "Ajwah', a patty of dried dates from the city of Medina, was the subject of a famous "hadith", by the prophet Mohamed.
A study by 'Al Shahib and Marshall' reports: " Dates may be considered as an almost ideal food, providing a wide range of essential nutrients and potential health benefits". Dates are a good source of Vitamin C, potassium, protein and fibre.
Palms need a hot dry climate, a temperature that stays around 32 C for 3 months of the year. The palm tree has found a comfortable home in some southern states of the US, such as California, Arizona, Florida and Texas. Some of their streets lined with palm trees are reminiscent of our corner of the world. The palm grows well in sandy, alkaloid soil. The 3 top growers today are Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Libya.
You can have your date, and eat it too, in a variety of ways. Crunchy fresh or soft and dried, dates are found in all sorts of foods. Moroccans incorporate it in their cooking, such as in 'tajines' or casseroles. They are a favourite delicacy pitted and stuffed with nut fillings, candied orange or lemon peel, marzipan and even cream cheese. Americans enjoy their date and nut bread, and Spaniards savour their dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon. There are chocolate covered dates and many desserts, pies, cakes and puddings feature dates. Nigerians add dates and peppers to their native beer, to render it less intoxicating.
Noble and majestic, the date palm is also one of the most useful and versatile of indigenous trees.
Every part is utilized to make functional items, ranging from traditional dwellings, to bee hives and fishing boats. Seeds are ground up for animal feed. Oil is used in soap and cosmetics. They are processed chemically as a source of oxalic acid. Mature leaves are maade into mats, screens, baskets and fans. Processed leaves are used in construction. Pulp is used for walking sticks, brooms and fishing boats, also rope, coarse cloth and large hats. The wood is used for construction of bridges and aquaducts. They are used medicinally, in a variety of ways. They are known to heal colds, bronchial catarrh, fever and sore-throats.
With our Arab spring, quickly turning into the cruelest of winters, we bid farewell to those blessed days of fasting and faith, of hope and charity. We turn to the proud solitary tree of the date palm, lifting our eyes to the heavens, to pray again and again for justice and peace, and maybe dream of another spring
Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.
Joyce Kilmer (1886-1916)