On a recent trip to Israel, I stopped at my Mom’s favorite grocery store and parked in the hot, parched parking lot. As I got out of the car, I noticed the tires were pocked with sticky browned bits. My first thought was: “oh, No!” (You know what I was thinking).
But then I realized that I had dates smeared all over my tires. Yes, dates… The avenue leading to the store is lined with palm trees and those were laden with heavy, ripe fruit that kept falling onto vehicles and the street. It was literally raining Medjool dates!
The ancient dates are integral to the Middle Eastern cuisine and culture. The sweet, nutritious fruit lasts forever, does not require refrigeration and lends its flavor to sweet and savory dishes alike. It has a place of honor among the biblical “Seven Species” of the land of milk and honey, along with grapes, wheat and barley, pomegranates, olives and figs. During Rosh Hashanah, it also has a place of honor in the Sephardic mini Seder, expressing wishes for the New Year, paired with symbolic fruits.
For me, the honeyed taste of dates evokes childhood memories. One of the earliest is my grandfather’s, quarry roughened, gnarled hands delicately opening a date, stuffing it with a pecan and handing it over for me to enjoy. My mom’s date cookies are another memory; drenched in powdered sugar, melting in my mouth, coating my lips in white. These are memories of love, of care - presented with a date.
So, this holiday season, I have a date with dates. I will make date cookies to add to my festive table, and though I miss my kids, who will not be joining us, I am deeply grateful for the love I have been fortunate enough to receive and to give back.