Monday, May 10, 2010

Date Milk.

When I came across a reference recently to ‘date milk’, I assumed that it was something made from steeping or emulsifying dates in a liquid – something therefore along the lines of almond ‘milk’ or a date milkshake. I don’t know how I could have gotten to the age I am, and done the reading I have on all sorts of food topics, without coming to the knowledge that date milk is more along the lines of maple syrup. Sometimes my own ignorance astounds me.

This is how date milk comes about:

A white liquor known by the name of date-milk is drawn from the palm tree. To obtain it, all the branches are cut from the summit of one of these trees; and after several incisions have been made in it, they are covered with leaves, in order that the heat of the sun may not dry it: the sap then drops into a vessel placed to receive the liquor. The milk of the date tree has an agreeable sweet taste when new; it is very refreshing and is given even to sick people.
The companion for the orchard: An historical and botanical account of fruits known in Great Britain, Henry Phillips, 1831.

Naturally, this sweet sap lends itself beautifully to fermentation and distillation. Date wine may also be is made by fermenting a either mixture of dates soaked in water, or a syrup made by boiling dates. Distillation of the fermented beverage produces a form of ‘toddy’, or in the case of the sap, a very potent beverage sometimes called ‘cream of the valley.’

A very famous date wine was apparently produced in Egypt in ancient times, and exported to Rome where it was enjoyed at the best tables. Marco Polo (or his ghost-writer) mentioned Egyptian date wine in his Travels, and noted that it had spiced added “and very good it is.” Some biblical scholars also suggest that the ‘strong drink’ of the Bible may have been date (or palm) wine.

For the recipe of the day, I do not give you the specific instructions for making date wine, but instead have chosen one of the delights included in the Date Cook Book, published in 1919 by May Sowles Metzler – a book originating in Coachella Valley, “The American home of the date”.

Syrian Method of Preserving Dates.
Take the largest dates obtainable, preferably before they are entirely ripe; peel them with a sharp knife, put them in a pot, add a little more than enough water to cover them, boil until they are soft; then slip the seeds out and put an almond or pistachio, with a clove, in the cavity; boil dates in syrup with a little lemon peel until the proper consistency; take them off the fire and let them stand overnight; then bring to a boil again and put in glass jars.

Quotation for the Day.

Men become passionately attached to women who know how to cosset them with delicate tidbits.
Honoré de Balzac (1799-1859)

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