I enjoy this sugar-rich fruit, but do not crave it. When you examine human history and think about life in barren drylands and desert regions however, it doesn’t take long to realize what a gift the Date Palm has been to Northern Africa and Southern Europe. And it is not sustenance alone. Before Sugarcane was introduced by Arabic traders, Dates and Honey were the main sweeteners available in that region. From this perspective, we can see how the Palm acquired such symbolic importance in Biblical parables and ancient lore.
Visiting a date palm grove south of Indio (CA), I was stricken with understanding as to the God-given presentation of this important fruit. First, we remind ourselves that into antiquity, it was known that dates benefit from ritualistic anointing (flowering branches from male palms can be dowsed over the fruit-bearing branches of female palms for more certain yield). But the true revelation relates to fruit presentation. Young flowering branches form tucked into the leaf axils. As they mature, the peduncle (the stem that forms and supports the inflorescence) gradually elongates. By the time fruit are mature, the ripe, heavy cargo has pushed out by several feet, and descended toward earth, a giant handful of dates furled out and gifted. It is an extraordinary presentation, God-given. That sense of divine origin must have amplified the importance of this fruit to those who depended on it.
Ancient esteem, however, does not survive modern packaging, nor could the date compete with the modern sugar industry. And dates only made it to the New World as a culinary novelty. Today’s American Cook might find Dates shelved ignominiously among other dry and sticky produce, or somewhere in packaged, dried foods like Raisins. It just does not seem to have become a common ingredient in contemporary cuisine, being relegated to cheese trays and (along with everything else) paired with cooked bacon.
Systematists, of course, know a Palm when they see one. Dates belong with Coconuts and Peach Palm.
Carpologists fall apart here. Dr. Spjut indexes Dates as a fruit type called a Baccetum, but the definition does not fit, and the references seem mislabeled. I think we have to call the Date a Drupe, as do most other Morphologists (though I found one Archaeology site that insists Dates are Berries.)
Of course this means I need to search the literature for anatomical studies of Dates, in order to discover who has examined and documented the structure of this really important Old World fruit.