This week we were so happy to welcome Emily Richards back to the
kitchen lab. You might recall that she’s worked with the boys before – showing them how to make gnocchi from scratch last December and then strawberry and rhubarb pies in June.
Her visit this time just happened to fall the week after I had the privilege of attending an event where Emily was one of the chefs – showcasing Natural Delights Medjool dates. Where I ate the dish in the photo above as part of a seven (!) course tasting menu featuring dates in each dish. It was an excellent meal, although I know a few of us were eying the sticky toffee pudding on the menu and wondering how on earth we would manage to fit that in. Well, we shouldn’t have worried because once it appeared in front of us, there was no question of whether we would have “just one bite”. Nope, there were clean plates all round on this one. It was so good. So very good that I asked Emily if she would show the boys how to make this one. They are always asking to make desserts and this one is a classic – plus it’s so easy and elegant – perfect for little hands!
So, we had a “date” with Emily. She spoke with the boys briefly about dates, letting them taste one each before they got started working with them. Over the past week, thanks to the folks at Natural Delights, I’ve learned a lot about dates, including the fact that there are few fruits as labour intensive. Here’ s a summary of the process from field to fork – a year in the life of a date, so to speak…
Depending on the size of the date palm, about 800 to 1,600 thorns are cut off each tree using large curved knives. This takes place in January and February. Offshoots are taken off the mother palm, placed in the nursery and then planted to create a new date garden. Each flower bunch must be pollinated evenly on both sides and to ensure even and complete absorption, the pollen is applied in February and March. One male palm can pollinate 48 to 50 female trees. From April to May date bunches are thinned, allowing for proper ventilation and more room to grow. Bunches are tied and secured firmly to the trees to prevent wind and weight damage. This also allows for better spacing and continued ventilation. In June and July a ring is placed in the centre of each bunch to allow for ventilation. Sacks are placed on the bunches and tied firmly to prevent birds from picking at the ripe fruit and to keep the dates from falling to the ground. The dates are picked as they mature. Workers go up into the tall trees (date palms are often 9 to 12 metres tall, and can reach heights of 20 metres or more! ) many times during the harvest season, each time only picking the tree-ripe fruit and re-bagging bunches to let them ripen further. Each date is carefully sorted and graded, first by hand, and then by machine to ensure quality.
What the boys retained? 1. They taste like candy. 2. They grow on palm trees. 3. They are sticky. 4. They go mushy in boiling water. 5. You can’t taste them in the sticky toffee pudding. All the important stuff, right?
The recipe is so very easy, the boys had it prepared and ready to bake in plenty of time…
for the Medjool Date Cake
for the Butterscotch Sauce
Make the Medjool Date Cake
Make the butterscotch sauce
Emily – thank you SO much for satisfying the boys’ (and my) sweet tooth tendencies. We so appreciate the generosity of people like you who volunteer their time to work with the boys each week.
Disclosure: I attended the Natural Delights dinner as a media guest. I received a gift bag containing dates and date products courtesy of Natural Delights. I was not obliged to write about the dinner, nor make one of the recipes. It was a happy accident that Emily was coming to cook with us anyway and menu choices for the Petits Chefs are always my own.
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