I’ve been on a Medjool date jag for months now. No mean feat if you consider the season is only supposed to run from September to November. Perhaps it’s because they’re grown in Coachella, a mere 132 miles away, that we’re experiencing such a glut. And they store well; six months in the fridge and they’re none the wiser. Medjools, along with Khadrawy, Halawy and Barhi, are classed as ‘soft’ dates because of their high moisture content. I will try to define the texture without straying too far into food-porn territory; your teeth break the sugar-blistered amber skin of the Medjool and the immediate sensation is a densely rich and yielding butterscotch flesh.
Two of these dates are the equivalent in sugar rush to eating a whole Milky Way without the artificially potent high and crashing low. Medjools in particular have a natural affinity with oranges – see the Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe – and dark chocolate. A collection of all three would make a fine dessert plate. Dipping medjools into melted dark chocolate and leaving to harden would also make a fine marriage.
Semi-dried dates, such as Deglet Noor, seem to belong to childhood Christmases; the rounded rectangular box covered in cellophane and decorated with palm trees and camels would always sit alongside a tray of nuts no one could crack. These dates are stickier, tougher and go well with thick yogurt.
But Medjools are the Kardashians of the date world; their demands are such that each date must be hand-pollinated and hand-harvested, while keeping their heads hot and feet wet at all times in order to thrive. This is also why they’re so expensive; cultivation is back-breaking and incredibly complex, with workers having to scale towering date palms several times a day to ensure a satisfactory yield. Talk about high maintenance.
Hot Date Compote (serves 2)
Adapted from Nigel Slater, Real Fast Puddings
1 tbs butter
8 soft dates, stoned and chopped
Generous squeeze of a large orange (about 6 tsp/30ml) and the zest
1 heaped tbs shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
Melt the butter in a pan until just starting to brown and smell nutty. Add the dates and let them soften over a gentle heat, giving the pan a good shake every now and then. Toss in the pistachios and let them brown slightly. Now deglaze the pan with the orange juice; this will pick up all the sticky, chewy bits that have started to caramelize. Add the zest, and let it all bubble for a minute or so, until it begins to look and feel like a puree. Serve hot over Greek-style yogurt or with a ripe, juicy pear. This compote is also amazingly good with pork as well as with a blue cheese such as Stilton or Roquefort (but not for breakfast – this would be stretching it even for me).