How to pick a good date

Photo+by+Grace+Vance

Photo by Grace Vance

Grace Vance

There is really nothing better than snuggling up next to your loved ones and enjoying a favorite movie or meal, and with Valentine’s Day coming up, you have no excuse not to. February has always been one of those times of the year where people can really show their love and affection which, to me, is a nice change from the sometimes hostile and reserved world we live in. Amidst the love that fills the air, I have found the excitement that surrounds holidays like Valentine’s Day very uplifting, whether that be from the bubbly conversations around me or the happy couples holding hands while walking down the street.
From supermarket shelves to school classrooms, I love seeing little pops of pink dotted everywhere. Looking back to when I was little, some of my fondest memories surrounding this holiday were waking up to pink themed candies and trinkets, but in the past few years I have made quite a different, un-traditional spin on my all time favorite Valentine’s snacks: dates. No I’m not talking about social dating, but the fruit version, however.
Photo by Grace Vance
 
Now, from the outside I know there is nothing particularly spectacular about dates. Their outward appearance is dark brown and leathery, but when you bite into one you might be surprised to discover a sweet and incredibly caramel like taste. The flavor is intensely rich and mapley — perfect for a dessert and probably better than any piece of candy you could get your hands on. So despite it’s relatively unattractive appearance, dates make an amazing sweet treat for a holiday like this! And for those of you out there who hate the color pink, this is a great way to get the same sweetness you crave — without all the refined sugar and unnatural color dyes.
Before you dig into this festive holiday treat though, you must have the right kind of date. You won’t get that nice caramel-y flavor with the same richness if you don’t pick your date wisely. Follow my tips listed below to have the best date experience this Valentine’s Day.
First off, like most foods, there are many different varieties that branch off of the same food. The same goes for dates. The most common varieties are deglet noor and medjool, but there are many other types as well. For eating dates whole, I prefer medjool dates for their silky texture and an amazingly sweet bite, whereas deglet noor dates are generally drier with a thinner and firmer texture. So the type of date you purchase makes a huge difference.
Where and how you buy the dates also matters. I like to purchase mine in the bulk section of either Hy-Vee or Clover’s Natural Market or in the produce section of Schnucks, as I have found the medjool dates at these stores tend to be softer and of high quality. So why buy bulk? I purchase my dates in the bulk section because I am not paying extra for a fancy label, I can get as little or as many dates as I want and I can personally select the ones I want, which is especially great because dates tend to be kind of pricey if you’re not careful. Also, when your going to eat them whole like in today’s recipe, it’s nice to know exactly what you are paying for. So buying in bulk is key to controlling the money you pay and the quantity of what you buy.
As I mentioned before, buying in bulk allows you to inspect every date that you pick out, which decreases the possibility of wasting money on a few dates that have gone bad. To ensure I am buying quality dates from the bulk section, I look for a uniform long oval shape, meaning nothing has squashed the date down too much and that there are no obvious bruises. Most bulk bins have tongs to help you to pick up the dates without using your hands. I like the use this as an opportunity to check how soft or firm that dates are, but if you can’t tell, simply put a few dates into your bag and gently squeeze to make sure they are what you want. Always aim for the softer ones because those are the ones that will be moister and much more delightful! When buying dates I prefer the medjool variety that are organic and NOT dried because I feel like drying them out ruins the natural sticky sweetness of them. But remember, if you are choosing between a higher quality, organic medjool date that is pricier and a dried out, conventionally grown date that is cheaper, then go for the higher quality date. If your going to eat dates, get the ones that are worth your money.
Just like local fruits and vegetables, the closer to home the date was grown, the better tasting it will be. Now, I realize that Missouri does not have the right climate to grow dates, but other places around the U.S do! I like to look for California grown dates because they have a good organic selection there and dates grown there tend to be much fresher than dates grown in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, the leading countries in date production. They then have to be imported all the way to the U.S, and then sit in the grocery store for a long time, waiting to be purchased. Plus, foreign countries might not have as strict organic standards as the U.S. Not to say that U.S grown dates won’t have a similar trip to your grocery store, but it is a much shorter trip from the tree harvested to you.
Photo by Grace Vance
 
Almond Butter Stuffed Dates
serves 1-2
4 dates
4 tsp almond butter (or more, depending on the size of the date)
Directions:

  1. Split the date open down the middle with a knife, but not all the way through, just until your knife hits the inside pit. Take the pit out and set aside, then repeat with the three other dates.
  2. Once all the dates a cut in half and pitted, take one tsp of almond butter (or whatever amount fits into the interior of the date) and spread it evenly along the inside of the date. Serve and enjoy!

This recipe is incredibly simple, but totally perfect a sweet treat, no matter if it’s a holiday or not! For long term storage, keep the dates in a baggie in the fridge, but I guarantee you will polish these treats off so quick there will be no need to!
By Grace Vance
Photos by Grace Vance