In a corner of my garden stands the tallest palm tree in the village of Mohandes in Daqahleya. It was planted seventy years ago by my grandfather and ever since, has yielded its dates every September.
When they are ripe, the dates are bright, plump and yellow, and fall to the ground in soft thuds. This is a sure sign that the palm can carry its luscious burden no longer.
The samani plant is a local species that is abundant in Egypt. It offers itself to being munched while ripe and dry or left to come to fruition. After the ripening process, it is then eaten as soft, brown, and “rotab“.
Dates ripened or “rotab“
“Rotab” is an Arabic word derived from the root word that means “cool” and “moist”. These two attributes give the samani dates turned “rotab” a particularly sumptuous flavour.
The samani dates-turned “rotab” offer a particularly sumptuous flavour
On Friday, Foad, the ‘date palm climber’ as he is known, comes to harvest the dates.
Harvesting the dates (photo: PALDF)
He is typically armed with a thick leather girdle and a rope with which he props himself as he climbs up the tall palm trunk.
Once he has reached the top of the palm, he begins to cut the date-laden sheaves with a scythe, piling them into a wide-straw basket, and then lowers it gently to the ground.
A ‘date palm climber’ armed with a thick leather girdle and rope (photo: PALDF)
After harvesting the ripe dates, Foad comes down from the palm to bear witness to the collection.
He dexterously chisels a trump-shaped sachet out of a green palm sheave and hands it to one of the children who are standing by and watching.
The children living nearby love to come into the garden and see Foad climb up the palm.
They rush to pick up random dates that might have fallen to the ground as he works.
A date fallen from the palm is a prize for them that beats the taste of potato chips and ice cream, which are typically sold at the village store.
Dates are rich in fibre and minerals. They contain potassium, copper, manganese and vitamin B6.
They are high in sugar content, but since they are low on the glycemic index, a small amount can satisfy a sweet tooth while preventing sugar spikes.
We eat a sizable amount of our palm tree’s generous yield and turn the rest into a scrumptious jam.
Here is my family’s recipe to make jam from fresh dates.
For every kilogramme of dates, a kilogramme of sugar may be used or may be added lightly for taste.
Jam made from dates
1 kg of dates
4 1/2 x 8oz cups of water
1 kg of sugar (or less)
Juice and grated peel of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
2 cloves or 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
Cover dates with water and let simmer gently for ten minutes.
Add rest of ingredients and continue to simmer while stirring.
When mixture is soft and thick, put it into sterilised jars.