This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The fruit of the Date Palm (Phcenix dactylifera), or Tree of Life, is the most nourishing of all our imported tree products, by reason of its abundant, and luscious sweetness. The name Phoenix has been bestowed on the Date Palm, because a young shoot springs always from the withered stump of an old decayed Date tree, taking the place of the dead parent: and the specific term "dactylifera" refers to the fancied resemblance between the fruit clusters and the human fingers. Children especially appreciate dates, and benefit by their plentiful sugar (about an ounce to the pound), which is readily digested, and which freely furnishes bodily warmth, and fat. With such a view doctors now likewise advise Dates for consumptive patients; moreover, by their mucilage these serve to soothe an irritable chest, and to promote expectoration; again, they tend to obviate a costive state of the bowels. The Arabs say that Adam, when expelled from Paradise, took with him three things - the Date (chief of all fruits), the Myrtle, and an ear of Wheat for seed.
Those Dates which surpass all others in general excellence, are grown with much care at Tafilat, inland from Morocco. Dates of a second quality are brought from Tunis, intermixed with fragments of stalk, and branch; whilst the inferior sorts come in the form of a cake, or paste, being pressed into baskets. Dates will as a food prevent exhaustion, and will help to keep active the energies of mind, and body. The fruit should be selected when large and soft, being moist, and of a reddish-yellow colour outside, and not much wrinkled, whilst having within a white membrane between the flesh and the stone. In a clever parody on Bret Harte's "Heathen Chinee, "an undergraduate at one of the Universities is detected in having surreptitiously primed himself before examination thus:-
"Inscribed on his cuffs were the Furies and Fates, With a delicate map of the Dorian States; Whilst they found in his palms, which were hollow, What are common in Palms, namely, dates".
A conserve is prepared by the Egyptians from unripe Dates, whole, with sugar; the soft stones, being then edible, are included; and this jam, though comparatively tasteless, is very nourishing. Oriental writers have attributed to the Date Palm a certain semi-human consciousness. The carbohydrate of Dates is almost solely sugar. Half a pound of the fruit, and half a pint of new milk, will make an ample satisfying repast for a person engaged in sedentary work. An ounce of Dates contains twenty-seven grains of proteid (primary food-elements). In Arabia milch cows, and donkeys, are fed with unripe Dates boiled down with the ground stones, and with fish-bones. For Date-bread, which is nutritious, and gently laxative: "Break the Dates apart, wash, and drain them in a colander; shake them well, and set them in a warm place to dry. Stone, and chop enough to make a cupful, and knead into a loaf of white, or brown bread, just before setting it to rise for the last time".
Again, for stewed Dates: "Break the Dates apart, and wash them first in cold water, then in hot water; drain them, and cover with cold water. Cook for a very few minutes until tender; take out the fruit, add a little sugar to the water, and boil for five minutes; pour it over the Dates, and set them away to become cold."Among fruits which serve to strengthen the sexual functions may be specially reckoned the Date. A lesson of interdependence as to the power of the small to assist the great is taught by a proverb, "The Date-stone props up the water-jar." Tafilat Dates, even when of excellent quality, soon become dry, and tough on exposure, after being purchased from the grocer; but their succulence and plumpness may be retained by putting them into a good-sized glass prune-bottle, with a screw metal top, sprinkling them freely therein with moist sugar, and a teaspoonful or two of water for moisture.