No, I’m not talking about that kind of dates, because as I’ve previously said on this blog, dating in Saudi Arabia is a risky business which I prefer not to get myself involved in. What I’m talking about here is those nice little things you find at the top of palm trees; dates that you can actually eat.
On the recently revived Jeddah Food blog I found this link to an article from the July/August 2004 issue of Saudi Aramco World magazine by author and photojournalist Eric Hansen. In the article, we follow Hansen in his journey to chronicle the history of dates production in the US, and later on his trip all the way to Saudi Arabia in order to compare the quality of dates between the two countries.
Al-Hasa, my hometown, is well-known for producing some of the best dates in the world. One type in particular, khlas, has a legendary reputation for its sweet taste. Reading through the two parts of the article made me feel proud, but it also made me feel a bit sad because growing dates has become a dying profession. The process consumes huge amounts of water, and as most of the natural water springs in the region have dried up, the costs have been rising to a degree where production for commercial purposes is becoming less and less profitable.
One point the writer gets right though, and I’m certainly glad that he does, is that most Hassawis don’t buy their dates from the market but rather from farmers they know directly. Not to mention of course that most families receive amounts of dates as gifts from friends and relatives. Actually, in many years we get more than what we need of dates that we end up giving away some of it and freeze some of it to enjoy later in the year.