Fresh from October to February, dried available all year round
Dates are semi-tropical fruit from a palm tree, usually imported dried from the Middle East and North Africa. Once upon a time they were about as exotic as fruit could get. Fresh dates are moister and taste less rich and sweet. Either kind is good to nibble with cheese, or with coffee. Speaking of nibbling, the plants,or perhaps more accurately, the farmers, have a fearsome natural predator in the form of mice, who will run up 100 ft- (30 m) high palms for a date feast. The hot news in the date world is the toffee date (Medjool or Medjul), a particularly succulent variety carefully dried. It really is toffee sweet so if you are making cakes and biscuits with it you may find you need less sugar.
Unless fresh dates are specified, the recipes use dried dates.
This is so-named because it is made with dried fruits, which I always associate with Christmas: prunes, dates and apricots. It's dark, spicy and delicious with cold cuts, pork pies or hot sausages – and it goes splendidly with matured Cheddar.
Why not freeze these gorgeous little puds for a very special dessert? Your guests will love the wonderful flavours of this real treat.
This chutney goes particularly well with Camembert Croquettes. However, it would also partner the Christmas cold cuts and buffet food extremely well, especially ham, pork pies and gammon.
This unusual Italian cake freezes really well and makes a nice change from the more obvious teatime offerings: polenta gives the cake a grainy texture while the ricotta and amaretto to add moisture and an alcoholic kick!
Those who aren't too keen on a traditional rich, dark Christmas pud may find this lighter, spicier version more to their liking.