Dates Key facts Dates are low in fat and high in fibre, making them an ideal addition to the diet. A very ancient fruit, dates have been cultivated since 4000BC and are grown, with many different varieties, all over North Africa and the Middle East, where they are used in both sweet and savoury dishes.

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.

Related Recipes
Christmas Chutney Makes a 1 litre jar

Christmas Chutney

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.

Spiced Fig Pudding with Cumberland Rum Butter Serves 6

Spiced Fig Pudding with Cumberland Rum Butter

Those who aren't too keen on a traditional rich, dark Christmas pud may find this lighter, spicier version more to their liking.

Polenta and Ricotta Cake with Dates and Pecans Serves 8-10

Polenta and Ricotta Cake with Dates and Pecans

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!

Little Sticky Toffee Puddings with Pecan Toffee Sauce Serves 8

Little Sticky Toffee Puddings with Pecan Toffee Sauce

Why not freeze these gorgeous little puds for a very special dessert? Your guests will love the wonderful flavours of this real treat.

Fresh Date and Apple Chutney Serves 6 as a starter

Fresh Date and Apple Chutney

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.




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