When I was in high school I would sit on the couch with my homework in front of me and a big package of dried figs, dates or apricots. I always loved snacking on dried fruit (truth: I just really liked snacking. And ignore the past tense, because that hasn’t changed), and probably because of my Lebanese heritage, dried dates were my favorite. I could easily go through a sleeve of about 20 dates in a single sitting, which no doubt bodes poorly for eventual adult onset diabetes, but at least it was a healthier addiction than my affection for Sour Patch Kids. At least, it was until one fateful day.
There I was, sitting on the couch and munching on my dates. Nom nom nom! Yum yum yum! Pop the date in my mouth, chew off the luscious sweet flesh and spit the seed into a napkin. Repeat for as long as necessary. About a dozen dates into this culinary fetish, I knew I had to slow down so I paused to gently pry apart the date in half and discard the seed (incremental portions don’t actually mean that I eat less, but at least I eat slower so that’s something). But wait! What could that be inside? Surrounding the pit was a suspicious granular brown substance.
“Daaaad”, I whined, “I think there’s something wrong with my date….will you come and take a look?”
My father was a high school science teacher, and as analytical as the day was long. This is the man who once pulled out a microscope at breakfast to inspect my less-than-crispy bacon. Clearly he was the expert to whom I would turn in a situation like this. My Dad quickly peered into the date, turned it from side to side under the light, shook it slightly and turned it upside down (?) and then flipped it back to me saying, “The date is fine. What you’re seeing are crystallized sugar granules from when the date dries too –“Yeah, whatever. I ate it. However, the next one that I pulled open had a similar brown crystalline looking powder inside and…what? Is that a bloody WEB??
Upon further inspection, my father found a dessicated pupae and calmly proclaimed, “Huh. Guess that’s not sugar. Looks like some bugs, that’s all.”
Note: Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so traumatized if I hadn’t already eaten about 15 before I found a dead fly carcass, and then after carefully dissecting every single date left in the bag I realized that they had all met a similar fate.
Note 2: My horror was second only to the time that we went up to the cottage in the spring, after it had been closed up for months, and were told that the dry black pellets floating in our stale muesli were “just currants”. Even a child knows that mice do not poop currants.
As an unfortunate side effect of The Incident of Dried Dates and Insects, I am now compelled to inspect each and every date that enters the house. For the most part there has been nothing amiss, but it never hurts to check. In the three pound package that I bought last week there was only a single befouled fruit, however I can’t help reminding you to check, just in case, because I still cringe at the memory.
Not sure what a bad date looks like? Here’s an example. Note the speckle of tiny brown granules (let’s not get into what they are) and the slightly wispy webbing near the bottom of the pit which is most assuredly not the regular fibrous strands.
Tomorrow I will share a recipe for you for one of my favorite fruit snacks, a Middle Eastern flavored date and nut bonbon that is as healthy as it is delicious and crave-worthy. Today, however, I’m still haunted by the memory of eating bugs and dung and I can’t bring myself to talk about food.
See you tomorrow….and don’t forget to always check your muesli.