Bad Dates

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.

  • Mom

    The rest of our family was also traumatized. Thereafter, cereals were stored in glass jars and to this day, I never add milk to a bowl of cereal without first poking through the bottom to make sure there are no small, black, mouse “spices”.

  • http://www.journeykitchen.com Kulsum at JourneyKitchen

    LOL Thats something quiet similar to what happened with me, though I didnt have science teacher dad to tell me but I figured it out myself. Its true for most dry fruits but since the interior of dates it so dark its difficult to figure out. Heck – do you check your dry figs? Trust me they are way more prone to those little back thingy !

  • http://www.saveyourfork.com Sheryl

    I used to keep currants in a wide-mouthed jar with a cork stopper. We had a terrible problem with moths one summer and I picked up the jar one day to find thousands of larvae in the bottom. The moths had chewed their way though the cork to get into the jar. I *always* check the jar now before using currants. ~shudder~

  • Stephanie

    Wow, that’s an effective PSA if I ever heard one. I had a similar experience with some organic salad greens. I didn’t bother to wash them and was rewarded with a spider crawling out of my mouth on a bite. Shudder. It’s worth the extra 30 seconds, people.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      Ha ha! I used to work with someone whose motto for washing veggies was, “Better 2 minutes of soap and water than a lifetime of therapy.”

  • http://shelf.fustat.org Ash

    “Soos” – “سوس”

    An Acari, they’re harmless, edible and nasty tasting.

  • Nicole

    D: I was once eating a bag of peanuts at a horse show and about halfway into the bag looked down at the shell in my hands–I had been shelling them blind, intent on the pretty ponies–and there was a wriggly green worm inside it, curled around the peanut I had been about to eat. I screamed so loud I am shocked I did not cause a stampede. I still do not like eating peanuts in the shell and once spent an entire dinner at Logan’s fighting an urge to puke.

  • Q

    I’ve had the same thing. I don’t want to know how many I’ve eaten in that state. I just found 2 today… I always open them now, just in case. I’m certain there’s no harm at all, so it’s all good… but I’ve been vegetarian for 10 years, and I have no intention on eating anything that moved on it’s on prior to cooking/drying, lol 😛 Some people eat stuff like that as a delicacy (chocolate-covered-thingies). To each their own, but I say “no.”. 😀