Cheap Eats:
Datiles con Tocino
  (Stuffed Dates in Bacon)

While a coconut palm may be the quintessential image of hot, humid, tropical landscapes, the inescapable image in hot, dry, desert landscapes is the date palm. In arid parts of the world, the date is sufficiently important to actually be categorized as a staple.

Dates most likely originated in the region around the Persian Gulf, probably in or near Iraq. In Iraq’s Shanidar Cave, archaeologists have found discarded stones of wild dates that go back as much as 50,000 years.

Dates were both cultivated and widespread long before records were being kept—and records have existed in the Middle East since 3000 BC In fact, dates were among the first fruits to be deliberately cultivated, certainly before 4000 BC, by which date cultivation had spread at least as far as eastern Arabia. Date palms are either male or female, and because females are the only ones that bear fruit, you want a lot more female trees, especially if you live in some tiny oasis with really limited water. So not only were the trees being selectively raised early on, they were also being hand pollinated right from the beginning, because if you had only a couple of male trees, you didn’t want to simply hope that the wind would carry the pollen someplace useful.

Dates spread east to India and west to Carthage—and Carthage became a major center of date growing, with the date palm appearing on Carthaginian coins. The ancient Greeks and Romans also tried to grow dates, but while the palms will grow successfully, and even blossom in cooler or damper climates, if they don’t have exactly the right blend of heat and dryness, they either won’t produce fruit or the fruit will never ripen. Hence, Greeks and Romans had to import their dates from the Middle East.

Dates were well known in Europe during the Middle Ages. They’re really sweet and store well, so it isn’t hard to imagine why. When Marco Polo began his wanderings, his comments were simply about the beauty of the groves of dates he saw and the quality of some varieties he encountered, but he clearly knew dates well. His one date-related “discovery” was a date wine in southern India, which he wrote “makes a man drunk sooner than grape wine.”

Dates were among the desserts served at most formal French dinners in the 1300s, though these exotic treats didn’t come within budget-range of the average French working person until the conquest of Algeria. While it is not certain when dates reached England, they were common there by Elizabethan times, sweet puddings being the primary way they were used at the time—still a common outlet for dates in England.

Dates and date palms began to reach the New World as soon as Spaniards realized that there were places they would grow. They introduced the palms into Mexico and Baja California, where the transplanted seedlings did well. Baja was even exporting dates by the early 1800s. While dates were planted at the Spanish missions founded in California, it wasn’t until the early 1900s that California really became a major player in the world date market. Thousands of plants from selected varieties in Algeria, eastern Arabia, and Iraq were brought to southern California by Paul and Wilson Popenoe in 1912. The crop proved to be profitable, and cultivation spread. Today, there are about a quarter of a million date-bearing palms in California and Arizona.

Only the common date, Phoenix dactylifera, is cultivated for its fruit. The word “date,” like the dactylifera in the fruit’s Latin name, comes from the Latin dactylus, which means “finger.” Most varieties of date are oblong, and some varieties are almost as long as a finger, hence the name. However, for the recipe below, you will not want to opt for finger-length dates. Something only slightly longer than a strip of bacon is wide would be your best choice.

This recipe is Spanish, and it is most commonly served as a tapa, or appetizer. The term tapa means “cover,” and it refers to the practice of covering your drink with a card to keep the flies out. People would then use the card on top of their drinks as a place to set down nuts, olives, or whatever other finger food might go well with what they were drinking, and soon, the nibbles became know as tapas, too. Dates were introduced into Spain by the Moors, as were almonds. This recipe is easy and delicious. Enjoy.

Datiles con Tocino
(Stuffed Dates in Bacon)

8 slices of bacon, cut in half

16 dates, pitted

16 almonds, roasted and salted

Preheat oven to 425°F. Stuff one almond into each date. Wrap the date with bacon and put it on a jelly roll pan or other baking sheet with sides, seam side down. Press down a little, to flatten a tiny bit, to keep it from unrolling. Alternatively, you could fasten the bacon with a toothpick that has been soaked for an hour in water (to keep it from bursting into flames in the oven).

Bake for 8 minutes, then turn the bacon-wrapped dates over and return to the oven. Continue to bake until bacon is crisp (check after 5 minutes, but can take up to 8 minutes on side two, depending on your oven). You may want to blot the cooked dates on a paper towel, to soak up a bit of grease, as you transfer them to a serving dish.

Serves 4.


As an experiment, I tried stuffing the dates with sliced garlic—slice a clove of garlic into ⅛-inch slices—instead of the almond, or along with it. Yum. Not traditional, but I don’t think anyone in garlic-happy Spain would complain.

Back to Cheap Eats Introduction
Conversion Tables

Home Join Contact Members