52 Foods Week Eleven: Deglet Noor Dates

Just east of Palm Springs and the jutting San Jacinto Mountains, lies the Coachella Valley. Known to many as the home of a large music festival, it is also the largest date producing region outside of the Middle East. Two winters ago, we visited the valley and stopped at Shields Date Garden, in Indio, CA, whose small store is as much a paean to the date as it is a retail outlet. At Shields we tasted nearly a dozen date varietals, most of which are difficult—if not impossible—to find in grocery stores outside the valley. Because a trip to Indio is impractical on an average Saturday morning, I was thrilled to discover Siegfried Dates at the farmers’ market. They offer many date varietals from Coachella growers, including some delicious Deglet Noors from Leja Farms.

Deglet Noors are a fairly robust date varietal, recommended for cooking. While we were selecting out dates, another purchaser mentioned she was going to use her Deglet Noors in a pork dish, and leaving the market, we initially had similar ideas; however, when I realized that Monday was Pi Day, my thoughts turned to baking a date-pecan pie.

Based on a quick Google search, there seems to be a canonical date-pecan pie recipe, sourced of all places from Cooking Light. I am a bit skeptical about the “light” claims for this pie, but my wife assures me that the recipe is “light for a pie.” As I am far more versed in eating pies than baking them, I am trusting her on this point, but I would consult your a nutritionist or physician before making this, if calories and fat are a mortal concern.

Using a pretty good store bought pie crust (again, I am not a baker) makes this recipe ridiculously easy. I chopped the dates and pecans (Pawnee pecans from Chico, CA), then sprinkled them evenly on the bottom of the pie crust.

Dates and Pecans in the Shell

For the rest of the filling, I mixed brown sugar, molasses (which I used to replaced the dark corn syrup the recipe calls for), eggs, a little flour and a touch of vanilla and salt. When poured into the pie crust, this lifted the date and pecan pieces, suspending them in a rich, dark mixture of fat and sugar.

Filled Pie Shell

I baked the pie for 45 minutes, then removed it and added a layer of whole pecans to the top. It needed about 15 more minutes in the oven to finish.

45 Minutes Along

I think the pie came out looking pretty sharp.

Finished Pie

We served the finished pie with a healthy dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.

Pie with Unsweetened Whipped Cream

To complement it, we opened a cellared bottle of Full Sail Brewing’s 2009’s Black Gold Imperial Stout, a delicious, bourbon barrel aged imperial stout from one of Oregon’s premiere breweries.

2009 Full Sail Black Gold Imperial Stout

This is an awesome pie recipe, and I consider this a first run with it. I found the cup and a half of molasses to be a bit too strong, and in the future I plan to try a half cup of molasses and a 1/2 cup of bourbon brown sugar simple syrup (1/2 cup brown sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup bourbon). I also have a strong desire to add a little chopped bacon to the filling. The pork-date alliance is too strong to resist.

The pie making is documented in full here.

52 Foods Week Seven: Kiwis

The Farmer’s Market can be an odd beast in winter. It seems impossible that five stands could succeed selling nothing but oranges, yet there they are, week after week, with 5 and 10 pound sacks of citrus. Some do buck the trend, selling only apples, for example, another common fruit which is, perhaps, under-represented at the market. Still others carve out more unique positions, like Frank Stenzel’s all Kiwi table.

There is much to admire in the humble kiwi—which is actually a berry, not a fruit—the hairy skin, the lustrous green flesh, the myriad seeds surrounding the white center like an inverted cat’s eye. Of course there is also the flavor. Slightly tart and sweet. Smooth and never cloying. Distinct but accessible. I would be content to eat kiwis plain, but the rules of this project demand that I prepare each food, and so it was, under duress, that we made a tasty kiwi tart.

This excellent recipe calls for a filling of cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and cream, topped with sliced kiwi and a glaze made from apricot preserves, a roll-call of many of my favorite flavors.

Kiwi Tart Ingredients

Given instructions this simple and beguiling—”Combine cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and cream until smooth.”—there was no need to improvise or interfere. We mixed up two L’Étranger cocktails, followed the directions, chilled the tart for an hour or so, and attacked.

Enjoyment Time

Two hours may have been a more appropriate chilling time, as the center of our tart had a little trouble holding up when sliced, but honestly, I ate my piece so quickly, I hardly noticed. The most challenging part was pausing to take the photos.