Grow a Palm From a Date

Date pits soaking in water, with their guardian frogs, in preparation for planting.

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I blame Pinterest, and one of those odd “You might like these new pins” emails I received earlier this week.

You see one of those pins they shared with me showed gorgeous baby green leaves growing out of a little pot of soil- holding a date pit.

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Fresh dates

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Do you eat dates?  The people in my life either passionately love them or despise them with equal vehemence.

The true candy of the fruit world, they contain about  75% sugar, which makes them a great sugar substitute in baked goods, energy bars and bites, and smoothies.  With their sweetness comes a great deal of fiber and other nutrients.

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I bought a box of fresh dates just before Thanksgiving for my first adventure in baking a vegan, ‘plant based’ birthday cake to my brother’s specs.   It was good, well received, and the process opened my eyes to cooking with these luscious fresh dates!

Never wanting to throw useful things away, especially when I learn that they might grow, I am following the instructions I discovered on Pintrest to bring these date pits, or seeds, into growth.

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With a fresh box of dates from Trader Joes in hand, I sliced open a little more than half the dates in the box and dropped their seeds into a small jar of water yesterday afternoon.  I didn’t wash or scrub the seeds in any way, and learned this morning that some of the fruit remaining on the seeds had soaked off overnight.

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This morning, I gently shook the jar a few times before pouring off most of the cloudy water and replacing it with fresh, slightly warm water.  I’ll change the water daily for a few more days as the seeds wake up and prepare to grow.

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Every seed contains an embryo plant.  Some seeds are able to completely dry out and wait for the conditions when a new plant may grow.  Other seeds need to remain moist.  Some seeds need a period of cold stratification before they will germinate, others will germinate immediately after they ripen.

I sometimes find seeds in my grapefruits already germinating, with tiny sprouts beginning to grow within the fruit.  I will find a little pot and some soil and allow these to grow on, hating to throw them away when already in growth.

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But I’d never given much thought to date seeds before this week.  These are another grocery store treasure, from the produce department, that one can grow into a new, productive plant!

Most fruit bearing date palms are hardy from Zone 9 south.  That means that I won’t be able to leave any trees that grow from these seeds outside during a Virginia winter.  They will always grow in pots and won’t reach maturity here.

Date palms are true trees, growing to about 75″ tall.  Although palms are grown here as houseplants, they require a good deal of sun and so a sunny spot is required to keep them happy through winter.

But I’m always interested in learning how things grow, and so I’m going to give these little seeds a try.  Like our holly trees, date palms are dioecious.  Each tree has its own gender, and a male tree is required nearby to fertilize the fruit-bearing female trees.  Growers who produce dates commercially must have a mix of male and female trees.

Since there is no way to determine a tree’s gender until it produces its first flowers, it is wise to start a group of seeds and grow them on to maturity, if one wants to eventually enjoy fresh, home-grown dates.

It may take nearly 10 years from seed to maturity, so growing dates requires a bit of commitment if this project is to come to ‘fruition’.  Commercial growers tend to propagate new trees from divisions of particularly heavy producing trees already in their care.  I won’t be starting up any fruit production in this area, so I’ll grow these as long as I can, as a beautiful novelty.

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There isn’t a great deal of agreement among those who have written about growing dates, about how long to soak the seeds or how to care for them as they germinate.  Some instruct one to soak the seeds for two days, others for as much as two weeks.  I’m sure that the length of time needed is directly related to how fresh the seeds may be.

My seeds were exceedingly fresh and I can see some of the embryos beginning to stretch beyond the seed coast today, after soaking for a little more than 12 hours.

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These seeds soaked overnight before I removed them from the jar just long enough to photograph them. see how the embryo has begun to extend beyond the seed coat?

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One point all agree on is that the seeds need warmth and moisture to germinate and grow.  One writer suggests moving the seeds into damp paper towel, sealed in a zip-lock bag, kept in a warm spot after soaking.  This would be an intermediate step to encourage the embryo to further develop in optimal conditions before setting it into a pot of soil.   Other writers move the sprouting seeds directly from their jar of water into soil, planted very shallowly, and covered with damp sand.

This is a great little activity to do with kids (and the young at heart) this winter.  The large seeds allow children to see the stages of a sprouting seed clearly.  All sorts of questions will arise, and many teachable moments will come as you watch the miracle of a sprouting seed together.

When I move my seeds out of the water and into a bag or pots, I’ll try to remember to snap a few photos to share.    I believe I’ll try a few both ways, since I have about a dozen seeds already soaking.  We’ll see which way leads us to green leaves faster!

In the meantime, you may wonder what I did with those gorgeous date fruits after I harvested their seeds yesterday.  I’ll share the recipe, which is another fun thing to do with any kids in your life.

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Yes, one is missing. I’m sure you know what may have happened to it…

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Save these little treasures for yourself or share them with friends over a cup of coffee or tea.  I’ll warn you they are rich and satisfying, and at the same time might qualify as a ‘healthy snack’ if those things matter to you.  They certainly are making this wintery day a bit brighter for me!

These measures are guesses, and this recipe doesn’t require exact measures. Relax and enjoy the process…

Date-Nut Energy Bites

A dozen or so fresh dates, pits removed

A cup of dried, unsweetened flake coconut

A cup of ground almonds (I used Trader Joe’s ‘almond flour,’ which contains nothing but finely ground almonds.

1/2 cup of raw pecans

3 TB ground flax seeds

A few grinds of sea salt

1.5 TB. powdered dark cocoa (I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

Combine the first five ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Process in short pulses until the dates are cut into fine pieces.  Continue to process for another 30 seconds or so as the material begins to come together in the bowl.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the salt, cocoa powder and extracts.  Continue processing for another few seconds, and scrape the bowl again.

The mixture is ready to form into balls when it begins to hold together as a chunky paste.  The extract provides enough liquid the help the mix hold together.  You could probably use water or fruit juice to replace the extracts, if you wish.

Form the paste-like mixture into balls.  I used a 1 TB measuring spoon to scoop the mix, pressing it lightly into the spoon, and then knocking it out of the spoon into my hand to round it slightly.

Place the finished date balls on waxed paper in a lidded container in a single layer.  Cover and chill for at least an hour while the mixture sets up.

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Expect about 24-30 Date-Nut Bites from this recipe, depending on how large you make each one. These were better on the second day, once the flavors had melded and the fruit and nuts had set up together.

Enjoy!

Woodland Gnome 2019
Update 1: February 4, 2019

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I moved some of the seeds showing growth from the jar of water to a damp paper towel in a zip-lock.  I have the seeds under a lamp in a warm spot, and am checking them daily for growth. 

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Of course, I could have planted these directly into pots of soil.  But it’s more interesting to keep them out where we can watch them grow a while longer!

 

 

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Make the House Smell Good

Apple pecan loaf, hot out of the oven.

Apple pecan loaf, hot out of the oven.

One of the nicest things you can do for yourself, and your friends and family, on a cool and windy autumn day is to make the house smell good with baking.  Baked cinnamon speaks to comfort, home, and autumn here in Virginia, as it must in many other places as well.

We got an early start here this morning with four dozen cinnamon rolls made for friends at our favorite garden center who sponsored a festival today to benefit the Ways and Means Auxilliary of our local Sentara Hospital.  Since it was way too early, and I was too rushed this morning to get photos of those beautiful cinnamon rolls.  We’ll make them again sometime soon and get photos for a future post.  Instead of my usual simple topping of confectioner’s sugar mixed with coconut milk, I was tempted by Michael’s posting of his Devil’s Food cake last night to make a variation on his cream cheese frosting for my simple little rolls.  Short on cream cheese, I added in some sour cream to round out the little bit I had on hand, and made a smaller batch of frosting.  It was the perfect topping to let melt over the hot from the oven cinnamon buns before loading them into the car to head over to Homestead Garden Center, where we added them to their bake sale.

The house smelled so good when we got back, that after washing up all of the pans, I started melting butter again, pulled out the mixing bowl, and began mixing a fresh apple loaf for friends.   They have had a rough week after some medical issues.  Back to normal diet again, this healthy little apple cake will be my gift to them this afternoon.  You know what they say about apples….

Do you see the bits of fresh apple and pecan baked into the loaf?  The topping is cinnamon and raw sugar.

Do you see the bits of fresh apple and pecan baked into the loaf? The topping is cinnamon and raw sugar.

When you think about it, our good health is our treasure.  The more we cook for ourselves and our loved ones, with simple healthy ingredients, the more good health and strength we enjoy.  After many decades on the planet, we realize just how important it is to take good care of ourselves so we can really enjoy the years ahead.

This is a simple recipe, but we break it out into several steps, preparing each ingredient before combining them.  We base this recipe on one of those standard “go to” formulas that we “Zen” cooks cherish.  My formula, good for everything from biscuits and scones to cornbread, cobblers, sweetbreads and fruit muffins begins with self-rising flour, butter, sour cream, and liquid.  Add in what you will, this is the basic mix.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Step 1:  Roughly chop 1/4-1/2 c. of raw pecan halves or pieces while heating a skillet over medium high heat.  Add 1-2 TB of butter to the skillet, and when it melts, add the chopped pecans, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a sprinkle of raw (unrefined) sugar.  Stir as the ingredients come together to coat the nuts.  When the nuts have deepened in color and smell good, remove from the heat and allow the pecans to cool on a plate.  Keep the pan handy to use again immediately.

Step 2:  Thoroughly wash and finely chop (1/4″ dice) 2 medium apples, peels left on.  I used Golden Delicious.  Add about 1/4 c. brown sugar and the apples  to the pan, and return to a medium heat.  Sprinkle with cinnamon, and toss the apples in the sugar as they begin to heat through.  When the apples are well coated and begin to look a little shiny and translucent, remove from the heat.

May I cut a slice for you?

May I cut a slice for you?

Step 3:  Melt 1/2 of a stick of butter.  (An egg in this recipe is optional .  Use it if you like eggs, I normally skip the egg and use 1/4 c. more liquid or apple butter.)  In a large mixing bowl, whisk 1 egg until light with the melted butter, 2 TB sour cream, 1/4 c. honey, and 1 c. apple cider.

Step 4:  Stir the apples into the mixing bowl, add 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. cardamon, and 1/4 tsp. ground cloves. Scoop 2 c. of self-rising flour on top of the mixture; and measure 1/4 tsp. baking powder (and 1/2 tsp. sea salt, optional)  onto the flour.  Mix very gently with a rubber spatula just until the liquid and flour are combined.  Add up to 1/2 c. water as you mix to keep a loose consistency.   Pour in the seasoned nuts, mix gently and pour into a greased loaf pan lined with waxed paper.  Sprinkle the top of the batter with more cinnamon, and drizzle with honey or lightly sprinkle with raw sugar.

Step 5:  Bake at 350F for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean.  Turn onto a rack to cool, remove the waxed paper, and enjoy with butter, cream cheese, or some fresh apple butter.

Baking this apple loaf is guaranteed to make your kitchen warm and cozy, and to make your  whole house smell nice for the rest of the day.  As the autumn breezes blow, we have all earned a bit of a cozy rest indoors with a good book or blog.  When you feel ready for a little more “Zen” cooking, switch out the apples for peaches or bananas.  Substitute coconut milk or freshly brewed chai for the cider.  Throw in a handful of dried cranberries, currants, cherries, or raisins.  Substitute walnuts for pecans.  Bake it in muffin tins rather than in a loaf pan.  Or skip the fruit entirely, pour the batter into a 9×9 baking pan, and top with your favorite preserves.  It’s all delicious, and all relatively healthy.   We will burn off those delicious calories raking and mulching our leaves one day soon, won’t we?

Happy Weekend!

More leaves falling each day.  Time to dust off the rake and mulch those leaves!

More leaves falling each day. Time to dust off the rake and mulch those leaves!

Photos and recipe by Woodland Gnome 2013

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