Stuffing dates was as popular in the past as it is today, and Apicius’ Roman cookery book has what is perhaps the oldest recipe in his list of ‘home-made sweets’ (dulcia domestica). Interestingly enough, his stuffing could also include ground pepper alongside the nuts, with the dates subsequently being sprinkled with salt (!) and candied in honey.
Stuffed dates were also a regular occurrence in the medieval Arab culinary tradition, and recipes can be found in cookery books from both Syria and Egypt, spanning a period of two centuries (13th-15th). For today’s scrumptious ‘honeyed dates’ (رطب معسّل, rutab mu’assal) from The Sultan’s Feast you need fresh dates, which should be left in the shade for a couple days, though one can dispense with this step if you’re buying them at the supermarket! Then, the fun part begins; remove the stones with a needle and stuff a peeled almond in each date (in the Syrian recipe, pistachios were also allowed). Next, they are boiled in a mixture of honey, vinegar, rose water, and saffron. Once the dates have absorbed all the goodness, they’re ready to come out, but before tucking in, do sprinkle some sugar on top, you’ll thank me for it later! I strongly suggest following the author’s advice to spice things up some more by adding musk and spikenard to the mixture. Though recommended for use in cold weather, this delicacy should really be enjoyed all year round. Indeed, the Syrian recipe does not endow the dish with medicinal properties but praises it for being ‘very pleasant’ (جيد مليح, jayyid malih).