Date Honey from the Galilee
Here in the Galilee, a modest but auspicious ease in the heat is rousing us out of our summer torpor. That and the impending preparations for Rosh Hashana – with the questions that are on everyone’s lips: who is eating where and preparing what?
Our holiday table, like most, will be graced with a plate of sliced apples, and a bowl of honey to dip them in – to remind our tongues and the pleasure centers of our brains how sweet life can and hopefully will be in the coming year. This year, however, the honey we’ll be dipping into will have a darker hue and more complex flavor than usual.
The research I’ve been doing on the origins and history of the seven species of the Land of Israel (wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey) has changed the way I understand this last and sweetest of the seven.
Nogah Reuveni, one of the pioneering scholars of Israel’s biblical agricultural landscape, astutely observed that, of all the seven species, there is only one which is not a plant or plant product (guess which). While today, we think of honey as what comes out of a beehive, in ancient times, it referred to any sweet syrup made out of boiled-down fruit.
Reuveni, like the Talmudic sages, was convinced that the seventh specimen had to be honey made from dates – that would make it consistent with the rest of the list, with pollination by wind being the common denominator. Makes sense, no?
And by the way, the expanded notion of honey isn’t just an antique culinary curiosity – there are Palestinians here in the Galilee who still produce “dibis” or honey made out of carob or grapes (note the linguistic similarity between “dibis” and “dvash” – Hebrew for honey).
So, if you want to add an authentic flavor to that which makes life sweet, this holiday, try honey made from dates – in stores here in Israel, it’s marketed as “Silan”.