Irresistible fresh dates — which have thin skins over supersweet, sticky flesh and a single elongated pit — hail from the Middle East and may be the oldest cultivated crop. They are also sold dried year-round and offer fiber, iron, and protein. Choose plump, shiny, slightly crinkly ones without visible sugar residue. Refrigerate fresh dates for up to two weeks, and store dried ones up to six months in a cool, dry place.

For an easy, impressive appetizer, slit fresh dates lengthwise and remove pits; stuff with goat cheese and an almond, and drizzle with balsamic glaze.

Chop fresh dates and add to practically any dessert: cobbler topping, piecrusts, banana bread, cakes,and muffins. They're also fabulous in shakes and smoothies; try a blend of finely chopped dates, papaya, and soy or coconut milk.

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