My visit to Eden Palm Tozeur was not only for entertainment, as i stepped in the museum i found myself surrounded with a wall of written history, it was all about the palm tree.

The origin of the date palm is not established with certainty. The date palm belongs to the kind of Phoenix whose only fossil tracks were discovered in Europe ( The Paris basin, North of Italy, Germany and Bohemia) as well as North America ( Texas and British Columbia) and date from the tertiary era. The date palm would be the result of the hybridization of several Phoenixes ( sylvestris, reclinate, atlantica). The kinds of cultivated date palms probably come from the northern and oriental regions of the Sahara.

The Phoenicians, great navigators of ancient times, practised the trade of dates across the Mediterranean. They would have played a leading role in the spreading of the Phoenician farming techniques. The Phoenician cities often had as an emblem the date palm. The Carthaginians retook it as a representation on their coins. But for a long time, the Phoenician cultivation had also spread from Egypt towards Libya and the Maghreb. The date palm was thus already cultivated by the Libyan-Berber indigenous populations. 3000 years ago, the Garamentes, a community of farmers and warriors of the desert, cultivated the palm trees.

The date palm constitutes an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the imagination of the artists. Sung for its beauty by the Arab poets and even Westerners, the palm tree also fascinates painters. We frequently find it in works illustrating certain famous episodes of the Bible like the escape of the Holy Family in Egypt. In the 19th century, many made of it the element of privileged decoration of the scenes of orientalists. The palm tree is found even in the heart of Picasso’s cubist works. Architecture also copied its majestic aspect to produce imposing styles of colossal constructions of Egypt or columns of the classic art.

In the course of time and according to the conditions of local agriculture, the Phoenician farmers selected various varities of the date palm. Some varities are early and are harvested in August, others are late and picked in October. Some produce dry dates, others give soft or semi soft ones. Often of oblong shape, certain dates are practically spherical. Their size is very variable from 1 to 8 cm long Their colour ranges from yellowish to dark almost black and the ambers, red and brown, more or less dark.

Deglet Nour, described as “The Queen of dates”, it is undeniably the most prestigious date. It is also the most exported Tunisian variety. Its price is much higher than that of the other varities. Its name means “the fingers of light” because it is almost translucent and lets its stone appear

When the date was the main food of the oasis dwellers, each adult could consume up to 200 kg of dates a year. The art of cooking among them made of this fruit an essential ingredient of many traditional recipes. The date is found in the most typical dishes like couscous. Transformed into paste, date is used in pastry making, as in Makroudhs where it is found coated with corn semolina in the form of small rhombuses fried in olive oil. Added with grass and with spices, it becomes Abound.

The dates as well as other elements of the palm tree are edible. The heart of the palm tree, Joummar, can be eaten raw or cooked like a vegetable. As for the stone of the date, after roasting, it becomes a coffee substitute and gives a decoction of a pleasant flavour. It is also given as food to livestock. The sap or the palm tree juice, called Legmi, is also very appreciated. Clear liquid, rich in sugar and minerals, this refreshing drink has a good flavour that reminds you of that of the coconut milk. It is sold at the end of spring and throughout the summer by the sharecroppers or their children in terracotta jars (gargoulettes) with fiber filter caps from the palm tree or in the small pottery cups.

Fermented, Legmi becomes an alcoholic drink called Quichem. The extraction of Legmi is outlawed in Tunisia. It is authorized only in some specific cases by the Ministry of Agriculture. It requires the cutting of the head (apex) of the palm tree.

More to be told about the palm tree, more of history found in Eden Palm.

…… to be continued.