With a history stretching back over 5,000 years, this venerable fruit grows in thick clusters on the giant date palm, native to the Middle East. The name is thought to come from the Greek daktulos, meaning "finger," after the shape of the fruit. Dates require a hot, dry climate and-besides Africa and the Middle East-flourish in California and Arizona. Most varieties range from 1 to 2 inches long and are oval in shape (though some are so chunky they're almost round). All dates have a single, long, narrow seed. The skin is thin and papery, the flesh cloyingly sweet. Dates are green when unripe and turn yellow, golden brown, black or mahogany red-depending on the variety-as they ripen.