The Kampong… A Home on The Edge of the Tropics – Kampong Date Chews

“This is rather a kind of “coal back to Newcastle,” for the man who introduced these commercial dates from the Arabic countries was the Iate Dr. David Fairchild, who also gave me my first home here in South Florida, and for many years encouraged me in my botanical work in this area.” – Alex D. Hawkes

Kampong Date Chew

Try These Cookie Cakes - Kampong Date Chews

Certain places capture an energy that can’t be described beyond simply living in the moment. Coconut Grove is such a place, and the stories within it’s curvy roads have been heard by the trees that line street names that reminisce about a Grove filled with characters, fruits, birds & memories. Here’s a recipe for all the “Grovites” out there, perhaps Alex served you some Kampong Date Chews during high tea in his backyard garden in Coconut Grove? Or maybe you enjoyed them with his, Dr. Fairchild & Mrs. Marian Hubbard Graham Bell Fairchild’s company, at The Kampong, along the Biscayne Bay? Alex Hakwes named this recipe after Dr. Fairchild’s residence in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood, The Kampong. A captivating tropical botanic garden, that is still preserved and open for one’s enjoyment and amazement in enchanting Coconut Grove, Florida.

The recipe for Kampong Date Chews also appears in Alex’s first cookbook, South Florida Cookery (1964), aside from the 1963 Miami Herald “For Gourmets Only” column we’re sharing with you today.

“The Kampong” Home of Dr. David & Marian Fairchild in Coconut Grove, Florida.
“Dr. Fairchild’s experiences with dates and the almost insurmountable difficulties he had trying to introduce them here are well known to readers of his marvelous books. He tasted, on several occasions at “The Kampong” here in Coconut Grove, these Date Chews, and I believe that he felt that not all of his efforts had been in vain after doing so.” – Alex D. Hawkes (1963-10-01) The Miami Herald
FOR GOURMETS ONLY (Miami Herald) Recipes by Alex Hawkes

Alex would receive a yearly bountiful supply of wonderful Indio dates from California, as a sort of thank-you from the editor of an orchid magazine to which he regularly contributed to. Let’s see how he put these dates from the Palm tree Phoenix dactylifera to use. The date palm is in the palm family Arecaceae, which is cultivated for the fruit produced by the palms. 


“This is rather a kind of “coal back to Newcastle,” for the man who introduced these commercial dates from the Arabic countries was the Iate Dr. David Fairchild, who also gave me my first home here in South Florida, and for many years encouraged me in my botanical work in this area.” – Alex D. Hawkes (1963-10-01) The Miami Herald


Kampong Date Chews Recipe - Hawkes

Kampong Date Chews

2     cups dates, cut into 1/4-inch sections (use scissors)

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1     cup warm water

1     tablespoon flour

1     teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon salt

2     cups raw rolled oats (not quick cooking)

1     cup dark brown sugar

3/4  cup melted butter


When preparing these moist cookies – or are they really small cakes? – be gentle in the mixing; also when placing the various layers into the pan. They are not complicated, but beating the ingredients can cause them to “fall.” They are also better after sitting refrigerated overnight, and, then allowing them to come to room temperature.

Dates cut

In a saucepan, cook over very low heat the dates, 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, and 1 tablespoon flour. When this thickens and dates are just barely soft, remove from the heat and allow to cool. Add the vanilla.

Date mixture after cooking

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, rolled oats, and brown sugar, using your hands to combine them gently but thoroughly. Add melted butter, and again be gentle while mixing thoroughly. In a shallow, well-greased 8”x 12” pan, place one-half of this flour-oats mixture; pat it down gently. Next add the date mixture, spreading it very thoroughly, and top with the remaining flour-oats mixture, which again is patted down gently. Bake in preheated, 365-degree oven for 30 minutes. Allow to cool and cut into Squares. Makes 20 to 30 squares. 

Kampong Date Chew

Even Papaya’s Leaves Are Tasty… Breakfast at “The Kampong” with Dr. & Mrs. David Fairchild

“The papaya is one of the tropics’ most extraordinary plants. It is not a tree despite its appearance, but rather a woody herbaceous plant, one of the fastest growing species known.” — Alex D. Hawkes

Imagine sitting in a botanical oasis in Coconut Grove, enjoying breakfast papaya, under a Javanese Ficus tree. Not just an ordinary ficus, for this one was planted by the late Dr. David Fairchild, the “Columbus of American Horticulture,” at his Coconut Grove home, “The Kampong”. The seeds were undoubtedly collected during one of his innumerable botanical expeditions around the world. His home, “The Kampong”, is preserved, and still open for one’s amazement and enjoyment. The Fairchild’s Coconut Grove retreat, “The Kampong”, faces the serene Biscayne bay. Let’s reminisce of the Royal Palms (Roystonea regia) that lured the Fairchilds to phone Marian’s parents, and ask them for a loan to secure the property. Marian Hubbard Graham Bell, Dr. Fairchild’s wife, is the daughter of Alexander Graham Bell, who stayed at “The Kampong”, like many other distinguished characters of the time, on several occasions.

“The handsome, big, hand shaped leaves are edible, when boiled in several changes of water, and the late great horticulturist David Fairchild often advocated that all of us eat them regularly, whether at his table in his home, “The Kampong.” Where I lived when I first came to Coconut Grove, or at our own.” —  Alex D. Hawkes


“The royal palms which so took my fancy when we first saw the place were photographed often in the ‘twenties and ‘thirties, after mangroves had begun to line the canal. But a change in the land level flooded their roots too frequently with saltwater and they perished.” — David Fairchild (1947)

Dr. Fairchild authored books with alluring titles such as,“The World Was My Garden: Travels of a Plant Explorer” (1938), and “The World Grows Round My Door: The Story of The Kampong, a Home on the Edge of the Tropics.” (1947) . These ideals are not easy to claim. Dr. David Fairchild exceeded them by far. Dr. Fairchild introduced over 200,000 plants & varieties of established crops into the United States. He continued to play a pivotal role in the horticultural world during his retirement at “The Kampong”.

PAPAYA ~ A Tropical Tree Melon ~ On Dr. Fairchild’s desk in his laboratory at “The Kampong” in Coconut Grove.

After Dr. Fairchild left his managerial role with the Department of Plant Introduction program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., he continued to author occasional botanically inclined papers, & National Geographic articles from his Coconut Grove laboratory. Few people shaped the way the United States eats as much as Dr. Fairchild, having introduced countless culinary staples, such as soybeans, mangos, dates, blueberries, talinum, broccoli and many more, which would be difficult to live without. Fairchild is among the champions we must thank for shaping that way America eats, having introduced countless vegetables often enjoyed, and neglected by children all across the states.

Upon stepping on the soil at “The Kampong”, the Fairchild’s footsteps can be traced by observing the beautiful trees still standing, that they collected, brought home to be planted, introduced, & shared. The word Kampong means “cluster of houses” or “village” in Malay. The Indonesian touches in the garden, adds a subtle contrast, against the backdrop of lovely flora found on the property. When visiting, one can observe the beautiful flowers of the royal poinciana / flamboyant (Delonix regia), from Madagascar. It is the official flowering tree of Miami-Dade County, and was planted by Marian Fairchild at “The Kampong”, in 1917. Marvel over countless mango varieties, as one would expect… palms, aroids, bamboo, ficus, & what seems like an infinite quantity of flowering trees. A mammoth tamarind tree around the vicinity of where Capt. Albion Simmons’ guava grove & factory once stood, prior to Dr. Fairchild purchasing the property. Miami’s first international export, guava jelly sold abroad to Europe, from a then unassuming property in “The Grove”, soon to become “The Kampong”. Wander to corners of the world through the flowers and fruits abound, welcome to “The Kampong”, stay for breakfast will ya?

“The Kampong” Home of Dr. David & Marian Fairchild in Coconut Grove, Florida.


Papaya plant growing in South Florida. Over 20 feet tall. Fruits weigh several pounds.

Alex D. Hawkes stayed at “The Kampong” with the Fairchilds while still in High School. He was able to enjoy more than an awe inspiring horticultural experience, since there was so much papaya to be enjoyed. Dr. Fairchild returned form the “The Isle of Singing Children”, the island of Siaoe / Siau Island in Indonesia, with a fascinating account of the island’s Papaya-leaf eaters, and its singing children. Fairchild sat with the Radja of Siaoe and his jolly wife who couldn’t “understand why people in other lands eat only their fruits” (Fairchild, 1943). Thank you Alex, for holding onto these recipes and publishing them in The Miami Herald, 18 years after your stay with David & Marian Fairchild  at “The Kampong”. What better way of honoring the late Fairchilds than enjoying some delicious, tropical Papaya? David Fairchild left us in 1954, Marian shortly after in 1962, they both lived their final days at their Coconut Grove oasis.

“The papaya is one of the tropics’ most extraordinary plants. It is not a tree despite its appearance, but rather a woody herbaceous plant, one of the fastest growing species known.” — Alex D. Hawkes

Were you aware that papaya can also be eaten as a vegetable, when green, and freshly picked? Also known as Paw Paw in Jamaica, & Fruta Bomba in Cuba, the “Confused Papaya Is Exotic Herb”, and the source of “papain”, the main ingredient in meat tenderizer. More papaya recipes will be shared on the blog, including accounts from Dr. Fairchild’s trip to “The Isle of Singing Children,” and the attention getting, boiled papaya leaf preparation, that David & Alex both advocated. For now let’s start with this simple, and delicious breakfast papaya.


“Papaya is a strictly acquired taste for many people, it seems, but I was lucky in my initial experiences with the fruit, for I at once very much liked Dr. Fairchild’s way of serving it when I stayed with him.” — Alex D. Hawkes
Ripe Papaya

David Fairchild’s Breakfast Papaya

1     medium ripe papaya

2     tablespoons sugar

2     Key (or Persian) limes, sliced

Peel papaya, Scoop out seeds, slice into rather thin, bite-size pieces. In a large shallow bowl, arrange papaya pieces, sprinkle sugar over them. and refrigerate overnight. Serve with lime slices for breakfast. Serves four.

Rainy day at “The Kampong”, thanks for visiting Sub Tropic Cookery.