There are dates and then there are dates. And like the human variety, dates come in both sexes. Date palms, which produce these nutritious fruits, have been cultivated since at least 5,000 B.C.E. for their nutrition and medicinal properties. Date palms were brought to the West Coast of America in the 1700s by Spanish missionaries. But it was not until 1927 that medjool dates, the finest kind, were brought to the U.S. from Morocco. From 11 shoots, a medjool date industry grew all over the arid Southwest.
I was pleased to be introduced to the medjool date at Martha’s Gardens Medjool Date Farm in Yuma, Arizona. In 1990, the Rogers family cleared and irrigated a few desert acres and planted 300 medjool date shoots. Today, the Rogers’ date farm consists of 100 acres and eight thousand date palms. Female plants vastly outnumber male plants for two reasons: the male plants produce inferior dates, and the female plants need pollination by male plants. Leaving nothing to chance, the female dates are personally pollinated by workers who collect the male pollen and sprinkle it on the female plants.
Date growing is complicated and labor intensive, so a narrated tour of the farm gave me more respect for a fruit I usually picked out of fruit cakes along with the figs. (I ate the cherries, so my family thinks cherries are not a fruit cake ingredient,) At my house, gifts of date candy got passed on to the dogs or Trick or Treaters, and any recipe that included dates went untested.
Although the tour of the farm was fascinating in the complexity of growing and harvesting this fruit, my mouth was not watering for a sample. After all, everything on offer was either dates or date-related.Then, sighing because this is my job, I popped a medjool date in my mouth like it was a quinine pill. Sweet, chewy, satisfying, and utterly surprising.
I ate a few more. I bought some to take home; I ordered several gift packages to be shipped for upcoming family birthdays. My friends and I went back to our van with date shakes for the road.
Back home while it was sleeting, I cooked up two loaves of Date Nut Tea Bread from a recipe on their website: www.MarthasGardensDateFarm.com. I invited a few friends for coffee, and together we discovered how tasty a date can be. The secret is in the type of date. Be sure to use medjool dates for the best texture and flavor. They are available in most large supermarkets and specialty food stores. Or, you can order directly from Marthas Gardens at the website listed above.