Sharing good food with friends is one of life's greatest pleasures; having parents who are equally as passionate is a blessing. Wait, maybe that's where it came from? By golly, I think that's it!
Last week while returning from a family function in Arizona, we decided to make a small detour to the date capital of the United States, parents in tow. It was even more special considering my parents used to take us as children through Indio, California on road trips just to get a date shake. The warm, dry weather, the towering date palms and the uber-sweet milkshake made with plump dates will always be one of my fondest memories.
Dates are considered to be the oldest known tree crop to be cultivated. For more than 6,000 years dates have been an important food source, allowing portability, long-term storage and most importantly, sugar and flavor. Originally grown only in the Middle East, the date business in the United States is credited to Frederick Oliver Popenoe. In 1907, Popenoe moved to Alta Dena and opened a tropical plant nursery named West India Gardens. After a few years he sent his sons Paul and Wilson to the Middle East and North Africa in search of tropical plants and trees for the nursery, and around 1913 his sons sent back 16,000 date offshoots from Iraq, Algeria and eastern Arabia. Voila! The date industry was born.
Date trees require quite a bit of heat to grow, which explains their prevalence in Southern California's dessert and parts of Arizona. Although date trees are quite adept at preserving water during the long days of sunshine, they also require immense amounts of water at certain times of the year, depending on the growing stage.
Now on to the tricky part. Modern date trees require "grower-assisted" pollination as Mother Nature can oftentimes be unpredictable. This involves a very high ladder and clearly a lack of fear of heights. After pollination comes harvesting, fruit arm decentering, strand reduction, thinning, ringing, bagging, tying down, and a few other processes that my simple brain can't even understand. Seriously, it's enough to confuse me and make me realize that the sweet, caramelly fruit I love so much actually takes quite a bit of man power to grow. Date trees and growers, you've certainly earned my endless respect. I'll never look at a date the same way.
I'll leave the botany to the professionals, my area of expertise is good old fashioned eating! After conducting a very informal tasting, mattbites has come to the conclusion that any date is a favorite of mine. How could I be so cruel and just pick one?
The abada date
, also known as the black date, is dark in color with a very sweet taste and creamy texture. Their appearance is striking–so is their flavor.
The Zahidi date
is light in color with a firm outside and great sweetness inside. They are certainly not the sweetest dates available, making them good for recipes where you don't want the date to overpower other ingredients.
The Medjool date
is a favorite and often called the "King Of Dates". If you're going to eat only one date it would have to be this, hands down. Perfectly sweet with a gorgeous color, large and delicious. Deglet Noor dates
are a bit chewier and drier, making it perfect for baking and trail mixes. Khadrawi dates
are in the middle of the sweetness scale. The flesh of the Khadrawi is moist and soft. Grab a napkin.Bahri dates
are visually stunning; they're almost perfectly round with a rich, vanilla-like flavor. I could eat pounds and pounds of these. Oh wait, I just did.
When it comes to using dates in the kitchen, dates are happy in cakes, muffins, breads, stuffed with cheese or just served alongside a simple cheese tray. Their big sweet taste contrasts well with savory foods, and a few dates go a long long way. My ultimate favorite way with dates involves wrapping them with smoky bacon, popping them into the oven and enjoying them hot. (In fact, it's the real reason I enjoy AOC so damn much, but you didn't hear that from me.) But for the ultimate sweet tooth out there, I can think of no better way to savor the sweetness than in a cold, creamy date shake. One sip and I'm in heaven.Oasis Date Gardens Ranch Date Milk Shake
1/2 cup seeded, chopped dates (you can use any variety)
3 scoops vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt
1/2 cup milk
Combine milk and dates in a blender and puree. Add ice cream or yogurt and mix until smooth. Smile.