For a first date, it was amazing. Sweet. Tender. Beyond what I imagined.
No, not that kind of a date.
I’m talking about the fruit of the pharaohs.
I traveled last October to Imperial Valley, a desert region deep in Southern California that borders Mexico, where the weather conditions are similar to that of major date producing countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
I arrived and met Lucio, a farm manager and grower of mangoes, lemons, grapefruit and, of course, dates. I laugh at how frustrating it must be for him to tour me around his ranch. Each time I visit Lucio I have to ask him to take the science down a notch when he discusses his trees and the fruit they produce. He’s learning (and so am I).
Lucio grows the two popular date varieties in the U.S.: Medjools and Deglet Noors. Medjools are commonly eaten whole, whereas Deglet Noors are used more for pastes and jellies because of their fibrous texture.
Lucio and his crew were in the middle of harvest. Depending on the height of the date palms, workers used a tree climbing harness or a forklift to reach the fruit. Lucio explains that Medjools, which are fresh market dates, require more care than Deglets and are shaken from the tree into trays. Deglets, on the other hand, are cut in bunches and the fruiting arms fall into large bins.
During the harvest each date palm is expected to produce on average 150 – 200 pounds of fruit. (The optimum is 250 pounds!)
I was fortunate to try a Deglet and a Medjool fresh from the tree. Wow! best describes the reaction of my taste buds; the dates were intensely delicious. This was an experience I wanted to savor: standing among thousands of date palms in the middle of the desert, sharing a connection with people from thousands of years ago.
I return home that day a fan of dates and take Lucio’s advice on how enjoys the fruit. He blends two dates with a glass of milk for breakfast. I take it one step further and add a tablespoon of vanilla ice cream.