Dates may be one of the oldest fruits known to man.  Dates were growing at least 4000 or 5000 years ago.  Formerly known as Mesopotamia, the Garden of Eden was supposed to be between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  The three ancient kingdoms of that area, Chaldea, Assyria and Babylonia all have left evidence that the date palms were grown there at that time.  The Sumerian civilization which was in the southern part of the region left proof that dates were grown before 3000 B.C.
    The date palm came to the western world, like so many other fruits, the way of the Spanish missionaries, who brought seeds and planted them around their missions.  In fact, some of their original palm trees (or their offshoots) planted  in the late 1700's or early 1800's are still in existence  
in southern California and just south of the Mexican border.  Unfortunately, this area is not suitable for date production.  It wasn't until the mid 1800's when plantations were established in the hot desert area of Arizona and California, that people started to get excited about dates.  The USDA got involved and brought in some offshoots from Algeria, Iraq and Egypt starting in 1890.  The Medjool was imported in 1927.
    Although many varieties of dates were initially planted in various places, the Deglet Noor emerged as the dominant one, probably due to the fact that it is a semidry date, which keeps quite well without refrigeration.  This date is native to Algeria and unfortunately not a very good quality fruit compared to others.  Most natural food stores and organic growers don't bother much with this variety.
    More popular are the Barhi, Halawy and Khadrawy, all native to Iraq and all much softer.  By far, the most popular date, of true date connoisseurs is the Medjool, the king of dates.  Actually it is the date of kings as well.  In earlier times, the medjool date was considered to be such a delicacy, that the royalty of Morocco hoarded all the fruit for themselves and their families.  Then, sometime around the turn of the century, a disease killed the bulk of the medjool date palms, and if it wasn't for a defiant man by the name of Carrifi, who somehow managed to relocated eleven healthy trees (no small task), the medjool trees managed to escape final extinction.  From these 11 trees, offshoots were taken.  Each tree can produce about a half a dozen offshoots in its lifetime.  Of course it has taken time, but now medjool palms are widely grown in the Bard area, close to Yuma, Arizona and around Indio, California.  In recent years, other plantations have sprouted up south of Phoenix, Arizona.  
    Although date palm trees are only considered native to the middle east, they have been discovered in fossil beds in Texas!  In the US today, dates are only grown commercially in Arizona and California, although earlier attempts were made in Texas.  
    Getting medjools or any date in the US is involved.  First, it takes many years to get a sizable crop.  The trees are somewhat wind pollinated but in their native country, they are also pollinated by a small wasp, which doesn't live in the US, therefore hand pollination is required.  To get large medjool dates, the dates are thinned, taking out about 75% of the dates when still small.  Bunched are spread apart for proper air circulation and bagged, before insects and birds start to sample them.
    Medjool harvesting begins in late August until October and requires multiple passes, or pickings, usually 3 to 5 throughout the harvest season.  
    Commercial dates, like most fruits get chemicals every step of the way.  Upon harvesting, they are fumigated to rid them of bugs and insects.  Some of the dates are dried.  It seems that organic dates are usually more moist.  It may be that the organic growers have realized that their customers prefer the dates to retain as much moisture as possible.  Personally, the more moisture content in the date the better.  
    Nutritionally, dates are in a class by themselves, being possibly the most nutrient dense fruit available.  They are rich in potassium, iron and other minerals.   Consider that one medjool date contains about the same amount of calories as one orange!  Throughout the history of humanity, dates have been used extensively because of their compactness and portability, making them the food of choice for excursions.
    If you were to consume about 2 pounds of dates, you would obtain about 2500 calories.  You would need to eat about 10 pounds of most other fruits to get this much energy.  Many people shy away from dates because of their relatively high price tag, but when you consider that they are about 5 times dense than the average fruit, a $5/lb price tag doesn't seem so bad.
The only way to grow a particular date variety is to get an offshoot from a producing female date tree.  Here in the southwest, even where dates are commercially grown, I have never seen a date palm tree for sale!  You must get one from a date grower.  We have two medjool palms.
    Fruit tree growers in the date growing areas should certainly go out of their way to plant some of these glorious trees, if nothing else, just for the sheer beauty of them, but then, getting a few hundred pounds of dates from a tree has its benefits as well.      
View Shopping Cart  /  Checkout