In Search Of The Perfect Date
Written by Jaillan Yehia
The fierce sun is shining down on my map, amplified through the windscreen, as we drive our little red car past endless fields of green lettuce under bright blue skies; the scene is like a child’s storybook illustration come to glorious life.
Even more glorious is the fact that it’s December and my boyfriend and I have decided to swerve the cold in our native countries and head as far south as the stars and stripes will allow us, in search of warmth and the perfect date.
I mean this quite literally, we’re en route to the best medjool date farm in Arizona to learn about, and tuck into the North African superfood that’s also known as nature’s candy…
Everything grows in winter here in Yuma, Arizona, and not just the abundant crops of fruit and vegtables. Even the population swells by 50% as freezing temperatures tighten their grip on the more northerly US states and Canada, pushing many, ourselves included, towards a free source of heat that comes with added Vitamin D.
But in this chunk of Arizona that’s practically wearing a sombrero, it can reach temperatures of 118 degrees, meaning most are seeking a way to cool down. The way they’ve come up with is the signature shakes – medjool dates blended with ice cream – a unique selling point and a key draw for many visitors.
But on today’s date-farm date we’ve decided that three isn’t a crowd and asked for a tour of Martha’s Gardens, a local family-owned date farm, by Jason Rogers, who has probably forgotten more about dates than either of us will ever know.
Jason explains that with a 6,000 year history, the date is one of the oldest cultivated fruits on the entire planet, boasting half that number in different varieties, from the deglet noor and honey dates to the exotically named black sphinx, via the ultra sweet and delicate hayany dates which transport me back to my childhood days in Egypt with one bite.
As we tour the 140-acre boutique farm in the arid heat (some stretch to 3,000 acres making this a mere hobby farm by comparison) we learn about the manual work that goes into making a high-end finished product.
There are some 8,000 palms and each is de-thorned by hand. The plants are fed organic chicken manure rather than chemicals or pesticides and in summer they take 200 gallons of water a day – Jason isn’t exaggerating when he says that these dates are anything but easy.
They’re worth the effort though – and good for your health too; loaded with antioxidants a small handful of dates contain as much potassium as a banana.
The harvested product is separated into various categories, from the lowest grade cooking dates (mainly exported and used to make sticky date pudding, which I’m told is especially sought after in Australia, which lacks the huge quantities of water needed to actually grow their own), all the way up to the highest grade, jumbo (always a welcome word to come up at the end of a date) which we’re presented with as the tour ends, split open and filled with honey.
If I had to rate my date-farm date I’d say its right up there with the best of them. Something sweet and tasty which makes you work for it, teaches you a little something along the way and leaves you smiling? You can’t ask for much more from a date than that.
You can join a tour of Martha’s Gardens Date Farm for $10 year-round.
A good tip is to time your visit around March when pollination takes place and the dessert blooms make it more colourful – plus it isn’t too hot.
Alternatively check out the annual harvest from August until October.
For more information you can also check out VisitYuma.com
SavoirThere was a guest of Maratha’s gardens and Visit Yuma
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