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Did you know the average date has only 22 calories? It is packed with tons of energy and is an excellent source of potassium and iron too. These are a few of the facts learned during a visit to a date (phoenix dactylifera) orchard in the Palm Springs area.

In 1903, Bernard Johnson brought 129 Algerian deglet noor palm shoots to the Coachella Valley. With much help from the USDA and other interested growers, the valley now has 250,000 date palm trees and supplies the US with 95% of our dates. The planting ratio is roughly 50 female trees to one male tree and most of the orchards pollinate by hand – no longer leaving this delicate business to the birds and the bees.

The Queen of the Date is definitely the Medjool, which was brought from Morocco to the US by the USDA’s Walter Swingle in 1927. This was a bit of luck for Morocco, as a few years later Morocco’s Medjool trees were destroyed by disease and they were able to replant from Swingle’s shoots.

Dates: the Queen of Palm Springs

There are two big date businesses open for tours and shopping in the Palm Springs area. Both are a bit dated, (no pun intended) but their products are wonderful and reasonably priced. You can purchase whole dates, stuffed dates, coconut-date candies, chopped dates, coated dates, date sugar, date cookbooks, and several assortments of all combinations. A favorite for locals and tourists alike is the decadent date shake – a creamy vanilla ice cream and date-paste delight. My advise is to not miss it, but buy the smallest size available! Order one small shake and the rich treat will be enough for lunch.

Shield’s Date Garden is near Highway 111 and Jefferson and famous for their 15-minute video titled “The Romance and Sex Life of the Date”. (I can imagine this title was quite scandalous when it came out in the 40’s…) Shields has a wide selection of date types, packaged and in bulk, and also manufacture “date crystals”. The crystals are teeny pieces of dried dates that reconstitute in water – perfect for baking. Recipes are included in the packages.

Date orchard

Drive south on Highway 111 to visit the Oasis Date Gardens. Oasis Date Gardens offers a wide variety of dates, ship world-wide and accept on-line orders. I feel the Oasis has better walnut-stuffed Medjools (my favorite way to eat a date) and I like their date shakes best too.

Oasis Date Gardens on Highway 111 in Thermal, California

Organic dates are grown at the Flying Disc Ranch and owner Robert Lower sells on-line or at many California Farmers Markets.