Dates are great – not just spending time with a loved one (though that’s both good and good for you!), but eating dates. Specifically, eating raw, organic, family farm-grown California dates like those from Del Real Organic Medjool Dates.
The Del Real family has been growing Medjool dates for about a decade, but growing fruits and vegetables for over 20 years. Their foree into organic date cultivation began when Ray and his father Josh purchased a few date palms in the Imperial Valley and set out to see what would happen. The first date palms were introduced to the region by Spanish missionaries in the 18th century where the trees now thrive. Today, Ray and Josh own about 1,000 palm trees on a 40-acre ranch in Winterhaven, CA: Ray runs the business from his office in Del Monte and visits farmer’s markets, while Josh oversees the ranch.
Dates have been cultivated in the Middle East for thousands of years, thriving in the desert and valued for their calorically dense, easily digestible, and transportable characteristics. While dates are sweet (Medjool dates especially have a rich, almost caramel-like taste and soft flesh, while other varieties such as Deglet Noor are firmer, with a more delicate flavor), they are also good sources of fiber, potassium, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates, without the sodium or fat in other snacks.
Medjool date palms begin fruiting when they are 2-3 years old and can live for a century. At around seven years, the tree generates genetically identical offshoots; when the offshoots have formed roots of their own, they are removed and planted. At their fruiting prime, around 15 years, each palm can produce more than 100 pounds of fruit.
At Del Real, date cultivation is a year-round operation. In January, workers remove approximately 1,200 thorns from each tree. February means planting the offshoots in new acreage, and March means it’s time to pollinate. Through the spring, the growing dates are carefully “thinned” to allow proper air circulation and growth. In summer, the bunches of dates are secured to protect them from extreme movement and to allow for spacing; later, bags are used to protect the fruit from wind and birds. Harvesting occurs during a five-week window in late summer, but stored in the right conditions, the dates stay fresh, moist, and raw year round.
Dates have been carried by travelers for thousands of years and across thousands of miles, but for convenience can be frozen (pitted or as date paste) for up to a year. Pick up some of Ray and Josh’s dates the next time you’re in your co-op for a delicious on-the-go snack!
Photos © Del Real Medjool Dates