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Arizona Specialty Crops Blog

Wed, 06/22/2016
Contributed by: R. Davis, M. Conway

5-min video ‘Fruit fit for royalty’


Sweet Medjool dates were once reserved for Moroccan royalty and their guests. Today, Medjool date trees root in the fertile soils along the lower Colorado River corridor of southwestern Arizona and southeastern California. 

More than 6,000 years ago, the inhabitants of present-day Iraq began cultivating dates, making them the oldest cultivated fruit. While hundreds of varieties exist, the soft, golden brown, Medjool date is among the most highly treasured. The first Medjool dates arrived on America’s shores in 1927, where they took root in Coachella Valley of eastern California. That area remains a date producer to this day.

From its roots in the Coachella Valley, Medjool dates were brought to the Yuma and Dateland area of Yuma County. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in their efforts to site crops along the Lower Colorado River, played a supportive role in bringing dates to Arizona and California in that area, now known at the Bard Valley. Since first taking root in the arid Southwest, Medjool date cultivation has become a bumper crop and with more than 250,000 acres of date trees planted, the area is one of the world’s largest date producers.

Yuma celebrates the importance and economic role of dates during the Yuma Medjool Date Festival in November. Vendors serve up fresh Medjool dates, date shakes, candies, and more. If you look closely at the accompanying video, you’ll see the festival mascot, a 6 foot Medjool date with legs. Festival tours of date plantations and processing centers underscore the economic importance of this exotic fruit to the Yuma economy; it’s a $60 million business annually, growing rapidly towards $200 million. Medjool dates grown here are shipped to Australia, Asia, Europe and Indonesia.

Now, visitors to the Yuma area can enjoy date delights all year. Martha’s Gardens Date Farm offers farm tours from November through May, as do some California data growers. Date producers, in cooperation with the Yuma Visitors’ Bureau, schedule monthly events such as Date Night, where diners can sample date-inspired dishes from some of the area’s most renowned chefs in the open air of majestic data plantations. People the world over can say that they had the best dates of their lives in Yuma. Be sure to pick some up to enjoy at home throughout the year.

Recipe: Medjool Date Citrus Couscous

Recipe from Natural Delights

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups water or chicken stock

1 tsp. each salt and pepper

1 cup couscous

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 lemons, zested and juiced

1/2 cucumber, sliced

1/2 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

12 Natural Delights Medjool Dates, pitted and chopped

Additional pine nuts and chopped parsley (optional garnish)

Preparation:

Place the couscous in a large bowl with a tight-fitting lid.

Bring water or stock, salt and pepper to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in couscous; cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes then fluff with a fork.

Stir in oil, lemon juice and lemon zest, then stir in cucumber, chickpeas, pine nuts, parsley and dates.

Garnish with additional pine nuts and parsley, if desired. Serve warm or chilled.

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Funding for the U-Pick Farm Map and Arizona Wine Trails Map provided by the Arizona Department of Agriculture under the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program: Farm Bill, number 10.170 Grant Award Agreement #SCBGP-FB13-01.