Last week, I’m sure you noticed the influx of travel photos, as I was on my very first summit (farm tour)! I was bound to Yuma, Arizona, a tiny little city bordered by Bard Valley, California and Mexico where the Natural Delights Medjool Dates are grown. It’s incredible to see how the landscape changes as you go from the East coast to the desert. Crop circles are real, y’all!
After a 16 hour day of traveling, I arrived to our hotel in Yuma, AZ. We stayed at the Radisson and I can’t recommend them enough if you ever travel to Yuma (Side note: I’ve had terrible experiences with Radisson in the past, but Yuma’s Radisson blew me away with the kindness, helpfulness, cleanliness and newness).
There were 8 of us bloggers at the summit and before I really dive into what we did, these women are terribly talented and sweet, so if you do anything today, go check out their blogs:
- Theresa Albert – My Friend in Food
- Alyssa Brantley – Everyday Maven
- Jackie Bruchez – The Seaside Baker
- Catherine Cardelucci – Rabbit Food for my Bunny Teeth
- Cynthia David – Cynthia David Blog
- Nicole Hamaker – Pinch My Salt
- Kim Nguyen – Lovin’ From The Oven
First of all, as you can very well notice, even though the deserts are HOT and dry, they have some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever seen. During the day it’s beautiful as well. It’s all crops and dirt with a few trees (most of them Medjool date trees) as far as the eye can see. Then, the entire landscape is surrounded by mountains, one of which is called the Chocolate Mountains! It was made for foodies!
Once we arrived in Yuma, we had a lovely dinner at one of the date growers’ house pool side. The nighttime air is just perfect and being stuffed with all things deliciously made with dates, we settled in for the night back at the hotel. The next morning, we learned all about dates and before you know it they had already filled us full of more food and we were off to the date groves!
Keep on scrolling and I’ll share some interesting facts about dates!
P.S. syrup and eggs is the bomb.
Photo credit: Jackie at The Seaside Baker
This is a Medjool date tree. The dates are in clumps underneath those bags you see. Some interesting facts about Medjool date trees:
- One tree consumes 100 gallons of water each day!
- They love high heat and low humidity.
- The trees don’t produce fruit for the first 6 years.
- They can live to be over 60 years old.
- Rule of thumb: a tree grows 1 foot per year.
The primary reason for the bags is to keep pests like birds away from the fruit. As you can see above, a bird pecked its way into this bag. Oops.
In the date groves, we were hoisted up into a cherry picker of about a 30 foot Medjool date tree and taught how to harvest the ripe dates. See below:
Photo credit: Jackie from The Seaside Baker
Did you know that you don’t have to worry about GMO with Medjool dates since the trees aren’t grown from seeds, but grown from off-shoots from the trees?
More interesting facts:
- Each tree is climbed 25 times during a season to:
- thin the tree
- separate the palm strands
- cut the thorns
- tie the fruit arms downward
- hand pollenate the trees
- harvest at least three times
- Medjool dates are one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world (over 8,000 years old!).
- Eleven Medjool date trees were brought over from Morocco in 1927 to escape from disease. Of these 11, nine were brought to Bard Valley and six still remain today (see below).
- All of the 250,000+ Medjool date trees in Bard Valley can trace their ancestry back to ‘The Big Six’.
Photo above credit: Stephen Spill
Next, we were off to the packing facility where they nearly hand sort and package the dates. The main thing that is done via computer (with a crazy fancy camera) is a photo is taken of every single date to determine what size it is. Let me explain. They rate each date into:
The scales goes from highest quality and largest down to lowest quality and smallest date. Size is pretty self explanatory, but the quality is determined by how tight or loose the skin of the date is. If you’d like me to go into more detail I can do that later, but for now, know that in the United States, you’re most likely purchasing the x-fancy and fancy dates.
The lower quality dates are ground and rolled into the delicious date rolls. Below are pistachio covered date rolls that are just about to be cut and packaged!
After a full morning soaking up all of that information, we headed to a beautiful lunch with dates in every element (except my drinking water, of course).
Food above from River City Grill: (Appetizers) Dates Stuffed with Gorgonzola and Wrapped with Bacon Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Spicy Peanut Sauce, (Entrées) Pan Fried Drunken Alaskan Cod with Bourbon Date Sauce Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Coconut Date Rice and Mango Date Salsa Medjool Date & Pesto Pasta (Dessert) Date Caramelized Crème Brûlée
For a little optional excursion, a few of us headed out to see the HUGE sand dunes right outside of Yuma in California. We also managed to drive right along the California/Mexico border…equipped with the infamous fence. I have to say, I was pretty terrified. There were signs of ‘no trespassing’ and ‘do not come within 100 feet of the fence’, but we hung out by the fence anyway. There was even a border patrol car at the top of one of the sand dunes, but thankfully we weren’t gunned down or anything crazy. I’m sure we did look suspicious, especially since we were driving a 15 passenger van. Picking up people at the border, you know, all in a day’s time.
Below is actually the tires that the border patrol drag behind their cars to make a clean surface to be able to track any foot prints that have come over the fence. Crazy!!! It’s like they make a GIANT zen garden. Haha!
After an afternoon in the hot sun, we came back to the hotel for a little smoothie competition. Kim and I were partners and we made a pumpkin, spinach, coffee, chocolate, date smoothie and called it ‘Falling in love with dates’ since it was autumn inspired. We didn’t win, but it was so fun getting to try all of the different smoothies!
That night was our final fiesta with Chef Alex Trujillo in this tiny little kitchen called Tina’s Cocina, in the back of a historic church.
Chef Alex made us: (Hors d’oeurve) Baked Brie with Medjool Date Jam on a Grilled Baguette, (First Course) Roasted Beet & Watermelon Salad with Fresh Goat Cheese and White Balsamic Vinaigrette, (Second Course) Pan Seared Scallops with Medjool Dates and Wild Mushroom Succotash, (Third Course) Crispy Short Rib Tacos a la Plancha, (Main Entrée) Chile Relleno with Grilled Zucchini, (Dessert) Sweet Medjool Date Tamale with coconut rum sorbet
Finally, we had a relaxing breakfast the next morning and a few of us headed out to tour the Yuma Territorial Prison (3:10 to Yuma!). After that I hopped on the next flight to Phoenix to begin my long journey home.
Having never attended a summit before, the Natural Delights Medjool Summit set a very high bar. Everything was so professional and they all really took care of us: not only in their hospitality, but also in the time the growers took to teach us. The days were planned perfectly as far as activities and free time were concerned. The love and knowledge poured into us was just brilliant and their attention to what we had to say was very appreciated. It was all so educational and thoughtful. Lastly, I want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who planned the event for us: for all of your time, planning, sweat and love that you gave during this perfectly orchestrated event. I learned so much and had an amazing time. Go dates!
P.S. Fresh dates rule. I need a Medjool date tree.