Arizona Dates and Shakes

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Arizona Dates and Shakes

Visiting date farms and sampling date shakes in the Yuma Arizona area

You may not know that dates are one of the things the area around Yuma, Arizona is known for. I learned this shortly before visiting Yuma. Seeing a date farm and tasting a date shake become items on my to-do list.

Dates may be the oldest cultivated fruit, with cultivation dating back thousands of years. Dates are a high energy food. Although they contain significant amounts of fruit sugar, they are nutrient rich and full of fibre. Of the 3,000 varieties of dates, Medjool dates are considered the “king of dates”, prized for their large size, sweet taste and juicy flesh. Originating in Morocco, Medjool dates were once reserved for royalty and dignitaries.

Dates from Yuma, Arizona

In the 1920s, disease devastated the Medjool date in Morocco. In an effort to save the variety, 11 date palms were given to the United States. They were placed in quarantine to ensure they did not harbour the disease. Several years later the palms and their offshoots were released from quarantine and subsequent offshoots provided to growers. Thus began a date-growing industry in the United States. Today, the Bard Valley in southeastern California is the largest producer of dates in the U.S. Across the Colorado River to the east, the industry is growing in the Yuma, Arizona region and may one day surpass production of Bard Valley.

Date clusters at Dateland near Yuma, Arizona
Date clusters

Date farming is labour intensive. The growing season is six months long, beginning in spring. Dates are hand-pollinated to ensure greater yields. Around the beginning of August dates are covered with white muslin bags to protect against birds and insects. The bags also catch dates that ripen before harvest begins. Soft dates, such as Medjool dates, are individually hand-picked, not gathered in clusters.

Muslin bags to protect dates
Muslin bags to protect dates

For many people making trips from the Phoenix area to Yuma or on to Las Algondones, Mexico Dateland Date Gardens is a ritual stop along the way. It is located 67 miles east of Yuma on Interstate 8. There is a store and restaurant on site. The store contains a variety of dates and date products including a number of sauces, such as HP date sauce, and date butter, and assorted gift items. I had a date shake at Dateland Gardens. It was all right, but a little too sweet for my liking. I preferred the date shake at Martha’s Gardens Date Farm, which is located on the outskirts of Yuma. Check their website for directions. (Do not be alarmed if the directions include 8 1/2 Avenue. The street numbering system in the area is a bit unusual.) The store at Martha’s also contains a variety of date products as well as regional honey, salsas, baking mixes and other goodies.

Date shake from Martha's Garden Date Farm in Yuma, Arizona
Date shake

Date shakes are thick and filling. Recipes vary. Some may include ice cream, others just ice cubes and milk. Cinnamon or nutmeg may be added. Medjool dates are the best dates for shakes. Skins of other types of dates can be too thick to blend well.

Display at Martha's Gardens Date Farm store in Yuma, Arizona
Display at Martha’s Gardens Date Farm store

Signs posted at both Dateland Gardens and Martha’s Gardens Date Farm provide information about dates. Dates vary in size and quality. Dates keep for a couple of weeks at room temperature, a couple of months in the refrigerator and several months in the freezer.

Patio area at Martha's Gardens Date Farm in Yuma Arizona
Patio area at Martha’s Gardens overlook date palms
Date palms at Martha's Gardens Date Farm
Date palms at Martha’s Gardens Date Farm

Date varieties other than Medjool are also grown in the area. Martha’s Gardens Date Farms grows four other varieties:

  • Dayri, originating from Basra, Iraq, is a medium sweet date which ripens from red to black
  • Halawy, originating in northern Iraq, is soft and golden brown when ripe with a medium to high level of sweetness
  • Khadrawy, originating in Basra, Iraq, is a soft date with a reddish-brown colour when ripe
  • Zahidi, originating in northern Iraq, is a yellow or straw-coloured date with a mild sweetness

PIN ITVisiting date farms and sampling date shakes in the Yuma Arizona area #Arizona #Yuma #dates

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  1. Hi Donna,

    I’m a big fan of dates, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. I’ve had several variations of the fruit, from incorporating it in yogurt to smoothies. The richness and sweetness makes such a tasty combo. How interesting that southeastern California is the largest producer of dates in the U.S. If I ever get to visit Arizona, I’ll keep an eye out for the palms. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love dates..uh, the kind you eat I mean. Oh no! Did I make that sound worse? LOL Well, this was really interesting. Like alot of things, I take dates for granted and had no idea of their history or they way that they are cultivated. I have never tried a date shake, but it sure looks like something that I’d like to!

    1. I never thought much about how dates were cultivated either until going to the date farms. A date shake is worth a try, but be aware recipes can vary somewhat and you may like the way one place makes them and not the way another does.

  3. Hi Donna. I love dates. In fact, if there is a bunch of them they are like candy to me. I have a hard time doing at one or two. Too bad the sugar content is so high. My grandma used to make a great date filled oatmeal cookie. Had long ago lost the recipe, but this post brought them to mind.

    1. Sugar content is high but they are so good. My mother made a date-filled cookie too. I have so many of her recipes but not that one. Another favourite date recipe is a cake/square which has a date filling between layers of an oatmeal/flour “crust”. It was known as matrimonial cake in the area I grew up in, but not sure that name is common outside of the Canadian prairies – it may just be called date square elsewhere.

  4. I’ve never been to date farm but would love to go! The best dates I ever ate where in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE. I’ve never had dates that were so moist and succulent and flavourful. I shall have to get over to Yuma sometime soon and taste those dates!

  5. I used to eat dates all the time but now a days, with knowing about the sugar content, it’s maybe a once a year treat. And now next time we visit our family in Tucson, I’ll see how far we might be from a date farm. I think I might try making my own “date shake” – thanks for that share in the post Donna!

  6. Donna, I had no idea how dates were cultivated and it is so interesting. Some of the pictures you showed made we want to visit them – they are beautiful, especially the Martha’s Garden ones. I don’t imagine you can get a date shake at McDonalds, right, since that’s as close as I’ll come to a milkshake place.

  7. I have visited a date farm, Shields Date Farm in La Quinta, Calif. I tried the date shake but thought it was too sweet. I”m not really a fan of dates but it is fascinating to go to Shield’s to look at their array of products. One that caught my eye was a dashboard Jesus bobblehead.

    1. I like dates but agree the shakes can be too sweet. I found quite a difference in the sweetness of the two shakes I tried. The first one I could only have a part of it because the sweetness began to cloy.

  8. Dates are definitely not a Boston thing. Date shakes? I don’t know what would be on my to-do list for Yuma, but that would never have been on my radar. Of course, I’ve been to Wild BlueberryLand in Maine so who am I to judge.

  9. I honestly have never thought of going to a date farm, but that sounds absolutely AMAZING! How can you not love dates. Eating them is like eating candy and yet you don’t feel so bad because you know they are just a (very sugary) fruit. I’ve never been to Yuma, but if I ever get there I will surely be at Dateland Gardens!

  10. I just recently visited a date farm in Southern California, by the Salton Sea, and they are pretty impressive. I will have to try a date shake though as that sounds good. The famous date farm in CA is Shields; been around since the 20’s I believe.

    1. I hadn’t realized that dates were such a big crop in southern California and southern Arizona until my visit to Yuma. If you get a chance to try a date shake, you should.

  11. This was so interesting Donna! I just love dates and had no idea about their background or how they are cultivated. Now I’ll not only continue to enjoy the taste, but appreciate them much more!

  12. Gosh, Donna when I read you were writing about, “date” farms I thought you meant farms designed to meet someone. LOL When I landed on the page I was thinking, ” Who would go there to meet someone’? Dates are wonderful and very healthy. They’re a staple in the Ayurvedic diet that I follow. Traditionally people felt dates made people have a sweet disposition..In ancient times, parents put a well-chewed date in their baby’s mouth as an example of healing and mercy toward mankind. I’ve never tried a date shake though, I’m with you I think it would be much to sweet.

  13. I never had a date shake, might have to try one.
    It is fascinating that they are growing date tress in the southwest. I wonder how long term they will adopt to the climate there.

  14. I’ve driven through that area, and wondered what those bags are for! Thanks for enlightening me. I’ve never heard of a date shake before but my mother in law makes a date and chocolate cake that’s to die for!

    1. You may or may not like a date shake. I’ve always liked dates but hadn’t realized the difference in taste between types and degrees of freshness until this visit. It’s been a delicious delight.

  15. Hello Donna

    Great post. I love the dates and date shake. As it is too sweet so normally what I do, I prepare the fruit dessert and pour in the dates shake.
    I was wondering as the names are same as we come across Saudi Arabia then I came to know that they are from Iraq.
    I also prepare different desserts and sweets with date’s paste.
    Here in Saudi Arabia the expensive date is “Ajwa” and it has an amazing taste…. It is believed to cure many diseases as well. I have visited Date gardens and here you can see Date trees every where on roads, parks etc. Here the best date comes from Qassim, it has amazing taste. So if you want to try Saudi Dates, try dates from Qassim or Madinah Manawarah.
    Thank you for great pictures and post.

    1. I am sure dates from Saudi Arabia are delicious. I think a friend will be bringing me some back this spring. Thanks for the information on the best dates in the area.