Shield’s Date Gardens

Getting a date shake in Indio is one of life's culinary pleasures, and I have to tell you that I'm particular about my dates. For example, I ordered a date shake at Hadleys' that tasted just like pickles. Under interrogation, they admitted to mixing them in the same 5 gallon bucket that the pickles came in and as a result, I have never returned. I love the date shakes at Shield's and the date shakes at the Oasis Date Gardens in Mecca are the best (more ice cream in the mix). I love dates – all of them –  from Medjools to Bahri and everything in between. I love them fresh and I love them dried and despite all of this, my relationship with date cultivation is kind of ambivalent.

Here's the thing: the date orchards are getting chopped as the "need" for more golf courses in the desert continues to skyrocket. The land is more valuable than a mature, producing orchard, so the groves of beautiful date palms come down and some hideous condominium complex, invariably called something like "Desert Palms," goes up. As a kid, I remember when date orchards went all the way from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea and it was wonderful to behold. When I see a field of stumps, I feel like the Lorax.

Now for the moral ambiguity part: date palms are not indigenous like the fan palm. They are a totally introduced species (most of the original plants came from Lebannon) and were part of a government program to find a crop the Coachella Valley could successfully produce. Big plantations sprang up and an agribusiness was born. Not only are the trees not native, they are also incredibly wasteful in the amount of water they require. Their roots need to be wet all the time, but their tops need to be hot and dry. This is all very fine in the Nile Valley or around an oasis, but these conditions don't naturally occur in the California desert - growning palms requires huge amounts of irrigation.

One of the tasiest ways to enjoy dates is wrapped in bacon and grilled. Now you might be thinkin' "Jake, when I'm stoned enough to eat a Palmetto bug, or even a plain ol' cockroach, I might take you up on that, but don't hold yer breath." And once, I thought that way myself. But that was before I had a Thanksgiving dinner with some friends in Palm Springs, gave into peer pressure and took a hit. Never looked back. Get yourself a nice deglet noor, cut the pit out, wrap a piece of bacon around it and secure the bacon with a toothpick. Stick it under the broiler or in the oven and let that bacon get crispy. Now I don't know who came up with this one – a number of cookbooks from the '50s had it listed – but it's an American invention; our Middle Eastern brothers like good food, but that doesn't include pork. So I'm thinkin' that bacon dates are a regional delicacy that came right outta Indio. 


Start your Indio date education with the "Romance and Sex Life of the Date" - and a trip to Shield's. Then work your way through the whole valley. The date is the oldest cultivated fruit and they're just darn interestin' from start to finish. And don't miss the Date Festival and Riverside County Fair in February. The Blessing of the Dates is one of the high points of the festival for me.



These little books pack a lot of local history.
























Shield's Date Garden Website


~ by ravenjake on August 12, 2008.

One Response to “Shield’s Date Gardens”

  1. [this is good] Very cool post. I love that place!

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