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Romance of the Date

Only the harshest environment and the most meticulous care can give us soft, luscious fruit.

September 19, 2001|DAVID KARP | Special to the Times

* Shields Date Gardens. Orchard and store at 80-225 Hwy. 111, Indio. Deglet Noor (naturals starting in early November), Blonde, Brunette. Mail order:; (800) 414-2555.


A Date Glossary: From Barhi to Zahidi

* Barhi. Name linked to hot summer winds ( bahr ) at Basra, Iraq, whence the variety was imported to California in 1913. Soft type; early to midseason; small to medium-size, oval to nearly round fruit; khalal color buff yellow (this is the only commercial date sufficiently non-astringent to be enjoyed at this stage); rutab golden amber; tamar mahogany brown; flesh translucent golden brown, smooth and honey-flavored, exquisite in the rutab stage.

* Black dates. Includes varieties such as Abbada (from Brawley), Black Sphinx (from Phoenix) and Hayany (from Egypt), grown as specialty items. Most are red in the khalal stage and almost black at maturity, with flesh so soft that they can't be shipped.

* Deglet Noor. "Date of Light." Originated in 17th century Algeria; introduced to the U.S. in 1900. Late season; medium-size, oblong-ovate fruit; khalal color light orange-brown; rutab golden amber, translucent (the best are called "naturals"); tamar deeper brown to mahogany red; flesh firm but tender; at best, flavor mild, delicate, distinctive (fruit contains higher percentage of sucrose than most dates, which have more fructose and glucose). Leading variety in California, 70% to 75% of the crop.

* Empress. Seedling of Thoory, first planted in 1916 by Everett K. Da Vall, Rancho Mirage. Midseason; medium to large, oblong; khalal color yellow; amber to medium-brown at maturity; flesh medium soft, flavor rich. Specialty of Da Vall family.

* Halawy. "Sweet." Introduced from Basra, Iraq, in 1902. Early season; medium size, oblong; khalal color buff yellow; rutab light amber; tamar golden brown; flesh tender, caramel-like, flavor very sweet and honey-like. A favorite of Coachella Valley dwellers, grown commercially on a small scale.

* Honey. Seedling of Thoory, first planted in 1916 by Everett K. Da Vall, Rancho Mirage. Early to midseason; medium size, oblong-oval; khalal color buff yellow; amber to reddish-brown at maturity; flesh soft, melting; flavor mild. Specialty of Da Vall family.

* Khadrawy. "Green." Soft type; early season; small to medium-size, oblong-ovate; khalal light yellow; rutab amber, sometimes with a slight greenish tinge; tamar reddish brown; flesh soft, melting, but granulates in storage; flavor rich without being cloying. Secondary variety, grown commercially on a small scale.

* Medjool. Introduced from Bou Denib, Morocco, in 1927. Early season; large to very large, oblong-oval; khalal color orange-yellow; rutab translucent amber, flesh soft, with rag adhering to pit; tamar reddish brown, flesh firm and dense; flavor mildly rich. Leading high-end and gift date, specialty of the Bard Valley; increasingly popular variety, second in importance in California, 20% to 25% of the crop.

* Thoory. "The bull's date." Introduced from Algeria in 1900. Dry type; late season; above medium size; khalal color yellow; ripens to light reddish brown or straw color; firm to rather hard and brittle flesh; flavor nutty and delicate. Rarely grown but leading dry ("bread") date; keeps well, useful as a snack.

* Zahidi. "Nobility." Introduced from northern Iraq in 1902. Midseason; small to medium-size, obovate; khalal color buff to apricot yellow; rutab light brown to straw-colored; tamar reddish or golden brown; flesh firm, can be fibrous; flavor sweet but not outstanding. Popular for landscaping, so the fruit's availability has decreased.

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