Last month I was among a group of 14 lucky bloggers invited to attend the Natural Delights Medjool Dates Blogger Summit in Yuma, Arizona. I jumped at the chance for a number of reasons, first and foremost because I am a big fan of Medjools and I was eager to see these natural, sweet delights growing right on the date palm trees in the hot, hot, heat of Arizona.
After a long day of flying from Toronto to Phoenix and then on to Yuma, I was thrilled to step out into the heat at Yuma's (very small) international airport.
Bloggers on the tarmac.
A fun welcome package (including vegan sunscreen!).
First stop, the Original 6 Medjool date palms. These beauties originally came from Morocco and all of the Bard Valley's 250,000 trees derive from these original trees, which still bear fruit.
Next order of business was to get up into a date palm to harvest some Medjool dates!
My partner for this unique experience was my new friend, the lovely Yvonne from My Halal Kitchen.
Up in the tree, we discovered that the unripened Medjools are yellow. But there's no need to pick each ripe date individually. Because each bunch is bagged, you can simply shake the bag and the ripes ones fall to the bottom.
Not that it's so simple. Workers go up into each tree many times every year, beginning in January or February when they have to remove the thorny portions on the tree trunks. They are sharp enough to cut through a shoe or even a tire! Workers also have to pollinate each tree by hand using basters and hand blowers. The date crop is also thinned out by hand to allow for larger dates. This, along with the harvest, means that workers go up in each tree about 15 times per year. Each tree takes seven years to bear fruit.
The bags protect the Medjools from rain - they need air but not an excess of water. The Bard Valley used to be a flood plain for the Colorado River so the soil, although it looks dry, is very rich.
We also enjoyed a visit to Yuma's Artsy Fartsy Studio, where we sipped on mimosas and painted pictures of date trees.
We toured Natural Delight's Datepac sorting and distribution facility, where dates are carefully sorted by size and quality using both equipment and hands-on work.
We were treated to the most amazing meals during our stay. You can see some of the delicious food I consumed in this What I Ate Wednesday post. And read on for an incredible recipe. For our finale dinner we enjoyed a wonderful meal right in the date groves at this beautiful table.
I can still practically hear us oohing and aahing as we got off the bus. I immediately had to photograph that table (I'm in the hat, above). The nice part about travelling with other bloggers is that you're not the only one taking pictures of your food!
Some of us went kayaking in the early morning on the Colorado River. We managed to fit a lot of activities into just a couple of days!
Yuma Territorial Prison, now a museum. It closed in 1909 and, believe it or not, a high school occupied the buildings from 1910 to 1914! I guess that shouldn't be so surprising given how many teens feel about high school.
Yvonne and I stuck around for an extra day and met up with growers Gus and Mari, a brother and sister duo whose family owns a large portion of the Medjool date groves in the area.
They were kind enough to take us on a tour of their incredible property. They told us the inspiring story of their father, who came to the U.S. as a migrant worker from Mexico, gradually saving enough money to buy a bit of property on which to grow dates. He built a thriving business through hard work and determination.
7 Interesting Facts About Natural Delights Medjool Dates
1. Medjools are considered fresh fruit. That's because they aren't dried like other fruits. They are moist and delicious, which is what makes them perfect for using in recipes that call for a caramel-like consistency. The dates dry a bit over time but the water content remains higher (20 per cent) than a dried fruit such as raisins. You'll find them in the produce section...with the other fruit y'all.
2. Medjool dates are called nature's power fruit because they contain six vitamins and minerals, are a good source of dietary fibre and are free of any fat.
3. They have 50 per cent more potassium by weight than bananas. Potassium helps with muscle recovery following exercise.
4. Medjool dates are sweet thanks to natural sugar. That, along with dietary fibre, means they are metabolized slowly to give you lasting natural energy to help you get through a day of work, chores, family commitments and exercise.
5. Natural Delights Medjool dates are grown without pesticides and herbicides, even when they aren't labelled organic.
6. 25 million pounds of dates are harvested each year in the Bard Valley!
7. Medjool dates taste delicious...but you knew that!
Now for some delicious ways to use those fresh Medjools! Some of my fave recipes, above (clockwise from bottom left): a vegan take on the Medjool Date Milkshake; my grandmother's classic Nova Scotia date squares, reinvented with spelt flour and a healthier margarine; moist and tasty Banana Ginger Medjool Date Mini Loaves; Emily von Euw's amazing raw vegan Ultimate Caramel Chocolate Squares; a light and sweet green smoothie; and, last but not least, a BRAND NEW recipe for the amazing vegan Vietnamese Spring Rolls that I enjoyed at Yuma's River City Grill. Read on for that recipe. (They are super simple to make by the way. Bonus.)
Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Keywords: vegan vegetarian
Ingredients (8 servings)
- 2 oz. rice vermicelli
- 8 rice wrappers (8.5 inch diameter)
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
- 12 oz. spring mix
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup chopped Medjool Dates
- 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
- 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped peanuts
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Boil rice vermicelli 3 to 5 minutes, on until al dente, and drain.
Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for 1 second to soften. Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place a handful of vermicelli, mint, dates and lettuce, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold uncovered sides inward and then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
Glaze the plate with peanuts and drizzles of hoisin sauce.
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I met so many wonderful bloggers on my quick trip to Yuma. I was blessed to hang with such a great group of talented women. They are:
• Yvonne from My Halal Kitchen
• Lisa from The Viet Vegan
• Tina from Carrots 'N' Cake
• Abby from Abby Langer Nutrition
• Alexis from Hummusapien
• Brittany from Eating Bird Food
• Brooke from Cheeky Kitchen
• Catherine from Rabbit Food For My Bunny Teeth
• Jasmine from Sweet Simple Vegan
• Kathy from Healthy Happy Life
• Lisa from Snack Girl
• Shannon from Lonestar Nutrition
• Taylor from Food Faith Fitness
*Natural Delights paid for my travel costs and accommodation. All opinions are authentic and my own.