Need a Date? Head to Flying Disc Ranch

Goodlifer: Need a Date? Head to Flying Disc Ranch

Quick! What do the following have in common: Cire, Amber, Zahidi, Khadrawi, Derrie? Give up? They’re all varieties of date palms. If you’ve never heard of any before, you’ve got lots of company. Most people know Deglet Noor, and some are acquainted with Medhjool, but that’s about as far as familiarity with these trees (and their fruit) extends. That’s a pity, because the palms all bear dates with different flavors and textures. Fresh Yellow Barhis are indeed a cheery yellow color, with the crunch of a very firm apple but an intensely sweet, white interior. Dried Zahidis retain some yellow color on their exterior, but their inside is a typical “date” brown, and they’re less sweet than many other dates. And Ambers are roughly the size of Medhjools, with a soft flesh that’s almost spicy in its sweetness. You won’t find these dates in your average supermarket, I can tell you that, but you can find them at Flying Disc Ranch, located in California’s Coachella Valley.

Date varieties at Flying Disc Ranch's farm stand.

Date varieties at Flying Disc Ranch’s farm stand.

Other than the fact that they’ll open your eyes to a new and delicious world of dates, I like Flying Disc Ranch for what they don’t do. They don’t cultivate their soil, which results in what they call a “living mulch” covering on their ranch. Because the ranch is in desert country, the mulch is a protector from the severe sunlight and dry conditions, and it also provides habitat for the many beneficial insects. They don’t use any chemicals, period. They don’t throw out trimmings from pruning; those are composted to add additional fertility to the soil. The first step toward sustainable agriculture is healthy soil, and getting this without the use of a lot of petrochemicals and/or other fertilizers is by far the best alternative.

The ranch is biodynamic in the sense that it is a free-flowing ecosystem. For distinction, farmer Robert Lower calls what Flying Disc practices “eco-dynamic,” since it is not traditionally biodynamic but inspired by the ideas.

Citrus, dates & date pieces.

Citrus, dates & date pieces.

I don’t have to tell you that the holidays are approaching at a gallop. So many people are trying hard not to eat too much fat or refined sugar these days, and the December holidays can make that very difficult. So, help those virtuous folks out this year, and get them a gift of dates. I bought myself one of Flying Disc’s date samplers. There’s a minimum of 1/4 pound of each variety, and it’s a lot of fun to open all the different bags and try each kind of date, especially if you have foodie friends who think they’ve seen it all.

Date & Walnut bars.

Date & Walnut bars.

If you don’t live near the Coachella Valley, do not despair! Flying Disc Ranch can be found at many Bay Area farmers markets. There’s no online ordering at this time, however, you can download an order form and mail it in with a check or contact Christina Kelso by phone or e-mail. You can even add citrus to your order; the ranch ships Ruby Blush Grapefruit and Temple Oranges in season and can fit some of these into the same box in which they’re shipping your dates. Gift wrapping is available for a very modest additional charge. It takes a little extra planning and effort to get to these dates, but it’s oh-so worth it.

About author
Stephanie Zonis was born with a spoon in her mouth — a tasting spoon, that is. She began cooking (especially baking) at a very early age, and for a short time even ran a highly illegal baking business from her long-suffering parents’ house when she was in high school. After acquiring a Master’s Degree in Foods, she eventually discovered the Internet in 1997. She’s been writing about food and developing recipes, especially where chocolate is involved, ever since. During those few moments when she’s not cooking or writing or thinking about food, Stephanie enjoys reading, walking, political discussions, and volunteering at a local no-kill cat sanctuary. She has been a member of a medieval re-creation group for longer than she’ll admit and loves absurdist humor.
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