It’s peak harvest for fresh dates — our favorites come from Bautista Family Farms, which grows seven varieties of organic dates in the Coachella Valley (including the coveted Barhi variety), and are at the prime of their season for a short window in September.
Bautista Dates at Gjusta Grocer
In the Coachella Valley, in a town called Mecca (named for its resemblance to the desert valley city in Saudi Arabia), the Bautistas grow medjool, khadrawy, halawy, honey, deglet noor, zahidi, and coveted barhi dates.
Photo credit: Bautista Dates
While mid-day temperatures regularly reach 110 degrees F in the summer, the date trees love the extreme heat. The farm is also situated inside a distinct microclimate, with a cooling wind from the Salton Sea providing afternoon relief from the scorching heat, and making the date palms sway and rustle peacefully.
Every tree is visited many times over the course of the growing season. First, in the springtime, the trees are individually hand pollinated. Pollen is gathered from the male trees and brought around to each of the female trees for optimum pollination. They use ladders and a forklift to get up into the oldest trees. The family doesn't use any pesticides, so when the fruit starts to develop they go around to every bunch of dates and hand-tie cloth bags over them to protect from bugs and birds. At harvest time, they visit each tree twice to harvest the dates only at peak ripeness.
Larger growers go to each tree once, taking both ripe and unripe fruits, to save on labor hours. These commercial growers also hydrate or dehydrate, steam and sometimes glaze their dates to meet certain specifications. With the cloth bags also doubling to protect the dates from desert dust and sand, the Bautista family simply harvests their dates at peak ripeness and then lays them out on a table in the midday heat to minimally air dry, no treatments or modifications needed.
The farm has been organic for more than 50 years and feels like an oasis in the desert landscape. Underneath the palms’ canopy there’s grass growing, which free roaming cattle graze on and in turn fertilize the soil. There’s goats for the denser brush and sheep too for the shorter grass. They even have peacocks to naturally control the snakes. (. But the real secret to Bautista’s exceptionally juicy dates is yards underground where there’s a layer of clay which retains water, providing continuous supply to the trees between irrigation and allowing them to use less water.
Bautista Dates are used in dishes across the Gjelina Group and are available for sale at Gjusta Grocer.