California, land of milkshakes in the sun

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Even though I decided long ago that California was not for me, it still has its allure as someplace magical, where the sun shines brighter, people are happier, and there are, wonder of wonders, palm trees everywhere!

I know this isn’t true. But I’m grateful that after a week of seeing such sights as 1) a lane devoted to bikes and golf carts; 2) a senior citizen out for her morning walk with a cat strapped into a baby carrier; and 3) Gucci (Gucci?) in the middle of the desert, I was able to find myself in a warm haze, slurping up a creamy milkshake flecked with bits of sugary sweet, almost candied dates — a date shake. (The glow is only slightly enhanced by Hipstamatic.)

I had this one, even thicker and creamier than the one I had the day before, at Oasis Date Gardens in Thelma, about two and half hours east of Los Angeles. When my friend Mark heard, via Facebook, that I was in Coachella Valley, he urged me to try a date shake. I admit I was skeptical. I don’t really like dates (too sweet) and I don’t really like milkshakes (too much). But the combination is something that is so delicious and so right for the heat of the desert, you would think date shakes grew from date palms, straws and all.

Coachella Valley is the heart of the American date industry, and maybe the whole body, too, given that dates are grown in only a few other places in the country. Dates come from the Middle East and North Africa, and are probably one of the oldest cultivated foods known to man. In the 1890s, the US Department of Agriculture determined that Coachella Valley looked just like Iraq (this being before Iraq had less magical connotations for America) and began experimenting. Now the valley is lined with date farms, exporting varieties with beautiful names like the Halawy, the Khadrawy, and the Zahidi all over the world. If you somehow miss the exotic Arabian Nights-connotation, you’ll be reminded by Oasis Date Gardens’ claim that it it has adopted the “harem” way of farming from the Old World, with one male palm “presid[ing] over an acre or about 50 female palms.”

The tourist stores built by date gardens in California, though, feel quintessentially American. The two I visited, Oasis Date Gardens and Shield Date Gardens, both sold dates, of course, as well as other dried fruits, diner food, postcards, and shot glasses with palm trees on them. Shield Date Gardens urged me to view the film,  “Romance and Sex Life of the Date!” (There are male and female components, though given that the female trees have to be hand-pollinated, I’m not sure they’re such a great symbol of potent sexual chemistry.)

And the date shake feels the most American and most Californian of all. Whether it’s nutty and sippable, like the one I had at Shield, or as thick as a Dairy Queen Blizzard, like the one I had at Oasis, the date shake is so rich and indulgent, you can imagine people who eat them regularly may truly be happier. Or maybe just fatter.

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8 Responses to “California, land of milkshakes in the sun”

  1. Diane C. Says:

    Wow, love that first shot, beautiful photo!

  2. Dave Says:

    I travelled through southern cali with an old girlffriend about 1974 and we had our first date shakes. It’s one of the most intensely nostalgic memories I have. The neural pathways for lovely sex and lovely food must lie vey close to each other.

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