The many meaningful, direct relationships we get to have with the people who growour food is one of the best things about working at the Co-op. The vast majority of these direct relationships are with local farmers. However, sometimes opportunities present themselves to reach out of our local bubble and make a connection with a farm that’s not anywhere nearby. The Bautista Family Organic Date Ranch is one of those.
The story begins several years ago, when Jackie, the former Assistant Produce Manager at Willy East, told me and a few other Produce staff of a California ranch that she knew of that grows the most amazing, fresh dates. She described to us in mouthwatering detail the six different varieties of dates that this farm grows. It was impossible to not become intrigued. You just can’t get dates like this in the Midwest, and I for one had no idea there was a whole world of date varieties outside the Medjool variety that’s most commonly sold in grocery stores.
It seemed like a long shot, but we contacted the farm to inquire if they would be willing to ship us fresh dates at wholesale rates, and to our delight they said yes! Our orders started small in the fall of 2014, but customer demand quickly grew our business, and we are now excited to be embarking on our third season of offering Bautista family farm dates to Willy Street Co-op customers.
So what’s the deal with Bautista dates? Why are they worth all the trouble?
First off, they are simply delicious. Most dates you see in stores (including the dates we sell in our bulk department) are dried, and are months, if not years, old. The dates from the Bautista family are freshly picked. Like any other fresh fruit they are only available in season, which runs from September through early winter. Fresh dates have a soft, gooey texture and complex sweet flavor that is completely unlike the dried version. What’s more, with so many varieties available, the Bautista dates give us upper Midwest folks the unusual chance to sample the wide array of texture, flavor and sweetness that different date varieties have to offer. You can find a few varieties sold separately in each of our Produce departments, and if you want to try all six, we also offer a 3-lb. sampler pack. It makes a great gift!
The Bautista family
Secondly, the Bautista family is awesome! This date ranch is located in the desert of Southern California, near the Salton Sea. Unlike so many other California crops that have to be irrigated regularly and are becoming increasingly unsustainable in a time of drought, date palms are well adapted to the desert and thrive in the hot, dry climate. The ranch is owned and operated by the Bautista family: Enrique, Graciela, their five adult children and their families are all involved in growing, harvesting and marketing the dates. With generations of experience tending these palms, the Bautistas have finely tuned the craft of date growing, and it shows!
Here are some hot tips for using your dates, direct from the Bautista Family!
Craving a silky-smooth date sauce, smoothie, or shake? Soak your dates in water (or coconut water!) before blending. With or without soaking, add a few dates to naturally sweeten your treat!
Chop your dates and stir into ice cream, apple pie, banana bread, shakes and smoothies, cookies, or even savory dishes like salads or Moroccan tagine for delicious chewy bites of sweet flavor.
Create your own date bars by combining dates with your favorite bar ingredients (nuts, oats, vanilla, spices, carob/cocoa, citrus zest, dried apricots or apples, raisins...) in a food processor. Shape into bars or balls, just grab a spoon and dig in, or scoop over apples for a cobbler topping!
Make it fast and easy to enjoy dates anytime by prepping them before freezing. When you receive your dates, reserve some to enjoy fresh out of the refrigerator. Prep the rest by removing the seedand calyx, chopping or pulling into halves or pieces if desirable. Transfer into freezer bags or any airtight container and store in your freezer. Grab your freezer stash anytime to quickly add to snacks and recipes.