We break our fast with a date. This got us to thinking about where dates come from. For those of you who have never given any thought to this fruit’s origin, the answer may surprise you. But even more remarkable is the amount of work — and the serious need to overcome one’s fear of heights — required for the harvest of dates.
Contrary to popular belief, not all palm trees grow coconuts. The date palm grows, well, dates in great big clusters just underneath the palm’s fronds. These trees can be found in warm regions like California and Florida, but are particularly prolific in the Middle East where the date has long been a staple food.
Harvesting dates means climbing up the distance of tall palms, which can grow up to 75 feet high. This is reason enough to classify it as difficult work. Sometimes this is done the old fashioned way. Other times it’s done with the help of heavy machinery. It is more often than not paired with temperatures of over 100 degrees and a ceaseless burning sun.
In order to hand pollinate, the male sheaths (that contains the flower buds) are collected before they open and release their pollen. Sometimes the flowers are sold to farmers at market as is pictured above, other times farmers collect from their own male palms. The pollen is collected and hand dusted onto the female trees to guarantee a hearty harvest.
In order to guarantee a successful harvest the date strands are thinned out to allow room for the fruit to grow to its maximum potential.
Not all dates ripen at the same time. Some are ready to be packaged and sold as soon as they’re picked from the palm, but some fruit needs more time to sweeten. The not-quite-ready dates are left in the heat (and out of the sun) until they’ve reached full maturity.
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