A shield isn’t much use without a knight to wield it. This towering knight stands alongside Highway 111, pointing the way to Shields Date Gardens, which has been supplying the Coachella Valley with dates since 1924. Floyd and Bess Shields and their descendants ran the date gardens until 2005, when the operation was sold to Jewel Date Company. Thankfully, Shields has maintained its charm.
Popular choices include Medjool – “the king of dates” – imported from Morocco in the 1930s. Deglet Noor means “date of light,” due to its amber hue and emigrated from Algeria. Blondes and brunettes are available only at Shields Date Gardens. Bread dates are popular with athletes since they’re not sticky and can be kept in pockets. It was a mind-bending process to choose even two combination packs.
In addition to dates and date products, Shields sells date cookbooks, date mugs, and date T-shirts with sayings like “Do you need a date for Saturday night?” Somehow, it’s not kitschy. Well, maybe the T-shirts.
The sticky date bar oozed with date paste and brown sugar, and the pastry sandwich was lined with oats.
Don’t leave Shields without stopping into the 108 seat movie theatre to view “Romance & Sex Life of the Date.” When Floyd Shields was still alive, he used to regale visitors with the story of date mating, but grew tired of repeating the tale, so he recorded a 15 minute film. That film is still shown to this day, and it features hokey narration but great information. Some fun facts about date farming: 1) It can take 20 years or more to see a return on a date palm. 2) Date farming is labor-intensive and requires pollination by hand, to assist in the specie’s success. 3) Shields uses a ratio of one male date palm to 48 female date palms. 4) Finally, dates are high in potassium and carbs, and fat free.
The trip to Shields was a rousing success. Not only did I manage to sample a variety of delicious dates and date products, but I carried away a full bag of date goodies. Plus, that movie was classic. I can see why Shields has survived for over 80 years. May it thrive for another 80.