Ark of Taste
Black Sphinx Date
The Black Sphinx is a distinctive variety of date discovered as a rogue seedling in Phoenix, Arizona in 1928. It is most likely the result of a genetically unique seed that fell from an established Havani date tree. Once discovered, it became very popular and a grove was established in what is now the Arcadia neighborhood in Phoenix. Unlike the more ubiquitous Medjool date, the Black Sphinx is plump and tender with a very thin, dark mahogany colored skin. The meat is non fibrous and melts in the mouth leaving behind notes of caramel, vanilla, flowers and honey.
Unfortunately, the same delicate quality that makes the date so delicious also makes it remarkably perishable and commercially unviable. Unlike its tougher-skinned relatives, the Black Phoenix has physical characteristics that make it unsuitable for large-scale commercial distribution and shipment. Today, both this and other factors contribute to its decline. Climate change, for example, has drastically affected production. Twenty years ago, the date ripened in November and could be comfortably harvested in the cooler temperatures after the early fall rains had ended. Today, however, as a result of the urban “heat island” effect, the fruit ripens in September when the combination of high temperatures and heavy rain makes the fruit mature quickly and then shrivel like raisins on the vine. Furthermore, as the trees grow taller, it becomes more difficult and dangerous to collect the fruit and pollinate the trees in an urban environment.
Most of the Black Sphinx date trees in the Arcadia neighborhood in Phoenix grow on private lots and are individually owned. Harry Polk has been working the grow for over 25 years, hand pollinating and harvesting from the very tall trees. Harry retired a year ago and no one has stepped in to succeed him. The fruit has not been distributed commercially since 2007. Residents of the Arcadia neighborhood may continue to harvest from their individually owned trees.
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