Ark of Taste
Brunette Beauty Date
Phoenix dactylifera v. Brunette Beauty
Date palms were domesticated in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, more than 5,000 years ago. It has long been one of the most important plants of the arid, desert areas of Northern Africa, the Middle East and Southern Asia. Named date varieties or cultivars, such as Blonde Beauty, are propagated vegetatively, most commonly as offshoots.
In the early 1900s, the USDA sent agricultural explorers abroad to bring back exotic foods to cultivate in the US. They began to import date palm offshoots from North Africa and the Middle East to the climatically similar desert areas in the Coachella Valley in California, that proved to be an excellent place to grow dates. In the first part of the 20th century the Middle East was very popular in American pop culture. In 1947 the Date Festival became an annual event celebrating the correlation between California and the Middle East. However, towards the end of the century political events (starting with the 1970’s oil crisis) strained the USA’s relationship with the Middle East, and the exotic fantasies once popular fell out of fashion. This date is a remnant of a time when the Coachella Valley looked to the Middle East for inspiration, and represents a debt owed by Californian agriculture to the farmers and orchardists of the Middle East, without whom this unique variety would not have developed.
The Brunette Beauty date is thought to have originated from the seed of a Deglet Noor that J. H. Northrop planted on his property near Indio, CA. Northrup kept and further propagated this cultivar after observing its strong qualities. B. F. Shields later acquired Northrop’s property and had 4 acres with at least 50 palms in production in 1955.
The Brunette Beauty date palm keeps some resemblance to the Deglet Noor but has shorter fruit stalks. The fruit color goes from medium red to nearly black as it matures. The Brunette Beauty is considered a late ripening variety. The flesh is medium tough with a pleasing, medium-sweet flavor.
As of 2007, there were 153 producing palms at Shields Date Garden in Indio, CA. The Brunette Beauty date is one of many disappearing dates that need protection and promotion to survive.