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Attention: This is not a smoothie, but you can have it for breakfast if you want.
- ½ cup Deglet Noor or Medjool dates, pitted
Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until slightly darkened in color and fragrant, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.
Meanwhile, place dates in a small bowl and add ½ cup hot water to cover; soak 10 minutes to soften.
Blend walnuts, dates with their soaking liquid, cinnamon, and salt in a blender until a coarse paste forms. Add ice cream and ¾ cup cracked ice and blend until smooth. Divide shake between 2 glasses.
Date Shake History and Recipe
Date Milkshake is a tasty culinary creation, which is commonly made in the date-growing region, near Palm Springs, southern California. These shakes may sound strange, but date shakes are fabulous!
In February, Indio California, hosts the annual National Date Festival with its Arabian theme. Of course the specialty of the festival is the date shake.
Decades ago, you could find a lot of places to purchase date shakes in California. Sadly, this is not true today! But don’t worry – just make your own with the recipe below. The date shakes are filling, delicious, and full of calories! This is a shake you eat more than you drink as the shake is very thick. According to California legend, the date shake was invented in the 1930s by a California date farmer.
The first date palm trees in the United States were grown from seeds planted by Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries around 1769 in the San Diego, California. Most of the missions were established along the Pacific coast, where the damp coastal climate is not suitable for producing dates. Because of the coastal climate, only a few of these original date palms are still in existence (as landmarks only).
The perfect date shake
A few years back, a friend from California told me about the sweet, creamy date shakes her family stopped for on their way from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. Dates and the desert ― together. To some, the date shake is as quintessentially Southern California as Malibu surf. So when I first moved to this part of the world, I set out in search of the perfect date shake.
Palm Springs was calling. It was summer, but I got into my car, and east to the blazing desert I went. Between San Bernardino and Palm Springs, I stopped at a pharmacy. Even though this isn’t the place you’d expect to get the skinny on date shakes, I began asking questions. A round-faced man piped up, “Hadley’s. Can’t miss it. There’s a big sign.”
So I went. And at Hadley’s Fruit Orchard in Cabazon ― just off Interstate 10 on a flat valley floor next to an outlet mall, I experienced my first date shake. It was as thick and smooth as I’d anticipated, with chewy bits of date skin and an intense honey flavor. I realized that Hadley’s was just the pearly gate to the date heaven I was seeking. I bought some dates and continued on.
Most of the domestic date industry is in the Coachella Valley east of Indio, but many companies sell shakes at their stores in Palm Springs and Indio (visitor centers can help you locate stores). I had creamy shakes, nutty ones, and others so sweet they were sappy. I gathered tips and recipes, saw a movie on the sex life of date palms (at Shields Date Gardens in Indio), and amassed dates with which to concoct shakes at home.
Cashew Date Shake (vegan, paleo)
It’s funny how recipe ideas come together. A few days ago I had a bunch of Medjool dates sitting on the counter, which I had planned to use as the base for a multi-layered s’mores tart. I ended up not using them for the tart, opting for a brownie layer base instead. The brownie layer was then topped with crumbled graham crackers, chocolate custard and marshmallows. It was four layers of s’mores decadence which was brilliant in theory…but…if you saw my snaps this week, you saw what happened.
A s’mores disaster! The custard layer never firmed up and when I pulled the parchment out of the pan, the entire thing oozed and blobbed everywhere. The custard layer squirted out like a chocolate waterfall and the other layers (which did turn out) just fell into a stack on top of each other, Tetris-style.
Yep, it was a complete recipe fail (and made for a very messy kitchen). But not wanting to waste lots of money in organic ingredients, I quickly transferred the goopy mess to a storage container, dubbed it a s’mores soup and proceeded to eat it (and probably way too much of it) for breakfast. #reallife
I’ve gone a totally different direction with my s’mores development and fingers crossed, you’ll have a new treat in about a week. But today, let’s get back to these dates. So I had them on the counter sitting next to a big bag of raw cashews and it was 108 degrees out (no joke) and instantly my brain screamed “date shake!”
Date shakes are a very Southern California thing. And more precisely, a Palm Springs thing. Date palms are grown throughout the low desert area but it wasn’t until one very smart date farmer created a roadside “shake shack” that dates surged in popularity. I still remember the first time I had a date shake. I’d actually avoided them for years on all our family trips to the desert. As a teenager, dates were the equivalent of prunes in my books, dark wrinkly and gross, so why on earth would I put either into a creamy vanilla milkshake?!
In my early 20’s my mom and I headed to Palm Springs for a girls weekend and I thought, alright, I’ll taste what all the fuss is about. So we hit up the historic Shield’s Date Garden and I still remember my mom laughing when a smile creeped up on my face and I blurted out, “oh, this is really good!” From that point on, I was a date shake lover.
Traditional date shakes are made with milk, ice cream, dates and a pinch of spices. Most of you know I’m not 100% dairy-free, but I am obsessed with using cashews for dairy-free creamy goodness. And you guys, this cashew date shake tastes so much like a traditional date shake it’s cr-a-zy. It’s thick, creamy, sweet and will definitely cool you down on a ridiculously hot day. I topped mine with coconut whipped cream, leftover from my video creation last week, but you can slurp it up plain as well.
- 1/2 cup of raw cashews (soaked overnight, then drained and rinsed)
- 2 cups of filtered water
- 1/4 cup of medjool dates (soak for a few minutes in warm water if they're tough or dry)
- 2 cups of frozen banana, sliced or in chunks
- 1 cup coconut water, frozen into ice cubes
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon of whole chia seed
- 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed
Shields Date “Sugar” Cookies
Mix and let stand covered in refrigerator overnight:
1 cup Date “Sugar”
1/2 cup water
Add to the above:
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup margarine
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups quick oatmeal
Drop by rounded teaspoon on greased cookie sheet. Bake 350° F about 20 min. or until brown. Makes about 60 cookies.
Who serves the best date shake in the Coachella Valley? Let us know
Known as the Date Capital of the World, the Coachella Valley supplies about 95 percent of the country’s dates. It also has many places to try date shakes. (8.25.17)
Known as the "Date Capital of the World," the Coachella Valley supplies about 95 percent of the country’s dates.
Veteran band tour manager and desert dweller Rick Marino has been sipping a local dessert made with the fruit — date shakes — since his family started coming out to the desert years ago.
"Dates shakes are part of my earliest memories of the desert," he says. "At least twice a year, my parents would go to Palm Springs for a weekend family trip, and without fail, we always stopped at Hadley’s Fruit Orchards in Cabazon for a date shake, always! Now that I live here, I have discovered several different and delicious variations across the Coachella Valley worth sharing."
Oasis Date Gardens date shake (Photo: Kristin Scharkey/DESERT magazine)
These are his top five picks, in no particular order. We also want to hear from you!
Who serves the best date shake in the Coachella Valley? Vote below.
Hadley Fruit Orchards
Around for a long time, I am sure this shake is a benchmark for many people over the years. It’s my personal favorite for a couple of reasons: The consistency is perfect for the straw, and they use pureed dates. I love biting into the small bits. It can be ordered with banana as well! (47993 Morongo Trail, Cabazon 951-849-5255)
At this North Palm Springs store, you can get a great, straightforward date shake. Made with in-house pureed dates and real ice cream (you can choose different flavors instead of vanilla), it is a top-notch option, and easy to get when heading up to the high desert.
(17080 N. Indian Canyon Dr., Palm Springs 760-251-4489)
Lappert's Ice Cream
Here, “ultra-premium” date ice cream (featuring caramel fudge and high butterfat content that’s creamy and smooth) are mixed with date paste to make more of a sundae. Top it off with whipped cream! It’s big enough to share. (130 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs 760-325-1717 73-221 Highway 111, Ste. C, Palm Desert 760-895-4447 78206 Varner Rd., Ste. G, Palm Desert 760-772-1777) *
Nature’s Health Food & Café date shake (Photo: Kristin Scharkey/DESERT magazine)
Nature’s Health Food & Café
Located on Sunrise Way in Palm Springs, this quaint, little cafe makes a very smooth and very creamy “vegan” version – and, yes, you read that right. They use crystallized dates, banana, soy milk and soy-based ice cream. It is definitely the most banana-y tasting out of the bunch. (555 S. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs 760-323-9487)
Oasis Date Gardens
This Thermal outpost is the real deal. Now certified organic, its midcentury store is set back into the date palms and is a perfect stop on a day trip to the Salton Sea. The shake here is made with classic soft-serve ice cream and pureed dates. They are thick, so thick, they’re served with a spoon instead of a straw. (59-111 Grapefruit Blvd., Thermal 760-399-5665)
Digging Into the Sweet History of the Date ShakeThe ultimate place for a date shake is Shields Date Garden. Shields Date Garden in Indio features a 1950s sales room, a knight in shining armor, an oasis of ponds and miniature waterfalls, and its classic film, The Romance and Sex Life of the Date. A sign promoting the house specialty at Shields. Date palms at Shields’ 17-acre date grove.
In 1932, Los Angeles Times columnist Harry Carr headed into the Coachella Valley, a long stretch of the Sonoran Desert that encompasses Indio, Mecca, Oasis, and other towns along California&rsquos old blue highways. About a hundred miles east of his usual beat, Carr found plenty to gripe about. The streets of Palm Springs were &ldquogay with flappers and trick clothes.&rdquo There was as much solitude, he harrumphed, as there was at Seventh and Broadway back home. As many as 100 airplanes a day clattered up the joint. The newsman did find one thing he liked despite the tourists and gadabouts: a new &ldquoProhibition drink&rdquo locals called a date milkshake.
Midcentury Mai Tais and swank poolside Martinis notwithstanding, the date milkshake has reigned as the Coachella Valley&rsquos signature drink for almost a century. Menus at local diners, swim clubs, resorts, candy shops, and lunch counters list the blend of milk, ice cream, and sweet dates harvested from the area&rsquos abundant date palms. Across the region, the shake&mdashor some version of it&mdashis ubiquitous. Pop culture historian Charles Phoenix is such a fan of date shakes that he&rsquos included stops to sample them on his guided bus tours of the area. &ldquoTo have a date shake in Palm Springs is a moment, an absolute Coachella Valley moment. You haven&rsquot done Palm Springs or the Coachella Valley without a date shake.&rdquo
Phoenix has a few favorite shops, but he&rsquos unequivocal about where a first-timer should go for one of these momentous concoctions. &ldquoThe ultimate place for a date shake is Shields Date Garden,&rdquo he says. &ldquoThat&rsquos the real-deal place, with the knight in shining armor pointing to the 1950s sales room. Get the date shake and watch the film.&rdquo
Dates are the fruit of Phoenix dactylifera, slender palm trees cultivated for millennia in the Middle East. Around 1900, the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined that the Coachella Valley&rsquos blazing hot summers, low humidity, and deep aquifer made it an ideal site to grow date palms. USDA employees called agricultural explorers, intent on helping America compete with the best the world offered, selected cultivars culled from North Africa and the Middle East for their delicious, high-quality fruits. Enormous, sticky Medjools are perennially popular, but California growers lean heavily into a smaller, honey-hued Algerian variety called Deglet Noor, with flesh so translucent that a sunbeam can reveal each fruit&rsquos seed. Either makes an outstanding shake.
&ldquoTo have a date shake in Palm Springs is a moment, an absolute Coachella Valley moment. You haven&rsquot done Palm Springs or the Coachella Valley without a date shake.&rdquo &mdashCharles Phoenix
Most accounts trace the first date milkshake to Russell Nicoll&rsquos Valerie Jean Date Shop south of Thermal, California, around 1930. Temperatures of 100 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit can roast the town for months on end. Plenty of years, the annual rainfall wouldn&rsquot fill a shot glass. People were eager for something, anything, to stave off the heat. Once Nicoll added chopped dates to a vanilla milkshake, that soda fountain standard began to morph into the quintessential Coachella drink. The shake didn&rsquot merely keep heat at bay its caramel and toffee tastes with hints of chocolate and molasses, plus dates&rsquo intense sweetness, made it a sensation: already familiar, yet new. By the end of the 1930s, shops were selling date milkshakes in Los Angeles and as far north as Oregon.
Up the highway from Valerie Jean, Floyd Shields had been selling dates at his farm in Indio since 1924. As part of his pitch, he gave informal talks about dates and date palms. Those talks evolved into the film Charles Phoenix mentioned: The Romance and Sex Life of the Date. For its time, the title was titillating, almost scandalous. Shields ramped up the nudge-nudge angle by naming two of his 1927 date varieties Blonde and Brunette. In 1936, Shields trademarked another creation: date crystals. At a glance, the bits of hard, shredded dates look like nubbins of fine mulch. But they&rsquore shelf-stable, have a strong date taste, and dissolve readily in water or milk to form a thick, smooth paste. They are, in other words, ideal for blending with ice cream.
Store supervisor Alma Arenas explains that during the high season, which runs roughly from Thanksgiving to mid-May, Shields sells around 500 date shakes daily. &ldquoBut with COVID and everything, we just don&rsquot get as many people,&rdquo she says. &ldquoStill, we make about 200 shakes a day now.&rdquo Behind her, two workers prep cup after cup for the expected crowds. A parking lot sign in the form of a towering armored knight points them to the counter. Although Shields remains a working date farm, renovations have turned the old gardens into an oasis of ponds, miniature waterfalls, and bridges. Statuary scenes depicting the life of Jesus&mdashrecent additions to the grounds&mdashdraw some visitors. The less religiously inclined can wander among the fruit trees, shake in hand, in this peaceful refuge from the dust and commotion of the desert.
Russell Nicoll&rsquos original date milkshake was such a simple concept that it led to countless iterations. His chopped dates have largely given way to prepared pastes, with textures ranging from velvety to downright chunky. Windmill Market, near the gigantic turbines north of Palm Springs, serves a version that&rsquos almost chewy, with flecks of fruit. Some shops, such as Lappert&rsquos in downtown Palm Springs, use high-end ice cream and add a fillip of whipped cream. The health-conscious crowd, taken aback by the calorie load of a 24-ounce date shake, shave off sugar and fat by swapping in ice milk, fat-free milk, or frozen yogurt. Some replace ice cream with frozen bananas and ice. Recipes that once made a single old-school date shake now may read, &ldquoserves four.&rdquo Coffee with dates is a classic combination, and while many shops offer a coffee ice cream option, at King&rsquos Highway, the restaurant at the Ace Hotel Palm Springs, savvy diners sometimes order their date shakes affogato-style, topped with hot espresso.
In addition to making modest adjustments of cayenne, hemp seeds, CBD oil, cinnamon, and other inclusions, staff at Fruit Wonders in Palm Springs will blend spinach and kale into a green date shake. (This, however, is more properly a smoothie the dates are incidental.) At Bootlegger Tiki in the former Don the Beachcomber spot, bartenders routinely incorporate nontraditional ingredients&mdashsuch as Chartreuse and mezcal&mdashinto tropical drinks, and bar manager Carlos Mares makes Tino&rsquos Date, a sort of inverted and spiked date shake. For this, Mares blends local date purée with bourbon, pear brandy, Aperol, and tropical syrups, then garnishes the lot with a scoop of Coachella date ice cream from Shop(pe), a nearby ice cream takeaway.
And near Interstate 10, the last big date shake place (or the first, depending on which direction drivers are heading) is Hadley Fruit Orchards. Cars from far-flung states pull into the lot. Travelers emerge in ones and twos and small clusters to stretch and yawn. Strapping on masks, they amble to the modern little café, some already snapping photos. General manager Kelly DeGraw says that Hadley&rsquos, which opened in 1931, sells 2,000 to 3,000 date shakes each week to travelers from around the world. &ldquoThis is the gateway to the coast,&rdquo he says. &ldquoAnyone driving into L.A. from the east drives through here. Tour buses come with people from Italy, France, Russia, China, all over. Bus drivers stop here and tell a little story about us.&rdquo Customers can add chocolate, peanut butter, bananas, malted milk, strawberries.
&ldquoEven extra dates,&rdquo DeGraw offers with a hint of can-you-believe-that? admiration. &ldquoPeople like that.&rdquo
The Cult of the California Date Shake
Of the many roadside attractions I’ve been to known to pull over for, nothing compares to “The Romance and Sex Life of the Date.” The signs for this scandalous film first show up miles away, on Highway 111 in the bleached-out High Desert of Southern California, outside of Palm Springs. They beckon tourists to slow down even before the giant wooden knight appears, pointing visitors to the Shields Date Garden parking lot in Indio.
The gimmick works: Shields is one of the best-known roadside attractions in the region. And as much as the film gets tourists in the door, what keeps them coming back is the dates. Shields sells five varieties, including medium-soft and sweet Blonde and Brunettes, developed and patented by Floyd Shields and sold exclusively in Indio.
Samples are abundant and you can buy all kinds of dates, along with the usual touristy chazerai, but in this writer’s opinion, the best souvenir from Shields is one that shouldn’t leave the parking lot: a date shake.
Date shakes have become something of an unofficial drink of the Coachella Valley, appearing on menus at hotels, restaurants, and other date shops along the road. At Shields, the thick, creamy milkshakes are made using date crystals, another one of Shields’ patented inventions, which are essentially nubbins of dried dates sweetened with date sugar. For the shakes, the crystals are mixed with water to make a thick date paste, which is blended with vanilla ice cream and milk.
They’re a fleeting keepsake, especially in the unrelenting desert sun. But there’s something delightful about the act of slurping a cold, sweet drink in the middle of the barren California landscape.
Step inside Shields for a date-filled wonderland. Ken Lund
Shields was founded in 1924 by newlyweds Floyd and Bess Shields, who moved east from Los Angeles to try their hand at the booming date industry in the Coachella Valley. That boom was the result of the USDA’s specially-commissioned Agriculture Explorers, aka “the Indiana Joneses of the plant world,” who brought dates from their native Middle Eastern and North African climes to the similarly hot and dry California desert. These flora explorers coincided with a wave of public interest in the Middle East, mysterious and exotic-seeming at the time, which date growers in the Coachella Valley happily played up to market their fruit.
Tourism in the area took off, as people drove out to the desert for the three-day, Arabian Nights-themed “International Festival of Dates,” complete with camel races. Floyd and Bess needed something to make their date farm stand out from the dozens of others lining the highway. So Floyd, who had trained as an engineer but proved naturally adept at date farming, began giving lectures in his back garden to describe the painstaking process of date cultivation. He eventually collected his notes into a slideshow and called it, rather salaciously, “The Romance and Sex Life of the Date.”
Today, the 15-minute doc plays on a continuous loop in the in-house “Romance Theater,” though a few years ago it was turned into a short film that combines the original slideshow with Shields’ narration and new footage and audio. The film is currently available on DVD and you can find it on YouTube.
In it, Shields unpacks the nuts and bolts of date farming, a labor- and time-intensive process that involves shimmying up the trunk of 70-foot trees to hand-pollinate the female palms, flooding the root systems (though they are desert plants, date palms need the equivalent of 120 inches of rainfall to thrive), and hand-picking each individual date bunch after a decade of waiting for a given tree to bear fruit.
This is an abbreviated version of the process, which involves no fewer than ten other mind-bogglingly intensive steps. When I watch it, I think of how strange it is for something as resource-intensive as date palms to thrive in the High Desert, which even today is fairly underdeveloped, boasting more than its fair share of forbidding-feeling nothingness beyond the handful of towns that thrive along the highway.
For many, the desert holds a mysterious allure. For me, it’s a reminder of the awesome power of nature to still overrule the will of man. But how delightful it is that our tiny toehold into taming the wild landscape should come in the form of date farms, and how sweet it is to take a bit of them with you in a Styrofoam cup.
Vanilla Cinnamon Date Shake (makes 3 servings)
- 2 frozen bananas
- 3/4 cup frozen cauliflower
- 3 dates
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon hemp seeds
- 2 tablespoons almond butter
- 2 teaspoons flax seeds
- 1 1/2 cups milk of choice
1. Place ingredients in blender and puree until smooth.
Just made this for my boys (6 and 8 years old) and they loved it. Thanks for the great smoothie ideas!
Hey Catherine, saw you on The Kitchen today and looked at your amazing site. Question: have you heard anyone say they are having bananas bother their digestive system? I finally figured out that bananas are bothering me about 5 years ago. I love bananas and especially in smoothies. Have tried pumpkin purée and baked sweet potatoes and they kind of work as a substitute but do you know what the problem might be with bananas? My allergist told me that because I am allergic to ragweed, I’ll be allergic to bananas. They never bithered me in the past. Don’t understand. Any ideas?
Yum! Oops, the nut free icon is at the top of the recipe but it also calls for almond butter. Love your smoothie ideas!
This was so good! My kids loved it. We didn’t have frozen bananas on hand, so I use applesauce instead and threw in a few ice cubes. We used almond milk.
My kids (18 months and 4 years) loved this smoothie- and I did too! Super creamy and delicious. I omitted the hemp hearts bc my son reacts to them but other than that, I didn’t change a thing. Used almond milk.