Snail's Postcard Post

The Date Empire

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Caption: Male and Female Date Blossoms. The fluffy white male blossom is seen on the right while the female blossom which appears like individual beads on a string is to the left. Dates have been hand pollinated for centuries as nature provides no adequate means of transferring pollen. Date groves average one male palm to a harem of 49 palms or 50 trees to the acre.

2/21/65
Dear Folks. We went to Indio to the Date Festival where the workers in the fair and the members of the parade dress in Arabic costumes. We did not stay for the parade but went up over the mountains to Dana Point on the Ocean. Tonight we’re going to a concert.
Love, Aunt Agnes 

“Arab, Aunt Agnes!” I can hear the Berton’s children correcting. But hey, she was of a time when nature provided inadequate means of production.

The Riverside County Fair and Date Festival in Indio, California just celebrated its 70th anniversary. 

I was actually able to find the addressees online. If I’m not mistaken, John Berton was a PhD professor of mathematics. He and his wife, Martha, seem to have met at Ripon College. They moved to Ada, Ohio in 1967 and Ottawa, Kansas in 1999 where John died in 2010. Martha now lives in Olathe, Kansas. 

I have to say, John Berton seems exactly the midcentury American man who would have an Aunt Agnes who would send him a postcard about polination. A lifelong member of the Episcopal church and a Boy Scouts leader, the list of Berton’s fraternal lodge positions is the longest I’ve ever seen. 

This new addition to my collection reminds me of another postcard of mine:

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In 1931, in the grip of the Great Depression, Paul and Peggy Hadley managed to start an orchard in Banning, California. On good terms with the neighboring Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Hadley Fruit Orchards thrived for twenty years. Then, in 1951, a fire burnt down the under-insured Hadley warehouse. Unable to bounce back in agricultural wholesale, the Hadleys decided to sell their dates, nuts, grapefruit, etc. directly to the public with a roadside stand in nearby Cabazon. Paul painted plywood billboards to advertise the stand in its remote location, and talked landowners up and down the highway into letting him post his signs on their property.

The timing couldn’t have been better. It was the 1950s, and Southern Californians were hitting the road to glamorous Palm Springs. And there was nowhere else for travelers to stop for a bite! The stand was so successful, the Hadleys were raking in more money than most wholesalers. The Hadleys built their own honey house, and bought five more date orchards. They soon added butters and jams, candy, and wine to their offerings. It’s even said that, in response to hikers headed to the San Jacinto Mountains, Paul Hadley invented trail mix! The once humble stand became the largest store of its kind in the country, and expanded into catalogue orders–wherever you lived, you could get a taste of Southern California in a basket by mail.

In 1999, the Morongo tribe bought Hadley’s. This was also the year of the first Coachella Valley Music Festival, drawing a new generation to Hadley’s. Between that and the Morongo Casino opening in 2004, Hadley’s has continued to thrive in the twenty-first century. 

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This entry was published on March 13, 2016 at 7:17 pm. It’s filed under Americana and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “The Date Empire

  1. Love the recipe. Hilarious.

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