Twenty-four miles from that celebrated desert resort, Palm Springs, Calif., is Indio, ''Date Capital of the New World.'' In this modern Arabia, stately date palms line much of the Date Garden Highway.
Here for 10 days each February the National Date Festival is held as a tribute to those hardy pioneers who imported date offshoots into California from Iraq, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco and established an industry that has flourished and drawn millions to their gardens each year.
This jewel of fruits need not be confined to use in confections, desserts, and breads. Dates also combine well with pork and chicken and in granola, salads , and stuffings. Chicken With Dates 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 broiler-fryers, cut up Salt and pepper to taste 1 cup orange juice 2 cups chicken broth 3 tablespoons cornstarch 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1 teaspoon curry powder 1 medium onion, chopped Juice of 1 lemon 12 to 18 pitted dates, cut in halves lengthwise Orange slices
In heatproof casserole, heat butter and oil and brown chicken. Season with salt and pepper and remove chicken. Discard excess fat. Combine next 8 ingredients in casserole. Mix well and cook over high heat, stirring until sauce thickens. Replace chicken.
Bake, covered, in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 45 minutes. On top of chicken, arrange dates and orange slices and bake, covered, for 15 minutes, or until chicken is tender. Serve with rice or French bread. Date Bread 1 8-ounce package dates, diced 3/4 cup raisins 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 cup boiling water 2 tablespoons soft butter or margarine 1 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 egg 11/3 cups flour 3/4 cup chopped pecans
Place dates and raisins in medium-size bowl. Add soda and boiling water. Cover and let stand. Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla. Add egg and beat well. Add flour. Mix until moistened.
Pour in fruit mixture, including liquid, and pecans, and mix gently to prevent crushing the fruits. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and add batter. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 to 55 minutes, or until bread tests done. Date-Nut Stuffing 1/2 cup butter or margarine 4 stalks of celery, diced 1 large onion, diced 20 slices white bread, including crust, cubed 1 tablespoon seasoned salt 2 eggs, beaten 1 8-ounce package dates, diced 1 cup chopped pecans
Melt butter in deep saucepan. Saute celery and onions in butter until transparent and lightly browned. Remove from heat. Add bread and mix until moistened. Add diced dates to beaten egg and mix.
Add seasoned salt, egg and date mixture, and chopped pecans to bread mixture. Mix thoroughly.
Makes about 5 cups of moist stuffing, enough for a 13- to 15-pound turkey. Stuffing may be baked separately in a casserole.
Toffee Date Bars 1 cup butter or margarine 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar 2 eggs 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups sifted flour 1 8-ounce package diced dates 4 ounces sweet chocolate 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla and mix well. Add flour, all at once. Blend just to combine. Add dates and mix until scattered throughout mixture.
Spread mixture evenly in a 10-by-15-inch cookie sheet with sides. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned. Cool.
For icing, melt sweet chocolate and chocolate chips in top of double boiler over hot water. Spread over cooled toffee date bars. Sprinkle with pecans. Cut into bars. Makes about 24. Old-Fashioned Date Pudding 11/2 cups brown sugar 11/2 cups boiling water 11/2 tablespoons butter or margarine 1 cup dates, cut and softened in a little hot water 11/2 cups flour 11/2 teaspoons baking soda 3/4 cup white sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup chopped nutmeats 3/4 cup milk
First, prepare sauce. Mix brown sugar, boiling water, and butter in a small pan and heat over low flame until sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, cut dates and soften with a little hot water.
Sift together dry ingredients. Drain excess water from dates and add dates to the sifted dry ingredients. Add nuts, then add milk slowly and stir only until well mixed.
Pour batter into greased and floured 9-by-13-inch cake pan. Spread evenly with large spoon. Pour sauce over batter. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 minutes. Cool and cut in squares and serve with whipped cream. Serves 12.