First of the County Fairs: Riverside Opens

Date-loving diners, your festival is here.

TO STUFF OR NOT STUFF? Few fruits are as versatile, chewy, stuffable, diceable, spreadable, and identifiable as the date. It can be filled with nuts or other fruits or bits of chocolate, it can be mashed and spread on toast (mmm, with a layer of cream cheese lending a luscious note), and it can appear in small cube-like form, diced, atop a scoop of ice cream. Savory dish or sweet dish, the date does a-ok; it enhances its fellow flavors and elevates the foodstuff to something with that particular tang only a date delivers. True enough, you can have dates all year long, from the fresh ones found at farmers markets to bagged chewy delights at the grocery store. But making the trek to the desert for date shakes -- and, oh, those Medjools that hold walnuts so very nicely -- is the sticky-hearted key to a date devotee's affections. Date shakes can be found all year long at places like Cabazon's own Hadley Fruit Orchards and Shields of Indio, but the date-a-tude-ness of the desert really steps up come February, when the National Date Festival and the Riverside County Fair roll out the tasty treats, midway attractions, rodeo spectacle, and concerts.

COUNTY FAIR FIRST: While many county and state fairs around the United States dominate July, August, September, and October (we're looking at you on that last one, Arizona), Riverside gets the Ferris wheel wheeees going just weeks after the new year kicks off, in the middle of February. That means you can get your summer-style fun-having on way early, months ahead of time, from Feb. 13. through 22. It's year sixty nine for the fair, and, as always, there shall be demolition derbying, cotton candy devouring, pig petting, and riding of the towering Century Wheel.

AS FOR THE DATES? They're a big part of desert doings, too, which makes us think that more county fairs should have a major food festival accompanying it -- ups the festive feel. The Blessing of the Dates kicks things off on Friday, Feb. 13, and there shall be date-y treats in and around the fair. Can you think of another fair that is so very associated with one food? Beyond the pies and funnel cakes and fried pickles found at most every county fair? The date-Riverside County Fair is special, all righty. If you need summer now, summer begins in February in Indio. Snack on that, date-loving fair-enjoying revelers.

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