California-grown bananas

February 1, 2024

Winter Fruit Magic

New this week!

Cherimoya! California grown! We’re trying to show you how diverse and exciting the winter fruit season is in California and hopefully it’s working. This variety of cherimoya is called ‘Dr. White’ (and there may be some ‘Booth’ in the mix, too). Both are incredibly sweet like papaya with tropical notes of banana, guava, piloncillo, and pineapple. The texture is custardy with large black seeds sprinkled throughout the flesh which you’ll want to avoid. Cherimoya fruit is native to the valleys of the Andes in Ecuador and Peru. Closer to home, the tropical oasis of Good Land Organics in Goleta is the perfect environment for cherimoya to thrive, with leeward slopes protected from the direct ocean elements. The farm has a perfect climate for subtropical fruits and these cooler winter months benefit the cherimoya plants with a bit of chill. This piece of fruit is just incredible. In the Andes, a tiny native beetle pollinates cherimoya flowers. Pollinators like the honey bee are too large to fit between the cherimoya’s petals and the Andean beetle does not exist in California, so our friends at Good Land hand-pollinate each flower! The cherimoya is perfect to eat when it’s kind of soft and the skin starts to brown slightly. Store on your counter until then, though we have carefully ripened these so they are very nearly ripe. Once it’s ripe we recommend popping it in the fridge to chill for a bit for a cold, custardy ice cream experience! Grown organically by Good Land Organics in Goleta.

When we say tropical oasis, we mean it. Good Land also grows Goldfinger bananas – in Santa Barbara County! Availability is super limited and we got a tiny quantity this week, so we included a couple as a perk for subscribers who get a full-size fruitqueen box. This is California winter fruit! Wild…

Jill’s father and grandfather planted the five acres of Hayward kiwis in 1978 that she and her crew now tend to. Now, on their sloped farm, they’ve got kiwi vines at the top, flowers in the middle, and greens down below. Jill says her parents started farming organically before it was ever “sexy and marketable.” It was only after years of cultivation and compost amendments that their farm is now proudly showing off almost 3 feet of fertile topsoil, compared to the 3 inches they started with. Monterey County may be the land of strawberries and artichokes, but its climate is also perfect for these kiwi vines, nurtured by the gentler summer just miles in from the ocean. Jill harvests her kiwis later in the season which makes for a pretty special January treat. She’s got a good crop this year and we love supporting women-farmers who are growing big commodities like kiwis on a smaller scale. Store these on the counter until desired softness, or at fridge temps to extend shelf life before ripening. Grown sustainably by Four Sisters Farm in Aromas.

This is the first week of Tahoe Gold mandarins and we are SO excited. We love these so much! (Satsuma who?) These are a type of TDE mandarin: a hybrid cross between varieties Temple Tangor, Dancy and Encore mandarins. High sugars balanced with high acid, the flavor of Tahoe Golds is unmatched. Its slight pebbly skin (which makes them easy to peel) and deep vermillion hue make them a stunner too! Our friends at Terra Firma know we love them so much that we got a message as soon as they started harvesting. They do an amazing job with this orchard and the crop is small so the season will be short. We’ll eating alllll the Tahoe Golds we can. Store in the fridge or on the counter. Grown organically by Terra Firma Farm in Winters.

I was at a farmers’ market recently and noticed a couple asking for Washington Navels, which were tucked away in the back of the van, while ignoring the Cara Cara oranges on the table in front of them. Surprised, I asked them why they don’t go for Cara Cara oranges. They responded, “Well Cara Caras are some sort of orange and grapefruit hybrid and we just want a normal orange.” I thought that was interesting! But it is also wrong (lol), likely a case of mistaken identity due to their blush coloring. The Cara Cara variety was actually discovered as a result of a mutation on a Washington Navel tree in Venezuela in 1976 – the product of random genetic chance! In fact, there’s no grapefruit involved whatsoever. Cara Caras are easy to love: they’re sweet, juicy, lower acid, and have subtle berry undertones. The commercial market has seen a flood of this variety in recent years, which means you might be finding more mediocre fruit that may be sweet but is disappointingly kind of flat. We’re loving these, though: they’re very fresh, tasting super bright, and grown up in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Store in the fridge or on the counter. Grown organically by Sunset Ridge Fine Fruits in Newcastle. 

Oro Blanco grapefruits are a milder grapefruit cousin that’s super sweet and juicy with gentle tartness and minimal bitterness. We don’t even really call it a grapefruit, as it’s in a class of its own. (“Oros” will do.) It’s such an easy eater. It’s less of a commitment than a pomelo and lacks the mouth-puckering acidity of a white grapefruit. It’s a lovely blend of the two fruits, which make up this perfect cross. Though the Melogold grapefruit that came earlier in the season is similar, there’s something we prefer about the flavor, juice, and texture of the Oro Blanco. Bryce has consistently grown some of the best Oro Blancos every year. They get even better later in the season with a longer hang on the tree but we couldn’t wait! Store these in the fridge or on the counter. Grown organically by Blossom Bluff Orchards in Parlier.

Back again!

We featured ice cream beans in our very first sneak peek box last May. They were nearing the end of their season and we were just beginning, so putting them in the fruitqueen box again feels like we’re coming full circle. As the weather has cooled, ice cream beans have come on in volume from our friends Kristen and Jay at Good Land Organics. The ice cream bean, Inga edulis, is native to South America. There are so many interesting things to mention about this fruit that it’s hard to know where to start. It’s technically considered a legume, like lentils and beans, but it grows on a tree! They are super fast growing and get up to ~90 feet tall! This is why they’re often associated with coffee farming, providing the shade canopies and nitrogen-fixing magic that increases soil fertility that make them the perfect companion to coffee plants. And yes, this is all happening in a unique little corner of California, tucked into the steep canyon folds of the Santa Ynez Mountains, within view of the Pacific Ocean. It’s nice to chill the Ice Cream beans for a bit before eating. Then, cut off one end and strip away the string on the seam longways to open up the pod like you would shell a pea or fava bean. We made a fun video on Instagram to demonstrate. The fleshy white interior is what you want to eat; discard the black seed in the center. Sweet, custardy, slightly vanilla-y, we think this one gets all 10’s for novelty. Grown organically by Good Land Organics in Goleta.

On a crisp and sunny winter day, we visited Lauren and Lee at their farm, Rainwater Ranch. It’s situated in the most BEAUTIFUL part of Winters on the edge of Yolo County. They grow roughly seven acres of Washington Navel oranges. The produce industry has started to market these as “heirloom navels”, but for us it’s just the classic OG Navel variety! Its history traces back to the 1800s in Brazil. It was imported by the USDA to Washington, D.C., propagated, and sent off for trials in California and Florida in the 1880s. Though DC was just a layover for this Brazilian variety, it was subsequently named for Washington. Lauren and Lee took over the ranch almost a decade ago from the Rainwater family, who planted the orange orchard 50 years ago. Upon taking over the management of the farm, they transitioned to organic practices and continue to be amazing stewards of the land. They grow flowers on a flat section of the farm and allow native blue Oak trees to continue to thrive instead of expanding the orchard, sustaining the wildlife and predatory birds for which it’s a habitat. On our visit, Lee flexed his knife skills by peeling navels, the skin falling from the orange in one continuous coil. He noted the puffs of essential oils, backlit by the afternoon sun, that are released as you peel an orange and mused about how the aroma of those oils enhance the experience of something familiar yet so special as eating a just-picked orange. Grown organically by Rainwater Ranch in Winters.

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