January 25, 2024

January 25, 2024

A California winter!

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.

Passion fruit is growing slowly with the cooler weather, so we may see it intermittently for the next little while. At markets, we’re seeing a lot of passion fruit that has been picked green and underripe, with no color on the exterior. Though they will color up and ripen on the counter, we prefer fruit that’s had maximum hang time on the vine, nearly fully-colored, with maximum flavor development. We’re grateful to work with folks like Kristen at Good Land who won’t send it if it ain’t ready! We like to cut passion fruit in half, scoop out the jelly-like pulp enveloping crunchy edible black seeds, and eat it with all the fun citrus right now. The floral, tangy, tropical, and sweet flavor of passion fruit paired with any citrus instantly teleports our taste buds to a tropical oasis. 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.

Blink and you may miss the small Rio Red Grapefruit crop from Cathy and Michael of Spreadwing Farm. They have only ten Rio Red trees on the farm! These are the first red grapefruit we’ve brought in this season. While some farms harvest as early as December, for our taste the flavor is much better after hanging on the tree to see the cooler temps of the new year. These Rio Reds have classic grapefruit traits: sweet with undertones of acid and slight bitterness. The extended hang brings the sugars and helps achieve the balance that’s so important in a delicious, juicy, red grapefruit. We can’t wait to share more fun fruit Cathy and Michael are growing. They’re as adventurous fruit growers as we are fruit eaters! Grown organically by Spreadwing Farm in Rumsey.

We almost don’t want to admit it, but when Page mandarins from John Lagier are ready we kinda forget about Satsumas (oops!). Yes, they are hard to peel and yes, they make a sticky, juicy mess, but they are SO GOOD. High sugars and high acid, baby! They are so memorable that sometimes we talk about Page mandarins in anticipation of the season to come – in July lol. We like to slice them up as a tiny orange and eat a couple at a time. We’ve only got one or two weeks of Page mandarin season left so we’re enjoying them as much as we can. John grows the best version of Pages we’ve ever met, but find yourself a Page mandarin wherever you are. Grown organically by Lagier Ranches in Escalon. 

Everyone loves Kishu mandarins. How can you not? They’re cute, easy to peel, extremely delicious, and sweet. (They also know they’re cute, and are ‘spensive and highly allocated!) They have this perfect texture that every mandarin should have, but tiny! Jim Churchill planted these Kishu mandarin trees two decades ago in Ojai. He tends to a total of 12 acres of tangerines, and Kishus make up just a small part of it. Churchill simply grows really really good fruit. I learned that Churchill Kishus were being harvested after enjoying a handful in the dining hall at the EcoFarm conference last week. (You never know where you’re going to find a fruit tip!) Kishus are just starting up, so we’re hoping there will be more to come in hopefully larger formats. Grown organically by Churchill Orchards (aka The Tangerine Man) in Ojai.

The gradient of colors in these Moro blood oranges are high drama. Deep red to orange, these smooth-skinned blood oranges are a nice introduction to the season to come. With notes of sweetness and a tart finish, Moro blood oranges are the most raspberry-forward blood orange variety. Later in the season, the color will deepen throughout. Moros are the earliest variety to come on; we’re eagerly anticipating Tarocco and Sanguinelli in the coming weeks. We’re so excited for blood orange season! Grown organically by Blossom Bluff Orchards in Parlier.

California blueberries are super limited and nearly impossible to find right now. Luckily, we got our hands on the little bit of Forbidden Fruit Orchards winter blueberries they have to offer right now. Sweet, crisp, and totally off-season. These blueberries are grown 12 miles east of the ocean on the southern sloping hills of Lompoc. As with our friends at Good Land Organics, the micro-climate growing regions that exist throughout the central coast are mind-blowing. They make for a really special, very California winter. Enjoy these, blueberry-lovers. Grown organically by Forbidden Fruit Orchards in Lompoc.
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