Written by: Michelle Grow
Farm Photography Courtesy of Melissa’s Produce
Recipe Photo by: Ryan Haack and Aaron Shintaku, Foxes & Wolves
It’s spring, the season of renewal, and as you peel back the pretty, pebbled skin of your Ojai Pixie tangerine, take time to peel back the layer of what farm-to-table looks like, and open yourself to the story of that single ingredient.
wift and erratic Santa Ana winds arrived in Southern California on December 4th—not unusual for the region— but this time, they would make history as they sparked record-breaking fires. In the Ojai Valley, the red glow of fire replaced the postcard-pink sunsets. As many of the town’s residents packed their belongings to evacuate, others prepared to save their farms. Power and radio antennae went down, making news and updates hard to come by for those that remained. In a matter of hours, the fire had raced along the Sulphur Mountain Ridgeline all the way to west Ventura, taking hundreds of homes as it traveled down the slope. Within 20 days the Thomas Fire had burned 282,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
You could say it’s a miracle that Ojai Valley, a 4-square-mile town of about 8000 people, remained relatively unscathed from the destruction of the most massive wild re California has ever seen. That said, the valley certainly suffered. Orchard edges with heavy brush took most of the damage. The fire torched trees and cooked PVC pipes and water lines until they bubbled like toasted marshmallows. It will take years for some of those trees to come back into production, while others were far too burnt to regrow. Only time and pruning will reveal the fate of future harvests for the 52 family-scale farmers in the Ojai Valley.
In addition to the heroic firefighters, the citrus growers and ranch hands are to thank for holding the lines around the Ojai Valley. Without them, the fire could have quickly spread further into the valley, and that Ojai Pixie tangerine wouldn’t have made it to your kitchen.
WHAT MAKES THE OJAI PIXIE THE SEASON’S BEST TANGERINE?
The first thing is its heritage. The Pixie is a special variety, and it can only really come from one place: Ojai. Attempts at growing the seeds elsewhere produce trees, but they just don’t bear fruit with the same flavor. Devotees say that Ojai Pixies “taste like sunshine,” and while that sounds awfully cheesy, there’s actually good reason for it. Ojai is one of the world’s few East West facing valleys, so the sun literally shines on the fruit all day long. The valley also has warm days, cool nights and a specific soil composition perfect for citrus.
Beautifully balanced sweetness and a hint of acidity define the Pixie, as does a lingering flavor that lasts for up to a minute and makes you want more. It’s easy to eat another, because the fruit is totally seedless and easy to peel. Everyone, from preschoolers to seniors to gourmands, seems to love them. Something else we love about Pixies: you can’t get them forever. They’re a seasonal item, only available from March to May. In an era when it’s possible to get a lot of items all year long, the Pixie’s relative scarcity makes it something to truly savor, miss and look forward to.
While the growers wait for their wind-battered, fire-singed orchards to recover, their hearts turn to those in their community with far more significant losses. In addition to their belongings, many people lost their homes and animals. HELPofOjai.org is a non-profit that has become essential to aid in the long-term recovery of the Ojai Valley after the destruction of the Thomas Fire. The Ojai Pixie Growers would like to encourage everyone to give what they can to HELP of Ojai.
The Valley’s economy relies heavily on tourism, so we also encourage you to plan a trip to Ojai and see first-hand where your favorite tangerines grow. In addition to farm tours where you can pick your own Pixies, Ojai also offers numerous tourist attractions including a music festival, Pixie spa treatments at The Oaks of Ojai and spiritual awakening through Krotona Institute of Theosophy, not to mention the famed “pink moment” that comes at sunset. Whether you’re looking for a quick escape (about 82 miles from LA), or have a passion for learning more about the ingredients you consume, we suggest starting with the story of the Ojai Pixie Tangerine this spring.
Editor’s Note: Due to the effects the Thomas fire had on Ojai Valley, The Oaks of Ojai is temporarily closed during repairs. For updates, please visit their website!
Pan Seared White Shrimp & Jumbo Maine Scallops
English Pea & Squash Puree, Ojai Pixie, Kalamata Olives & Fennel Salad with Light Soy-Ginger & Ojai Pixie Vinaigrette
Recipe by: Chef Yvon Goetz, The Winery Restaurant & Bar. www.thewineryrestaurants.com
- 8 each fresh scallops
- 8 each large shrimp
- 1 lb fresh peas, shelled
- 1 lb butternut squash, peeled & diced
- 1 cup white onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp garlic, chopped
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/2 Ojai Pixie juice
- 2 tbsp Soy sauce
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp EVOO
- 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
- 1 tsp dill, chopped
- Salt to taste
- 1 fennel, finely shaved
- 1/2 red onion, shaved
- 1/4 cup Kalamata olives, julienne
- 6 each Ojai Pixies, zest, segments & juice
- 1 bunch fresh dill
- 1/2 lemon, juice
- 1/2 cup EVOO
- Salt & pepper to taste
- In two separate sauce pans over medium heat, pour a little of the olive oil in each.
- Split the chopped onions & garlic and sweat for 2-3 minutes. Add the peas in one and the squash in the other one. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cover the peas with the chicken stock and the squash with 1/2 chicken stock & 1/2 Ojai Pixies’ juice. Simmer for about 10 minutes or till cooked through.
- When done, puree in the blender till nice and smooth. Check for seasoning. Keep warm.
- In a bowl, mix the shaved fennel, red onion, Kalamata olives, Ojai Pixie segments, chopped dill, lemon juice, EVOO, salt and pepper.
- In a small sauce pan, pour the pixies & lemon juice and reduce by 1/2.
- Cool down and add the soy sauce, ginger, dill, EVOO and salt to taste.
- Season the shrimp and scallops with salt and pepper.
- In a nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat with a little olive oil, sear off the scallops and shrimp on each side till golden brown.
- Finish cooking in the oven if necessary. Plate up as shown in the picture.
Produce Managers & Chefs: Please see your Melissa’s Produce sales representative for current pricing and availability. Seasonality March – May.