French toast and Pixie ice cream for breakfast?
Oh, heck. Why not?
And while we’re on the subject of Pixies, how about Pixie soap, Pixie margaritas, Pixie body scrub, Pixie body lotion, Pixie marmalade and Pixie marinade.
It’s Pixie Season in Ojai every April and as long as the Pixies last.
I’m talking about Pixie tangerines, the small, seedless and super-sweet fruit grown mostly in the Ojai Valley, about 25 minutes east of Ventura.
“You can grow Pixies anywhere but it’s hard to grow a good-tasting Pixie anyplace else except here,” explains Emily Thacher Ayala, standing in the Pixie grove on Friend’s Ranch, property that has been in her family for five generations. “Pixies grown elsewhere just don’t deliver on the flavor.
You need the hot days and cool nights and the fog that comes in here.”
Ayala and her brother, George Thacher, run the groves where they grow a dozen types of tangerines on the land that their great-grandparents homesteaded in the 1920s — although, says Thacher, Annie Friend didn’t believe in taking anything from the government, so she actually paid for the acres.
Today the family has about 300 acres of citrus, including 16 acres of Pixies.
The people of Ojai have known about the virtues of Pixies for years.
That goes for the Japanese, too, who have been buying thousands of pounds for a while.
It’s just in the last couple of years that the Ojai Pixie Grower Association (OPGA) is getting the word out to the rest of us.
Walking through the Shangri-La-like grove, it’s easy to see why citrus growers in this part of the state love their land.
Not that being a grower doesn’t have its challenges.
There’s the cost of water; bagging (“expensive but that’s what the stores want”) and workers’ benefits; disease that can wipe out entire groves of trees; long hours in the packing house; and dealing with tourists who ask silly questions like: How do you know when the fruit is ready to pick?
“We eat it,” Ayala says. “We sample every tree.”
Unlike some of the large growers who pick all the fruit at once, Friend’s Ranch and other OPGA members pick only when the fruit is ripe, so harvesting can be protracted. Friend’s Ranch, for one, offers only “export” grade tangerines — the highest classification.
Of course, the proof is in the tasting, and once you’ve sampled a ripe Pixie immediately post-picking, there’s no going back. It’s heaven in a small orange orb, and Ojai growers are entitled to every bit of bravado.
The 52 Ojai Valley growers harvest and market about 3 million pounds of Pixies annually.
During picking season, tours at Friend’s Ranch are $12 for adults; $7 for children 4-10 years; under 3 years free. Includes tastings; “U-pick” fruit $2/pound.
Call (805) 646-2871 or visit friendsranches.com.
Next column: Ojai’s other offerings.
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story has been updated since its original posting.