Heath Ranch just north of Orland on Hwy. 99 is a certified-organic farm that produces many types of citrus and other fruits. It’s owned and operated by Ron and Melanie Heath, who are really nice folks. We’ve been stopping there annually for the last seven years, and we’ve never been disappointed and always been a little pleasantly surprised by the offerings. The place is somewhat ramshackle, but the quality of their goods is superior to anything I’ve ever gotten in a grocery store.
This year, we were waited upon by Ron Heath, and right off, he started slicing samples of several different kinds of citrus. Ron and Melanie’s son used to work for a university citrus trialing program, so over the years, the son convinced his parents to plant dozens of experimental and rare citrus varieties, some of which remain unnamed. The Heaths had mixed results with these non-commercial types. Some are delicious, some are terrible, some never fruit, and some refuse to die. We go at the same time every year, but it seems like there’s always something new and weird or exciting.
In the past, we’ve purchased several jars of their cured green and kalamata olives, but somehow we forgot this year even though they were available. I’m kicking myself now for the oversight.
We did, however, pre-order a 5-gallon bucket of cold-pressed olive oil (not pictured) that we’ll rebottle into wine bottles and gift away for Christmas. We’ve done this twice before, and the stuff is amazing. It makes me feel so Mediterranean to douse my food in the finest fat in the land.
These were the craziest avocados I’ve ever seen. Not only were they black, but when I shook them, I could feel the pits rattling around in a hollow cavity. Apparently, it’s from some sort of Mexican avocado root stock. We took a few home, and they were delicious.
Late November is the tail end of the Valencia orange season, and just the start of early (Fukumoto) naval orange season. Valencias and navals store longer than mandarins, so we got a 25-pound-bag of each.
After so many visits, Ron remembers us and often has the time to take us for little tours around the orchard. He and Henry talked non-stop about obscure citrus varieties, cold tolerance, rootstocks, and grafting techniques while I wandered around taking photos.
Above on the left is a satsuma x grapefruit cross propagated by Ron and Melanie’s son (with Ron blurry in the background). Above on the right, you can see that citrus trees often have some pretty gnarly thorns.
Heath Ranch has ripe citrus fruits almost year-round because they have such a diversity of varieties. They do concentrate on their mainstays like valencias, navals (several varieties), and mandarins (several varieties), but they have many others that fill the gaps or broaden their offerings.
This was a new fruit for me. It’s a Chinese native known as a rasin tree (Hovenia dulcis). In late November, it was almost leafless, but clusters of earth-colored knobby “fruits”, which are actually swollen flower stalks, hung heavily on the spindly branches.
We sampled the “rasins”, and though I was not particularly impressed, they had a sweet, mild flavor and texture similar to an Asian pear. If you’re so inclined, you can read more about rasin trees here.
The Heaths had the cutest, friendliest puppy. I totally wanted to take her home with me, but Kit would probably have been jealous.
I am absolutely fascinated by these Buddha’s hand citrons. They’re pretty large, about the size of a big head of broccoli, and they just look so fun. This one was growing in the yard around the Heath’s house, and I don’t think it was for sale (though I didn’t ask), but one of these years, I’m going to bring some home and figure out what to do with them. I hear they’re great candied, which is something I’ve never done and might have to try at least once in my life.
Heath Ranch‘s farm stand is located only a couple minutes off I-5, so it’s really convenient to get to if you’re on your way north or south on California’s major thoroughfare. Next time you’re in the area, do yourself a favor and stop in for a good dose of organic vitamin C.