We grow a wide variety of tangerine and avocado types at Churchill Orchard, although not all of them in commercial quantities.
The three tangerine varieties we grow for commercial sale are the Pixie, Page, and Seedless Kishu.
Over the years, we’ve built up quite a citrus “zoo”. Here’s why:
The only way to really test a new tangerine cultivar is to plant it and grow it out in your own orchard. We keep looking.
Some varieties turn out to be delicious, but not suitable for large scale production: they don’t keep well off the tree, or it’s too risky to grow them in our micro climate, or then there’s the dreaded seeds. So we keep those trees because even though we’re not selling the fruit, we are sure eating it.
All of the above is also true of avocados (except for the seed part.) We grow mostly Hass, because that’s the avocado with a wholesale market. We also grow Fuerte & Mexicola because we like them, and Bacon because it has never failed us.
What’s a tangerine? What’s a mandarin?
There’s a surprising amount of mystification on this topic, but here’s the gospel that we adhere to at Churchill Orchard:
“Mandarin” and “tangerine” are two words for the same thing, technically Citrus reticulata Blanco. They’re called mandarins because they were thought to be native to China; they’re called tangerines because they were thought to have come from Tangiers. They are in fact native to southeast Asia someplace, and they did in fact come to this country from North Africa, so both origin myths are correct.
Pixie: sweet, seedless, easy to peel. Really good; stores very well and retains excellent flavor for a remarkably long time.
Available March through sometime in summer when we run out.
Seedless Kishu: This tiny heirloom mandarin, originally from China by way of Japan, is our earliest-season mandarin. Kishus are totally seedless, deliciously sweet and super-easy to peel. There isn’t a better tangerine. Short season – available in late January-February only.
Page : Actually a tangelo hybrid (a mandarin – tangelo cross). Deep, intense flavor which matches deep, intense rind and flesh color. Few seeds. Difficult to peel, but Page lovers cut it and eat it out of hand or make juice. Chefs love to use Pages for sorbets and granitas because the intensity of flavor stands up to freezing and sugar.
The Oro Blanco is a hybrid between a pummelo and a mandarin. Think of a grapefruit with the sugar built in, and no bitterness. The best. Another great fruit from UC Riverside.
Vaniglia Sanguigno (vanilla blood) blood oranges
This acidless orange is a new sensation for most North Americans, but a few adventurers have tried them and love them. We have Vaniglias from April probably through early June. We think they get even better late in the season…more melon-like. They really do smell like vanilla, and they really are completely without acid.
Yellowy-green, juicy, and seedless, tree-ripe Bearss limes are a revelation.
Bearss, or Persian limes are the principal commercial lime variety, but because limes tend to drop from the tree when allowed to ripen fully, commercial limes in the US are picked while still green. We allow our Bearss limes to get ripe on the tree, and the difference is astounding! Flavor, rind perfume, and juiciness abound. We hold them as long as we dare.
Australian Finger Lime
Also known as “caviar limes”, Australian microcitrus are finger-sized citrus native to Australia which have individual, very tart, spherical vesicles that contain the juice. Quite the sensation. We like to call them “chef bait”. Like other limes, these fall off the tree when ripe. We harvest by spreading a cloth under the tree and shaking it. The ripe ones fall and the not-ready stay on tree. Neat!
Celestial golden juice queen (Cocktail Grapefruit)
This wonderful fruit needs a new name: it’s not a grapefruit at all, it’s another pummelo-mandarin hybrid (a cousin to the Oro Blanco). Intense gold color; lots of seeds; amazing quantities of delicious, very sweet juice. About this juice: if you were blindfolded your tongue would recognize it as citrus; however, you would not easily be able to describe it – it’s unique.
Churchill Orchard was originally planted to Bacon avocados, which didn’t really work out. We cleared out the Bacons and replanted with a few acres of Hass, but mostly swung hard to tangerines.
Our Founder spared the old backyard orchard when he planted, and the towering old heritage avocado trees in that small block have provided much enjoyment. We sell the Fuerte and the Mexicola Grande from that old block, as well as Bacons from the surviving trees.
Hass avocado: The dominant avocado in the world market, the Hass was born in La Habra Heights, CA in the 1920s. Lovely origin story for the Hass variety: Rudolph Hass, a postman, had a small Fuerte grove and purchased some seedlings to graft and make more Fuertes. One seedling refused to take grafts, so he let it grow….
Fuerte avocado: When we were growing up, this was what you got when you had an avocado. Green-skinned, pear-shaped, rich and creamy, they were the standard. They don’t ship well because of their thin skin, so when Mr. Hass found the variety named after him, and it had a hard carapace as well as delicious rich fruit, the Fuerte lost its market. You won’t see Fuertes often in the stores, but if you run into them at a Certified Farmers’ Market, by all means try them.
Bacon avocado: No, it’s not what you think. The Bacon avocado was developed by Mr James Bacon of Buena Park, CA. It’s a cold-tolerant avocado that makes an excellent pollinator for the Hass variety. The Bacon lost its market to the Hass as well, and for the same reasons.