BEFORE THE PRODUCE AISLE: There's no doubt about it: We all know tangerines grow on trees. We don't need to pause, scratch our chins, and ponder where exactly the small-ish orange orbs hail from -- shrub? ground? lake? -- because school and TV and books and everything have thoroughly informed us about how a citrus grows. But how many people have seen, from feet away, just how a citrus fruit grows, and where exactly, and the care and attention and challenges that go into the process? It's probably a slim percentage of all fruit fans. Many of us experience orange and lemons and their ilk in the produce aisle, but we're there so briefly we don't even see the boxes the fruitstuff arrived in. There's a way to fill out our experience here, and it doesn't involve catching another cooking show, one where the chef visits a local orchard to pick tangerines for the dessert to be baked later in the episode. We ourselves can go full orchard, any time we like, well, nearly, if we're in California and can get to Ojai and the tours have opened for the season at that long-running Golden State staple Friend's Ranches.
SHELDON RANCH... is the bloomy spot, and "bloomy" should be a strong clue that springtime is the thingtime for this particularly rich-of-knowledge (and rich-of-fresh-air) outing. But Friend's Ranches does like to start its spring fun a bit early, so the first tour of 2016 will actually occur in winter, and in deep winter at that: Saturday, Jan. 16 is date number one. The final Saturday tour is on April 30, and the dates between fall every two weeks or so, though there are a few variables like some Wednesday afternoon tours. What will you see? The packing house, for an early start at 9 a.m., followed by a stroll among the trees of the orchard and the all-important tasting. You'll also be able to pluck "many varieties of citrus as you go" and learn about the world of the Pixie. Is this the year you go beyond the produce shelf, and even the cooking show, to handle the fruit right where it begins? To stand upon the soil that gives oomph to the fruit trees? It's a juicy experience, as experiences go. Prepare for sticky hands, and maybe a sticky shirt, and a mind full of new facts. Ready to book?