Back in the late 1970s when the Saddleback Valley still had foothills that weren’t clogged with housing tracts, my mom used to take us down the road to a local orange orchard where we could get a grocery bag (paper, not plastic) full of oranges fresh off the tree for $1.00. And it was based on the honor system. You left a buck in a coffee can.
Halcyon days, indeed.
Now the Saddleback Valley is a congested shadow of its former self. The orchards with their heady perfume of blossoms that would fill your car as you drove past on a warm spring night, have been replaced with a baseball field, houses and the smell of exhaust.
But there still are places in Southern California where it’s possible to see farms and to buy produce. Just north of Valencia lies Highway 126 (also known as E. Telegraph Road). The road, which stretches from Valencia to Ventura, winds through farmland and the kind of small town America that is quickly disappearing. Along the highway are several fruit stands, including my personal favorite, Francisco’s Fruits, just east of the town of Fillmore. It’s not just a fruit stand – it’s been a family-owned farm for over 20 years.
Walking through the stands of Francisco’s is like being in a Technicolor film from the 1950s – the colors are bright and endless. Deep red tomatoes still on the vines, bright yellow lemons, rich orange grapefruit, tangerines and oranges, dark green limes, and dazzlingly white corn nestled in crisp green husks. You can also find an entire wall of dried fruit (the mangoes are excellent) and nuts. The different flavored pistachios alone are worth the trip: Hickory Smoked, Classic Roasted and Salted, Lemon Zing, Crushed Garlic, Onion & Garlic, Hot Onion & Garlic, Red Hot Habenero, Chili-Lemon, No Salt Roasted, Jalapeno, and Taquila (Salt & Lime). There are also flavored olives, homemade macaroons, and a Mexican delicacy made of condensed milk that it so rich and sweet you think your teeth are going to melt.
At harvest time there is an array of pumpkins in all shapes and colors from ghost pumpkin (white) to enormous green and orange monstrosities that resemble nothing so much as a sea monster. There are also tiny pumpkins, and yes, the traditional orange.
According to Francisca, who helps operate Francisco’s, they grow their own oranges, grapefruit, and avocados as well as other fruit. 80-90% of the produce at the stand comes from local farms. All of the tomatoes are pesticide and wax free and they do offer certified organic lettuce, squash, turnips, cilantro, and other vegetables.
Francisco’s Fruits has a nursery where you can buy “roses, cannas, and geranium; [as well as] avocado trees, orange and lemon trees, and herbs, such as sage, parsley, and various chilies and peppers.” There are also Mexican ceramics for sale. As their website advertises, “we have pots, bowls, plaques, plates, and very large ceramic animals such as donkeys, pigs, giraffes and alligators!”
Francisco’s Fruits is located on Hwy 126 at 1782 E. Telegraph Rd., Fillmore, CA 93015. (805) 524-4616. Look for the orange and white striped tents on the south side of the road just outside of Fillmore. They’re open seven days a week and on Sundays between 3-7pm, Francisco himself plays live music, including his own original compositions, which are available on CD.
Francisco’s Fruits takes debit and major credit cards.
For those unable to make the trek out to Fillmore, Francisco’s Fruits also has a mail-order business on their website at http://www.franciscosfruits.com
Lorraine LoBianco has spent most of her life in Southern California where she has worked in the television industry as Director of Programming at Fox Movie Channel and more recently in Florida as Director of Program Planning and Acquisitions at ION Television. Currently, she is a monthly contributing writer to Turner Classic Movies Interactive and is interested in moving to Northern California for writing, editing and/or television jobs. http://www.linkedin.com/in/lml2008