A U-Pick Paradise

Friday, December 30, 2011

Moody's Middle Mountain Mandarin Farm-Sutter Buttes
Nestled at the base of the Sutter Buttes in the unincorporated community of Sutter, CA, adventure awaits three Sacramento transplants in search of fresh citrus on a clear and cold winter day. Not just any citrus either, but fresh from the tree lemons, mandarins, grapefruit and more.

We would find and fulfill our quest at Moody's Middle Mountain Mandarin Farm located just next door to the Sutter High School football field, a slice of wild country life located at the front door -- so to speak -- the dividing line between rural city life and country living at its finest.

I had been searching for a U-pick operation involving fresh lemons for quite some time, but every promising lead fizzled. Every operation that offered fresh lemons wouldn't allow you to set foot near a tree -- but you could buy freshly harvested lemons - two or three for a buck. That wasn't good enough. I wanted something different. I wanted a U-pick operation where I could pick my fill. I wasn't after ten or 15 lemons -- I had my sights set on ten or 15 buckets.

Moody's Middle Mountain Mandarin Farm
That's a lot of lemons. Combined with the fresh honey and pomegranate juice from the Bird Back 40, it was enough to keep us pickled in lemonade and other delicacies through the winter months. That was my quest, but my search was coming up woefully short. Sure -- I know plenty of people in Sacramento with massive lemon trees. I consider these folks to be very lucky people. They wouldn't mind if I helped myself to ten or 15 lemons -- not at all.

But ten or 15 Homer sized buckets? Meh...Keep looking son...

South Natomas heirloom tomato grower Nels Christensen felt our pain. Nels DOES have lemon trees. But Nels, like many other owners of mature citrus trees, also has USES for his lemons. He's not in the market for giving up 10-15 buckets worth -- but he did join us in our search. It was a search that would lead me first into Butte County -- later Yuba and Yolo -- Placer County too.

Monster Lisbon Lemon Tree-Moody's Mountain Mandarins
But it was Sutter County -- gorgeous Sutter County -- that offered the elusive answer I was looking for. Al Moody, owner and operator of Moody's Middle Mountain Mandarins, confirmed that he did indeed have the type of lemon tree I was looking for. It was a massive, grand bush of a tree. It's the type of tree that held so many lemons that you could harvest 10-15 buckets and the tree looked like it hadn't been touched.

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a lemon tree.

It was the lovely wife that is Venus who snapped me back to reality when she scolded that I didn't really need 10-15 buckets of lemons. What I might WANT and what I NEED, she lectured, are two entirely different things. Two buckets, she counseled, would be just fine.

Buckets for Picking!
She was, of course, right. When is she not? Except when she uttered the immortal words of "I do," the mistakes have been few and far between.

To be honest? I had been searching for a source of Meyer Lemons. Those are my favorite. The funny thing is -- the Improved Meyer Lemon really isn't a true lemon. It's a cross between a true lemon and a mandarin or common orange. It's far sweeter than the Eureka or Lisbon lemons, which are two of the most common "true lemons" that are planted in California. But the Meyer also happens to be a favorite among many lemon fans because of it's sweetness, juicing ability and unique taste.

While Moody confirmed he did have Meyer Lemons on his vast property -- I was in for a jolt of disappointment. This has been a poor year for Meyer production, he related. He wasn't allowing U-pick services for his Meyer trees yet -- and may not allow them this year. The same holds true for the acres of mandarins planted behind his home. In past years? You could pick all you wanted to your heart's (or stomach's) content. But not this year.

Carpet of Lisbon Lemons-Moody's Mountain Mandarins
However -- in the center of this property -- located behind a few small Meyer Lemon and somewhat larger Naval Orange and other citrus trees stood the granddaddy lemon tree of them all: Lisbon lemons. I'll be honest with you -- I've never tasted Lisbon Lemons before. I've heard of them -- but never harvested them in great numbers like the Meyer.

But Bill Bird isn't one to pass up a lemon of a bargain like this. Al was selling his lemons for $12 bucks for a 5-gallon Homer bucket -- all the lemons I wanted and more. My eyeballs nearly rolled out of their sockets when I saw this massive wonder for the first time. Nels, who had graciously volunteered to join our lemon of an adventure, smiled as well.

Lisbon Lemons-Ready for Harvest
It was a lemon of a promised land. Ladders? No need for ladders with a tree this large and this wide. The entire tree was covered with a canopy, wall and base of lemons. Lemons at the bottom. Lemons at the middle. More lemons than you can possibly count within easy reach.

It didn't take us long -- 30 minutes perhaps -- to fill two of those 5-gallon buckets. Each bucket resulted in a large grocery sack full of lemons. Venus was right. She's always right. Two buckets were more than enough.

Mandarins for Snacking-Moody's Mountain Mandarins
But you just can't visit a mandarin farm like this -- especially this mandarin farm so close to the Sutter Buttes -- and leave with just a couple of sacks of lemons. No -- there were mandarins to be had here. There were mandarins by the thousands. "Help yourself to a snack," Al invited us. Snack we did. I must admit -- those are some of the best mandarins I've tasted this season -- even better than the Owari Satsuma Mandarins that came from my own backyard.

The final haul resulted in two large sacks of Lisbon Lemons, a large bag of Al's Middle Mountain Mandarins, a smaller sack of Meyer Lemons plus a couple of grapefruit that caught Venus' eye.

The Order Board
The drive to Al's Middle Mountain Mandarin Farm is a pleasing drive up Highway 99 through gorgeous Northern California countryside -- in and out of of Yuba City and a right turn on Acacia Blvd. off Highway 20 that will lead you to the community of Sutter.

Turn left on Griffith and travel past the grounds of Sutter High School to reach Al's farm, which is located at 8189 Griffith Lane -- almost at the end of the block. Feel free to pull right in or call (530) 673-2567 ‎and ask Al about the many types of citrus trees he has on his farm (there's a lot there to look at). Perhaps you'll get a crack at that Lisbon Lemon as we did, or be content to purchase a sack or two of some of the best citrus you'll ever taste.

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