The fall harvest is complete. September’s harvest yielded a fine assortment of pears including yellow and red Bartletts, spicy Golden Bosc and D’Anjous, a French variety. October brought short-necked Comice pears and exceptionally sweet Seckels. The firm Pink Lady apple also arrived in October. And let’s not forget the crisp Gala, tart Granny Smiths and sweet Fujis — really just a sampling of the close to 7,500 apple varieties harvested worldwide.
HarryandDavid.com, which started as mail-order business by brothers Harry and David in 1934, is best known for boxing up fall fruits and shipping them across the country. Now a multi-million business, the Medford, Ore.-based company sends out about 7.5 million packages a year. Gift packs include everything from chocolate truffles to house plants. Prices range from $15.95 for six of the new Moose Munch bars to $349.95 for a 12-box fruit-of-the-month gift basket.
Each year, harryanddavid.com harvests 3,350 acres of pear and peach orchards in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley. The new crop of Royal Riviera pears, the company’s signature fruit, is being harvested now for shipment at the beginning of October. “The Royal Riviera is known for its large size — nearly a pound a piece — and its smooth, creamy texture and succulent juiciness,” says a company representative. “Our pears are so big and juicy, you eat them with a spoon,” she adds.
But harryanddavid.com is not the only fruit company to take advantage of the rich Northwestern soil and temperate climate where fall fruits flourish.
Gotfruit.com, a family-owned business since 1919 that went cyber in 1999, harvests its fall fruits on its 800-acre orchard in Ukiah, Calif., a town of about 15,000 two hours north of San Francisco. The orchard was planted by the company’s patriarch Alex Thomas at the turn of the last century. And pear trees just get better with age, says a gotfruit.com company representative. “The older the tree, the better quality fruit — finer texture, better quality and higher yield,” she says.
Each fall, gotfruit.com harvests Barletts, Boscs, Comice and Seckels. They also buy a variety of apples from a local grower. Prices range from $19.95 for the “pure pear pack” to $269.95 for the “California Gold” gift pack — a wicker basket filled with fruit, candies, nuts and more.
Just north of gotfruit.com, cyber-competitor thefruitcompany.com harvests pears and apples from its 170-acre orchards in Oregon’s Hood Valley. Locals refer to the scenic route around the valley as the “fruit loop,” says Scott Webster, who along with his brother Addison brought the 1942 business to the Web in 1999.
In contrast to gotfruit.com, the fruitcompany.com harvests exotic varieties including Asian Shinseikis and Nijisseuikis — fairly new to the U.S. market and forrelles — an old strain imported from Germany in the 1800s. The company also grows Gala, Granny Smith and ruby red apples. The rest of the apples come from local growers.
Thefruitcompany.com prides itself on the size of its fruit. The fruit pickers, using a grading machine, only select the cream of the crop for its gift packs. And they are big! The average fruit is about twice the size of its competitors. One thefruitcompany.com pear measured about 4-by-3 ½ inches, compared to the 2-by-2 ½ inch pear from gotfruit.com.
But if big is better is a matter of taste. “It doesn’t make it better,” says Webster. (You have to give the guy credit for being honest.) There’s no difference in taste, although some of the smaller fruits tend to be tarter, he adds. Americans, however, prefer big, especially when it comes to a gift item.
Most gift packs cost between $15.95 and $49.95. A trial two-fruit pack for $5.95 is the least expensive item. The most expensive, priced at $149.95, is the “Mountain of Gifts,” which includes a mix of seasonal fruits, cheese, sausage, smoked salmon, preserves and more.
Ripening, not size, make the best pears, says a gotfruit.com company representative. “The secret to delicious pears comes down to one thing: ripening,” she says. Pears are one of the few fruits that are picked when they are not ripe but firm and packed with sugar.
Pears also ripen from the inside out. Ripe fruit will slightly “give” to gentle pressure near the stem. It’s best to leave unripened pears at room temperature for four-to-six days. Be careful where ripe pears are stored in the refrigerator. Some produce quickens their decay, such as bananas, cauliflower, broccoli and spinach. Like many other fruits, pears also may absorb odors from onions and potatoes.
Pears and apples are not the only fresh fruits available in the fall. Citrus fans can order a host of “summer fruits” from Florida-based companies such as honeybell.com, cushmans.com and halegroves.com. September and October harvests bare an assortment of peaches, nectarines and tomatoes (yes, tomato is a fruit — it has seeds.) Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits and tangerines, arrive in November and December.
Since most of these gift packs contain more fruit than the average consumer can consume, it’s good to know where to look for recipes online.
Epicurious.com has the best selection of recipes in cyberspace. Pears rate 302 recipes, most of which have been culled from Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines. Simple fresh fruit delights include mashed sweet potatoes and pears. More complex recipes offer up guacamole with pear and pomegranate seeds, which is best made with a molcajete y tojolote, a Mexican mortar and pestle.
With some cajoling, Grandmother Gabrielle Thomas, the widow of Alex R. Thomas, Jr., son of the Alex who planted the orchards, revealed her secret recipe for Fresh Pear Cake:
Fresh Pear Cake*
2 cups flour
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 13-by-9 inch pan. In a large bowl, sift flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add pears, nuts, butter and eggs. Beat until just combined; it will be thick. Bake 1 hour or until top springs back when lightly pressed. Cool in pan or on wire rack.
*Printed courtesy of gotfruit.com
Webster of thefruitcompany.com says one of his favorite recipes his mom made growing up was the Bosc pear custard:
Bosc pear custard**
Fresh pears in the middle layer of the easy-to-do-bar cookies are a fruity surprise. Perhaps a recipe that’s a little more complicated, but the presentation is worth it. This makes a wonderful special-occasion dessert.
3 cups flour
Leaving stem intact, pare skin from pears and cut out core from blossom end. Beginning 1 inch from stem, cut lengthwise slashes, cutting through to center of pear. Combine water, sugar, 1 tbsp. orange peel and cinnamon stick in large saucepan; bring to boil. Add pears and gently simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until pears are tender. Drain pears, reserving 1 cup syrup for glaze (optional). Combine sugar, cornstarch and remaining orange peel in saucepan; stir in milk and bring to boil over medium heat. Stir small amount of hot mixture into egg; return egg mixture to milk mixture. Cook and stir until thickened. Cool. Pour about » cup into bottom of each prepared tart shell. Place one pear on each tart; brush with Orange Glaze.
Cookie tart shells
Blend together 1 ½ cups vanilla cookie crumbs, ½ cup chopped nuts and ½ cup butter or margarine, softened to room temperature. Press into 4-inch tart pans with removable bottoms. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden. Cool. Makes four 4-inch tart shells.
Blend 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 cup reserved poaching syrup. Bring to boil over medium heat, cook and stir.
**Printed courtesy of thefruitcompany.com
Teri Goldberg is MSNBC.com’s shopping writer. Write to her at email@example.com