It's been a nice ride for the fruit peddlers of Harry & David. They took one of the world's best dessert pears, the Doyenne du Comice, and, in the tradition of our country's finest marketers, renamed it with the alliterative "Royal Riviera" trademark and built a mail-order empire that has lasted more than 70 years. Name flipping now is considered sales Kryptonite in an increasingly savvy fruit market -- especially when authenticity is a major sales point. The company filed for bankruptcy in March 2011 and is now enduring a steadily expanding recall of its nut products, just in time for the holidays. Ouch.
Marketing ploys and salmonella aside, Harry & David did make the Doyenne du Comice -- or just Comice -- pear the go-to fruit gift of the holidays. It wasn't a difficult sell. The Comice is large, weighing up to a pound per fruit, and has the highest sugar content of all pears. It lasts in cold storage for more than a month. And when ripe, it's velvety smooth and juicy, perhaps the Platonic ideal of a fresh eating fruit for the American market.
We have a few local growers of the Comice: Penryn Orchards (Santa Monica Wednesday) and K&K Ranch (Hollywood). Penryn's crop is mostly done for the season, but K&K Ranch will have them for another week or two.
Terri Kashima at K&K Ranch says their supply is limited. Past frosts have wreaked havoc on crops, and the trees themselves are both sensitive to cold and very slow to mature.
"We only have a few trees and this is the first year in a few where we've had a good crop," said Kashima. "It depends on demand, but we should have them for one, maybe two more weeks."
The Comice was first grown in France near the Loire Valley in 1849 and quickly became highly favored for its grit-free, highly juicy flesh and rich, vanilla-perfumed sweetness.
The skin is mostly green, through the fruit alters depending on exposure, russeting (developing a rough brown exterior) when exposed to weather extremes. In prime conditions, the skin will stay smooth and develop a soft red blush; neither skin type affects the flavor. In fact, you can't determine ripeness by the color of the skin. Ripe fruit gives a little when pressed softly near the stem. Purchase hard fruit and chill if you're looking to enjoy them beyond the October harvest season. They'll ripen at room temperature within a few days.
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