Harry & David pears/photo: David Hammond

The iconic “Twelve Days of Christmas” ends each stanza with the words “pear tree,” and perhaps that’s part of the reason that pears and Christmas seem to go together.  The other part of the reason is Harry & David.

Since I was a little kid in the Fifties, we’ve been getting and sending Harry & David fruit for Christmas, and usually that means pears. Pears remain my favorite way to say “Happy Holidays.”

This year, we got a early shipment of Royal Riviera pears and oh man, perfection. We use a vegetable peeler to precisely skin each pear, but you could use a knife, of course, or you could just cut the pears in half and eat the fruit with a spoon. The flesh of these pears is so lush and firm, sweet and refreshing, that we treasure each glistening bite.

Harry & David Rosenberg inherited the fruit company – which specialized in Royal Riviera pears – from their father. Their first market was Europe. When the Great Depression reduced European demand for such luxury goods, the brothers switched their marketing focus to the United States and switched their last name to Holmes in response to the rise in antisemitism both at home and abroad.

Though Harry & David has now extended the product line to include lots of different kinds of fruit, cakes and candy, their flagship product is still the Royal Riviera pear. And although Harry & David now has brick-and-mortar retail outlets (the closest one to Oak Park is in Rosemont), mail order is still their main business.

In the days before one could get high-quality produce from places like Whole Foods, Mariano’s, and a host of smaller specialty stores, Harry & David provided a way for people in even remote locales to sample excellent fruit.

In the photo above, the pear on the right looks a little more blemished than you might expect with Royal Riviera pears, but the skin is coming off anyway, so it hardly matters. For years, we’ve been buying Maverick pears from Harry & David, and these are effectively “seconds,” pears that are not as as their peers. There’s about a 30% price difference between Mavericks and Royal Riviera pears.

In the morning, Harry & David pears are a reason to wake up and have one for breakfast; for a light lunch, a pear and some cheese is just right; after dinner, a pear with ice cream is a suitable dessert. We’ve made cooked and pickled pears, but for pears as good as the ones from Harry & David, I would recommend going commando, with nothing on them and doing nothing with them but skinning and eating them. That, to me and many others, is the taste of Christmas.

December is National Pear Month (that’s right: this fruit gets a whole month!).

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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