Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Tale of Two Fruit Deliveries

From October through March, I have the good fortune of spending my money on beautiful California citrus (and a couple of pomegranates as well). The farm, Rising C. Ranches, provides me with awesome Meyer lemons, pink lemons, various limes, and the amazing Moro blood oranges. I may well buy 150 pounds of citrus per season. The stuff shows up when I schedule it too, they make arrangements to ship on specific days so that it can arrive on specific days, occasionally they throw in a sample of something I haven't ordered before (Bergamot anyone?), and are generally really attentive and customer driven. And not really all that expensive when you remember that Meyer lemons can top 5 bucks a pound at various fancy markets.

This summer I wanted figs. We really aren't in the proper climate for local figs, so I looked westward again. I only found two places shipping fresh black mission figs, and I chose the less expensive of the two. And less expensive is a highly relative term. The price range for a single box of figs was 8-20 dollars - per pint sized box, so I was pretty hopeful that the money would be well spent. I called the company before I placed my order to determine what shipping company they used so that I could prepare for the delivery on my side (I know the driver for one of the shipping companies and he arranges to personally schedule delivery times with me to ensure I am there to receive packages - I love you Terrence, man!). After being assured that all was copacetic, I placed my order while trying to inwardly justify the price.

Then I plotted the wonderful things I was going to do with my bounty: would I make a chocolate fig cake like the one the pastry chef at Grocery was once known for? Would I make fig ice cream, fig tart, fig cheesecake? I was psyched for whatever would get made and also pretty jacked for merely sinking my teeth into the first fig savoring the texture and the taste.

The first thing that went wrong was that my shipping confirmation arrived with tracking information for the other shipping company, the one I didn't have a personal relationship, the one that was under no obligation to wait until I was home from work before delivering. The farm was closed so I called the shipping company and mercifully was allowed to waive the signature requirement over the phone and authorize the leaving of the package on my doorstep unattended.

So I got home yesterday evening to find that my nice next door neighbor had taken the box from my unattended doorstep into her apartment and now gave it back to me, demurring when I offered her some figs of her own. I eagerly opened the box.

The first thing I noticed was that the pound of pluots I had thrown onto the order on a whim were packed in a plastic bag wrapped in paper and tossed next to a large box full of figs. So, basically, completely vulnerable to the movement that is national shipping. As a result, each was severely bruised and battered and susceptible to bacteria. In other words, I wasn't eating them. I opened the box within the box to find my figs which were packed very well atop several cool packs. Unfortunately, the cool packs weren't insulated and condensation was everywhere. Moisture content is the enemy.

The figs, upon first glance, looked fine. I started unpacking them to remove any that were moisture damaged and to make the others were toweled off to prevent spoilage. What greeted me was truly disheartening. In each of the seven boxes I bought, 1/3-1/2 of the figs were unusable. Some had holes that looked astonishingly similar to animal teeth marks; some were so overripe they had burst, and yes, some were already molding. Of those that were salvageable, more than half were way riper than I thought they should have been given the mandatory next day shipping requirement which, for me, implied that they were picked and packed on the same day.

I angrily called the company and to its credit I was refunded for about half of the figs, but they sounded both suspicious and uncaring. Much as they were when I mentioned the shipping company issue and was asked, "well what do you want me to do?" Uh, lady, an apology might be a good start. I tasted my first fig and it was ordinary. I'm still going to use the salvageable ones and be happy for fresh figs of any stripe, but I'm looking at the guy on the corner with the 2 dollar boxes of figs with more friendliness in my gaze.

I haven't named names here because I'm not out to ruin someone's business. Perhaps got a bum crop and a bum customer service representative, and I certainly don't need to prejudice anyone based on my experience (an experience that will not be repeated, mind you, and the idea of repeating it filled me with suppressed mirth as the representative asked me if I wanted the credit back on my credit card or applied to a future order - as if), but you'll be able to figure it out based on the limited number of people selling figs, if you are so inclined. I was just really pissed and really disappointed.

But do check out Rising C. Ranches - they're amazing.

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