It all started with the pears. In 1910, Seattle hotelier Samuel Rosenberg traded the opulent Hotel Sorrento for 240 acres of pear trees in southern Oregon. Following his untimely death in 1914, his two sons, Harry and David, took over the business, and, in the wake of the Great Depression, began selling their special "Royal Riviera" Comice pears by mail. The rest is history. Almost a century later, Harry & David is an umbrella organization that encompasses everything from fresh fruits and spiced nuts to chocolate truffles, salsas, barbecue sauces, relishes, and that dangerously addictive candied popcorn snack, Moose Munch.
They also have mixes for all kinds of baked goods, such as scones, pancakes, and cookies. This being hot, sticky August, I decided to make Harry & David's rendition of one of my favorite warm weather desserts: key lime bars. (Available at Harry & David outlet stores for $7.95.)
A message on the Harry & David Dessert Square Mix package proclaims that the product is "Gourmet Made Easy!" This is not false advertising. The bag contains two pouches, "crust" and "filling." The instructions say to simply press the crust mixture into an 8 x 8-inch pan and bake for eight to ten minutes. At first, I thought it was a misprint—surely I needed to add a few tablespoons of canola oil or melted butter to what appeared to be a plain sack of cookie crumbs. But when I emptied the crust into my pan I found it surprisingly moist. It packed down easily, like wet sand.
With my crust in the oven, I set to work on the filling. All I had to do was combine the contents of the "filling" pouch with 1/3 cup of water and three eggs. Before adding the wet ingredients, the filling was a dusty, pale green color and looked a lot like a powdered drink mix. After adding them, however, the filling turned a vibrant shade of lime and took on the consistency of a somewhat runny curd—magic! I poured the filling mixture over the crust and slid it back in the oven.
Only after my bars had baked and cooled did the trouble begin: the instructions say only to grease the pan, but I should have lined it with overhanging foil as well. It was exceedingly difficult to get the bars out, and I ended up spending fifteen minutes hacking at them with every size spatula in my utensil drawer.
I took half of the bars—the only ones I managed to get out of the pan in decent shape—to a dinner with friends (also known as captive tasters). The verdict? The bars were "yummy," "gooey," and "very good for a mix" with a pleasantly tart, if somewhat "generic," citrus flavor. Everyone kept calling them lemon bars instead of lime because they couldn't tell the difference.
If you're looking for a quick bar cookie fix, I would recommend Harry & David with some reservations: the results weren't half bad.
The taste of the crust, in particular, was surprisingly scratch-like, as opposed to mix-like, but the directions should have said to line the pan. The flavor of the curd was far from authentic Floridian key lime.