It was a sunny afternoon and I was driving a route I had driven hundreds of times through Hinckley.

I always take the back roads to North Royalton, as they are beautiful and quicker. On this particular Friday, I was returning from an afternoon of consulting local businesses up in our northern zone when I was on my favorite stretch back to Medina, state Route 606.

But what to my wondering eyes should appear but a new sign for an orchard and winery. Oh, dear! So I threw my car quickly into reverse and walked towards the barn in the cold, blustery wind. The doors were open and welcoming lights made me feel like this was something very cool. How could I have driven by this all these years and not have stopped?

The find: Weymouth Farms and Orchard (and now Winery). I introduced myself and talked at length with the owners, Paul and Brenda O’Neill, and their assistant Bo Zhang, about just what are they doing here? Apparently, they just now put up the sign after nine years of being in business. What they have been doing is planting an orchard and growing the most delicious Asian pears I have ever tasted  along with some apples and grapes (hence the wine making).

We stood at the counter inside the seemingly old post-and-beam barn with a massive stone face that Paul recently built (there is an interesting story there) and sampled slices of each and every Asian pear. Not only did they offer me samples of every pear, but I learned about all seven varieties.

Paul and Brenda were knowledgeable and welcoming, the Asian pears were amazing and it reminded me why it is so important to get off our computers, out of our houses and explore the small businesses, especially the farms and farm markets, and talk to the people who make it all happen. On this day, I learned that I love Asian Pears, especially ones grown near my home.

They are round and crisp like an apple, but juicy and flavorful as a pear with a thicker skin than European varieties (Bartlett). I also learned something that I never gave much thought to: quality Asian pears are a highly-prized gift for the holidays. Apparently, people come from all over Ohio and nearby states to their farm to purchase their holiday pears for gifting. Eyes opened, I started dreaming about how I, too, can embrace and use this healthy holiday gift tradition.

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This whole experience got me thinking about healthy and wholesome holiday gifts and Asian pears, as well as fruit baskets. They seem like an old, classic tradition that should be revived. Don’t get me wrong, people still give exotic fruits as wonderful holiday gifts, but not as much as they did in the past.

In olden days, fresh fruit was harder to get in the winter and, thus, prized as a gift. Fresh fruit brought important vitamin C, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals that they needed to stay healthy and fight off the common colds. The sweet and juicy fruit also gave them a reminder of summer, fall and hope to get through the long cold gray winters. Nowadays, fresh fruit from local farms is prized as a gift for the sheer quality aspect, something people don’t get from the supermarkets.

Bacon-wrapped stuffed dates with brie and goat cheese

Here is this week’s holiday appetizer idea. It is an easy, sweet, super tasty one that even kids will love. You just need 1 pound of sweet Medjool dates, 1 pound of thin sliced bacon (cut strips in half) and whatever cheese you wish to pipe in to the dates.

I used creme de brie (a brie spread) and goat cheese. I make half of the stuffed dates with brie, half with goat cheese. Or, you can fill with ground cooked chorizo instead of cheese to balance out the sweetness.

Remove the pit from the date at the end, add cheese, piping it in with a pastry bag, wrap in bacon, insert toothpick to hold bacon in place and use for serving. Soak these in advance for better end appearance.

Bake on a wire rack over a cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until bacon is crisp. These can be served at room temperature if you wish, so you can make them up ahead of time.

Tasty, simple, reasonably healthy and packed full of flavor. Happy holidays!

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