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Best fruit baskets

In general, reviews say, fruit-basket companies charge far more for fruit than you'd pay locally, even at a specialty grocer or farmer's market. Given the ubiquity of fruit, some reviews suggest you skip fruit baskets altogether and send a hamper of cheese, baked goods or gourmet tidbits instead.

Critics and gift-givers agree that if you're going to go with fruit, Diamond Organics is an excellent source. The company's 9-pound Organic Fruit Sampler (*est. $82 including overnight shipping) is said to contain a wide variety of fruits, which vary seasonally but may include pears, persimmons, citrus and tropical fruits and apples. The Wall Street Journal gave Diamond Organics its best value and best overall awards in its comparative review. In the forums at OrganicPicks.com and CookingLight.com, consumers agree that Diamond Organics' top-quality fruit is beautifully presented and long-lasting.

If your recipient is more adventurous, reviews say that the fruit in Manhattan Fruitier's hampers is so flawless that it could have been plucked from a still life painting. Real Simple magazine says that the Tropical Fruit Hamper (*est. $75, plus *est. $17 for two-day shipping) will "mesmerize" the recipient with unusual litchi nuts, cactus pears and kumquats. New York Magazine calls the company's products outstanding and says that recipients "will actually want to keep" its baskets. Manhattan Fruitier ships fruit hampers nationwide, but fruit baskets are available only to customers in New York City and Los Angeles.

Reviews say that Edible Arrangements (*est. $75 for a Delicious Fruit Design Half-Dipped; local shipping costs *est. $12) are a worthy alternative to fruit baskets. The company sells fresh-cut fruit designed to resemble floral arrangements, with cut-up fruit on skewers arranged in a container. According to a review in The New York Times, arrangements, which come in several sizes, are "healthful, festive, and succulent." A few consumers complain that the company's website shows a single size of each arrangement, so it's difficult to tell what a smaller or larger arrangement will contain. And cut fruit will deteriorate more quickly than fresh fruit that's left intact, giving these arrangements a shorter lifespan. Each Edible Arrangements store is individually owned, and the company doesn't ship nationwide, so it's difficult to know whether quality is consistent across the entire chain.

One popular purveyor of fruit baskets, Harry & David, receives mixed reviews. In a comparison at The Wall Street Journal, the contents of the Extra Deluxe Fruit Basket (*est. $90; shipping starts at $6.99) -- save for a few nuts and a bruised apple -- were quickly consumed. Testers praise the willow basket the fruit came in, calling it "sturdy" and a "keeper." Editors at Cook's Illustrated also liked the basket, but found both the fruit and its presentation disappointing, and the website difficult to navigate. Harry & David ships fruit only at its peak of ripeness, which means you can't specify a delivery date. Still, we read a number of rave reviews of the company's exclusive Royal Riviera pears, which are said to be juicy and full of flavor.

However, we saw some vocal complaints about Harry & David customer service. In the review at The Wall Street Journal, testers had trouble with the online ordering form. And in the review at Cook's Illustrated, testers had a hard time ordering a gift basket for a specific time frame. We also read similar complaints at Epinions from some customers that had trouble with shipping, ordering and on-time delivery. Several were disappointed that their orders weren't processed promptly or weren't delivered in the time frame specified.

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