I enjoy all manner of orangelike fruits, so I was intrigued. Yes, despite the gimmicky stuff (tattoos? Really?). I thought the "late-breaking news" was odd ("The good folks at the USDA... tell us that as long as we give it extra-special handling, we can ship our Florida-grown fruit to CA, TX, AZ & LA"), but it didn't seem significant as long as they were confirming that they could ship to California.
The small amount of information I was able to come up with online reinforced my desire to try honeybells, so I went to the Cushman's website and tried to order some. "Sorry," the website said. "This product cannot be shipped to the address you selected."
But they just told me it could, in their helpful marketing material! Disappointed, I sent them an email. Their response: "To prevent the outbreak of a pandemic disease from infecting the entire US crop, citrus products are restricted to the state of origin, and to states where there is no citrus production. ... [W]e are not allowed to send our Florida citrus into California, Arizona, Louisiana and Texas."
It's not that I'm in favor of pandemic disease, but that contradicted THEIR OWN AD. These things were even on the "Stuff we can ship to California" page of their website. But what could I do, argue?
I did a little research online, and it certainly sounded like all that was necessary was extra inspection and certification. I checked some other growers that sold honeybells, and none of them suggested that they couldn't ship to me. So I ordered some from a competitor (Hale Groves). Sorry, Cushman, you had your chance.
The box arrived on my birthday, covered in lots of agricultural inspection stickers. The fruit inside looked like this:
That's... some ugly fruit. In fact, let's compare:
Yuck. But, hey, you don't eat the peel. I'd have felt more optimistic if the ad copy were "hideously ugly, but delicious!", but I still had hope.
Until I ate one. Bland, watery, chewy, full of seeds, with a bit of a bitter aftertaste. It wasn't even easy to peel. Thoroughly nasty.
I gave another one a try a day or two later:
Not exactly appealing -- the thing looks like it has a skin condition -- but it was actually somewhat better than the first one. Faintly sweet, still watery, not much of a citrus/orange taste at all. Now that I've had a few, I can say that the ones with a more pronounced 'bell' shape are better overall; even though their skin is thicker and lumpier, it peels more easily, and eventually I even had one that really was seedless and sort of tasted like an orange. I am told that the rounder, seedier ones are the result of unauthorized cross-pollinating by bees, but that's not much of an excuse; the grower, which presumably exercises some level of quality control, picked them and sent them to me (for a premium price), claiming they would be the awesomest things I've ever tasted. They aren't. I've had much, much better Cuties, and you can buy Cuties for under a buck a pound. These honeybells were over $3 each. Not remotely worth it.
Hale Groves, the place I ordered from, has a satisfaction guarantee, and I was sufficiently dissatisfied to take them up on it. They said they'd give me a refund. I'm waiting for it.
(I checked Cushman today because I wanted the exact wording of the error message, and it looks like now they will ship to California. Whatever, Cushman. Next year I'm just buying more Cuties.)