Berry bushes may be bare these days, but come next summer, they'll be laden with ripe fruit. Bissinger, a 139-year-old St. Louis confectioner, ships luscious dark- or milk-chocolate-covered raspberries and blackberries only when the fruit is sweetest and ripest: July for the raspberries, September for the blackberries. A one-pound box of either costs $34 and can be ordered at bissingers.com or by calling 800 325-8881.
Vine-ripened tomatoes are another summer treasure, and few taste better than those grown by former professional singer Lucky Lee in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. Order a $14.95 box of 10 Smokey Mountain beefsteaks plus a half-pint of red grape tomatoes now, and your gift recipient will feel lucky to receive the package in July (888 963-2100).
Throughout the summer, Ron Mansfield of Gold Bud Farms in Placerville, Calif. (530 626-6521), harvests some of the best stone fruit I have ever tasted. His nectarines and cherries are wonderful, but his pice de resistance may be the Indian blood peaches picked in mid-September. Their dark red, almost purple flesh is sweeter than candy and juicier than most oranges ($60 for a box of 12 with shipping).
Forget those wrinkly, intensely sweet dried dates we all grew up with: Eating fresh dates is another experience altogether. From the prime date-growing country of the high desert in Southern California, Bautista Organic Date Ranch ships dates fresh off the trees in October (760 396-2337; $8.55 for two pounds).
For the serious cook, fresh morels, a kind of mushroomlike fungi, are like manna from heaven. Amy LaFarge's troops comb the fertile soil of the Yukon and the Pacific Northwest starting in late April, looking for the morels that will transform a simple plate of pasta or a roast chicken into something special. One pound of morels that will arrive in May costs $12 to $16 from auxdelices.com or 888 547-5471.
Beyond fruit and vegetables, seafood caught and delivered in season makes for great delayed-gratification gifts now. You can buy farm-raised salmon year-round, but it doesn't compare in flavor, texture, or appearance to the wild variety, especially the salmon of Alaska's Copper River. Every spring (usually in late May or early June), more than 2 million salmon return from the sea and, fortified with rich oil stores and bulging muscles, make their way up the Copper River to spawn. SeaBear Smokehouse (seabear.com; 800 645-FISH) sends out packages of eight fresh filets ($67.90 with shipping) that arrive within 48 hours of the fish being out of the water.
Finally, few people who head to Miami in the winter resist the siren call of Joe's Stone Crab restaurant. But there's a way to enjoy those same sweet morsels of chilled, cooked crab in mustard sauce without heading to Florida. Moore's Stone Crab (888 968-CRAB), a family-run endeavor in Longboat Key, Fla., ships three sizes of stone crab claws. And because the stone crab season goes from December to May, it's a gift you can present that will arrive well into the spring ($102 for dinner for two with shipping).
When you send these foods, warn the recipient to keep them out of the reach of children, in-laws, and dogs. Otherwise, the gift quickly becomes an empty box, which is no one's idea of a seasonal treat. By Ed Levine