Late August is a busy, busy time for Medford’s Harry & David, the 83-year-old mail-order purveyor of handpicked fruits and hand-packed gift baskets. More than 320 people come together to pick 60 million—or, roughly, 15,000 tons worth of—Royal Riviera, Bosc, and Royal Verano pears from more than 2,000 acres of orchards in Southern Oregon.
It all began in 1910, when a Seattle hotelier swapped his hotel for 240 acres of pear orchards in the Rogue Valley. His sons, Harry and David Rosenberg, took over in 1934, with a goal of shipping their popular Royal Riviera to the rest of the country. Today, the company ships baskets of fruit, chocolates, and candies every year to as far away as Germany. The company’s individual orchards range from a 16-acre unit (home to one of its three organic coppices, or tree groupings) to an almost 350-acre parcel.
How can fruit picked in August taste perfect in November, when Harry & David’s holiday-driven business gathers steam? When the picked pears enter cold storage, the ripening process stops; sugars in each pear become concentrated, resulting in a sweeter, juicier fruit. When the box of pears arrives at your front door, that’s when the ripening process restarts.
“The first few weeks of cold storage actually mimics the cold temperatures of fall,” says Matt Borman, the company’s director of orchard. “This allows the fruit to ripen more consistently when it comes back to ambient temperatures. The hurdles Mother Nature puts in front of us are ways that we test our skills.”