As warm days return to Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, delicate white blossoms are springing up in our precious Royal Riviera® Pear orchards. We’re at the start of another growing season, and this one is extra special because we’re celebrating our 90th anniversary. Join us in looking back on the amazing fruit that started it all and see what’s changed — and stayed the same — nearly a century later.

Planting the seeds for success

While the Harry & David company has been around since 1934, our legendary pears took root in the area a few decades prior. These unique Comice pears were brought to Southern Oregon from Angers, France, by a French horticulturist in the 1870s. Comice were esteemed for their remarkable flavor and considered a delicacy among French nobility, but they’re notoriously finicky to grow. It wasn’t until the Comice were grafted onto the root stock of a hardier pear that they flourished here.

MORE: What Kind of Pear Is a Royal Riviera Pear?

The original plantings in Bear Creek Orchards caught the attention of Seattle businessman Samuel Rosenburg. He purchased the orchards in 1910 for the whopping sum of $300,000 (nearly $10 million today). Rosenburg’s two sons, Harry and David Holmes, had both recently finished their agricultural degrees at Cornell University when they came to Medford to help their father with his agricultural endeavor. When Rosenburg passed away in 1914, the two brothers took over operations of the orchards — and they were faced with a challenge.  

Royal Riviera pears history with pears on a tree.

A king-size problem

Anyone who has tasted a Royal Riviera® Pear knows how special this fruit is, but back in the throes of the Great Depression, Harry and David were finding it difficult to grow their business. The pears’ flavor, size, and rarity marked them as luxury items, which made their market even more difficult. That’s when the brothers had an idea.

In 1932, Harry took some of their newly dubbed Royal Riviera® Pears up to Seattle with the goal of presenting them to prominent businessmen, suggesting that they made impressive and unique gifts to share with clients. The trip was such a success that he began visiting businessmen in other cities, like San Francisco and New York. By 1934, Harry & David had launched its first catalog, and the rest is history.

Seasons of change

As you’ve already learned, Comice pears are challenging to grow. There are only a few places in the world that have the right conditions for these pears to thrive, and the Rogue Valley is one of them. They require hot days and cold nights, plenty of water, and rich soil. Once a tree is planted, it takes five years to even bear its first fruit.

Caring for these trees is a year-round labor of love. Prep work for one harvest begins almost as soon as the previous one ends. More than 700,000 trees are pruned by hand in the winter, and our orchard teams are on frost patrol round-the-clock in the spring, ready to jump into action with special heating systems that protect the trees’ fragile buds. Local bees are brought in around April to help pollinate the flowers, and our teams stay vigilant throughout the entire growing season to ensure each tree is healthy and thriving.

Leading up to harvest, which begins in late August, the pears are monitored regularly until they reach just the right sugar content. Then, it’s go time: 1,800 acres of orchards are harvested by hand over the course of about four weeks. But even then, the work isn’t done.

Of course, the allure of the Royal Riviera® Pear lies in its taste — but beauty is part of its charm, too. It takes extraordinary measures to protect our pears from dings, scratches, and excessive sun damage. Because the fruit is so fragile, our pears are only handpicked, and our delivery trucks are equipped with special shocks to cushion the fruit from bruising. Water flumes are used to float the pears out of bins, which further helps minimize marks on their delicate skin. They’re then taken to cold storage facilities that simulate the cooling temperatures of autumn, which concentrates the fruit’s sugar content. They remain in cold storage for a minimum of 28 days to reach peak sweetness, then they’re ready to make their way to your door.

MORE: How Harry & David Grows the Juiciest Pears

90 years and still sharing

Nearly a century ago, our founders saw something truly special in these unique pears and made it their mission to bring them to the rest of the world. What started as a dream between a father and two brothers blossomed into an extraordinary legacy.

We’re proud to say that our commitment to quality has never wavered. Even now, only 45% of our pear crop meets our high aesthetic standards to make it into our gourmet fruit gifts. The rest of the fruit — while still delicious — is donated to local food pantries.

To this day, Harry & David is the largest producer of Comice pears in the world. While they’re still grown in a few other places, changing conditions have prompted many growers to stop producing this pear variety altogether. We’ve seen these same challenges, too, but we take them in stride. After all, this means our Royal Riviera® Pears are becoming more precious, more important to protect, and much more special for sharing.

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