Bumping along the dirt roads in a gold minivan, we drive through just a few of the 21 Harry & David orchards. It’s a gorgeous, not-too-hot day and we’re leaving a dusty trail in our wake. Matt Borman, director of the orchards, has agreed to take three of us writers on a tour so we can see for ourselves how the Royal Riviera® Pears got so famous. I try, without much success, to scribble down notes that are legible or snap photos that aren’t a blur. He trustingly lets us out a few times and tells us to watch where we step. While we’re busy looking at our feet and wondering what we should be looking out for amidst the green tufts of grass and tiny yellow flowers, he effortlessly pulls a couple of pears from a tree. I anticipate getting to take a bite, but unfortunately there’s nothing we can sink our teeth into. Not yet.
“We don’t actually pick the pears when they’re ripe,” Matt explains. They wait for the pressure to be right. He tells us they use a device called a penetrometer to test some 4,500 pears. The test reveals the fruit’s firmness and level of maturity, and when it reaches the desired ten to 13 pounds of pressure the harvest can begin. Since we don’t get to see the device in action I do a quick image search when we get back from our field trip. A penetrometer sort of looks like a stopwatch with an arm that extends out to meet the fruit. I still don’t totally understand how it works, but I get the part that it’s harvest time. Yay!
Matt tells us that picking pears while balancing on a ladder and wearing a 40-pound bucket is no easy feat. I don’t doubt it. I hate getting on a ladder to change the light bulb in the hallway. The stems have to stay on, so pickers have to gently twist the pears at just the right angle. After that, they’re carefully placed in bins on their sides so the stems don’t poke the flesh of the other pears. This is some high-maintenance fruit. It takes a special combination of skilled people with infinite patience and modern equipment to make sure that pears arrive in perfect condition. This is all to ensure that when someone bites into a sweet, juicy Royal Riviera® Pear they are blown away. People don’t need to know all that goes into creating awesome fruit to be able to enjoy it.