Episode 129: Erica Bland and Neil Ferguson
Dec 02, 2020, Updated Jun 11, 2021
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What other fruit is as elegant as a pear, but yet approachable and available year-round? Slicing up USA Pears will dress up any cocktail party charcuterie board or help fill your kids’ lunchboxes with a nutritious treat. When it comes to growing pears, these fruits are harvested, packed, and sent to market with a remarkable amount of human touch.
Erica Bland is a fourth-generation pear grower who’s been helping run her family’s Washington farm for nine years, and leasing her own orchards for four. You might know Washington state for their apples and cherries, but pears? Yes, the Pacific Northwest is great for growing pears because of the region specifically in the middle of Washington and Oregon state. The east is too dry, the west is too wet, but the middle is a sweet spot filled with rich, volcanic soil, cool nights and warm days, and just the right amount of rain, making it optimal for growing pears.
Growing pears is an ever-changing gamble! Crop cycles start in the fall, and although harvest always goes through August and September, you never know when it’s actually going to start. The harvest goes much longer than you’d typically expect and also depends on the varieties and bin counts. Erica’s farm grows three types of pears: Bartlett, d’Anjou and Golden Russet Bosc, although there are ten varieties of pears available in the US.
What’s more interesting about the pear growing process is the thinning of trees. You might think you want to keep as much fruit as possible on the tree as they grow, but with pear trees, heavy thinning is necessary as soon as the pears are about the size of a silver dollar. You want to keep the pears 10-12 inches apart, otherwise, some pears grow together in clusters and will never get big enough. That, or the branch gets too heavy and they block the sun necessary to grow.
So what do growers do with pears that aren’t big enough or meeting retailer specs? Sometimes they go to school lunches (if they’re on the smaller side) or juicers.
“The human element that’s behind each and every pear that makes it to market is really amazing and profound.” – Lori Taylor (17:55-18:02)
When it comes time to harvest, it’s a gamble! Erica says, “you need to be ready to rock and roll when the field men come out and say you need to start picking”, which can be at any time. All pears are hand picked and the only equipment involved in the field are tractors that pick up the bins of fruit and stack them for the trucks to pick up.
Did you know pears grown in the states of Oregon and Washington make up around 87 percent of the US fresh pear supply?
From the field to the packing shed or warehouse, USA Pears are hand-selected and wrapped in tissue before heading out to retailers, which happens on the same day! For as fast of a turnaround as that is, pears are beautiful, elegant fruit that require a lot of patience…patience that is worth every juicy, sweet, refreshing bite.
The reason pears aren’t always ripe and ready to eat when you buy them at the store is because you can’t ship soft fruit. They would go bad and bruise before they hit the produce aisle. If you want to know when your pear is ripe and ready to eat at home, just apply a small amount of pressure using your thumb at the neck of the pear and if it yields to slight pressure, it’s ready to enjoy! Plus, they really look beautiful in a decorative bowl in the center of a table while you wait for them to ripen.
What’s Erica’s favorite way to enjoy her family’s pears? Pear pie! Although she’s not a huge fruit pie fan, this family recipe passed down from her mom’s aunt gets her every time. Feel free to reach out to her on Instagram at www.instagram.com/e_bland and she’ll give you the recipe!
Neil’s favorite way to enjoy pears happens to be on pizza! Maybe you’ve seen this at restaurants and have hesitated to try it, or maybe you’ve never even thought of this innovative way to enjoy the fruit. Because the sweetness isn’t overwhelming, there are tons of ways to enjoy pear on pizza. Next time you make one at home or order out, try pears with gorgonzola and walnuts or prosciutto as your topping.
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