History of Pears

A Pears 101 Course for Enthusiasts

Pears are one of the world’s oldest cultivated and beloved fruits. In 5,000 B.C., Feng Li, a Chinese diplomat, abandoned his responsibilities when he became consumed by grafting peaches, almonds, persimmons, pears and apples as a commercial venture. In The Odyssey, the Greek poet laureate Homer lauds pears as a “gift of the gods.” Pomona, goddess of fruit, was a cherished member of the Roman Pantheon and Roman farmers documented extensive pear growing and grafting techniques. Thanks to their versatility and long storage life, pears were a valuable and much-desired commodity among the trading routes of the ancient world. Evident in the works of Renaissance Masters, pears have long been an elegant still-life muse for artists. In the 17th century a great flourishing of modern pear variety cultivation began taking place in Europe. And in popular culture, the pear tree was immortalized alongside a partridge in the 18th-century Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Early colonists brought the first pear trees to America’s eastern settlements where they thrived until crop blights proved too severe to sustain widespread cultivation. Fortunately, the pear trees brought west to Oregon and Washington by pioneers in the 1800’s thrived in the unique agricultural conditions found in the Pacific Northwest. Today’s Northwest pear varieties are the same or similar to those first cultivated in France and Belgium where they were prized for their delicate flavor, buttery texture, and long storage life.

As more sophisticated irrigation and growing techniques developed during the past century, pear orchards flourished dramatically in the Northwest’s river valley regions located in a serpentine sprawl from Northern Central Washington to Central Southern Oregon.

Today, pear orchards in Oregon and Washington are as specialized as the regions that support them. Organic, commercial and multi-generation family orchards all contribute high-quality fruit to the Northwest’s fresh pear industry. Consumer interest and enjoyment of Northwest pears grows each year. Thanks to advancements in Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storage technology, fresh USA Pears are available to consumers nearly year-round.

A Northwest Treasure

The other great pear that crossed the Lewis and Clark trail.

The first arrival of pear trees to Oregon and Washington came with the pioneers. These trees found their way to the region by way of the Lewis and Clark Trail.

Pioneers that settled along the Columbia River in Oregon’s Hood River Valley, found ideal growing conditions for their pear trees. Vast orchards grow there today, in the shadow of majestic Mt. Hood. Volcanic soil, abundant water, warm days and cool nights combine to create the perfect conditions for growing the varieties found in Oregon.

The other principal growing area in Oregon is the Rogue River valley, around Medford in the Southeastern part of the state.  Medford, near the end of the Cascade Mountain Range, also enjoys the rich volcanic soil and European-like weather that nurture the world’s most beautiful, sweet, and juicy pears.

The Cascade Range is part of the Ring of Fire, the mountains that ring the Pacific Rim.  Many of the Northwest’s snow-capped peaks are dormant or still active volcanoes.  The principal growing areas in the region are literally in the shadow of these mountains, which can rise over 11,000 feet above sea level.

Settlers in the shadows of Washington’s Cascade Range enjoyed similar success.  With orchards dating back to the 1850’s, the Wenatchee Valley is an abundant producer of all USA Pear varieties.  The rugged north central Washington region is exceptionally proud of its consistency of producing high-quality pears known the world over.

In central Washington’s Yakima Valley, the light, fertile soil of the agricultural-rich region supports thousands of acres of Northwest pear trees. The growing regions in Washington share their volcanic influences from Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens.

With these abundant crops, fresh pears naturally became a major part of Northwest cooking, which takes the finest local ingredients and combines them in delicious complimentary style. The versatile and delicate flavor of pears enhances the area’s bountiful fresh seafood and regional wines. Chefs in the Pacific Northwest and around the world use pears for all parts of the menu, from appetizers to entrees to desserts.

Due to this rich history and its positive impact on the state’s economy, the State of Oregon named the pear Oregon’s Official State Fruit.  In addition, the USDA annually recognizes the pear by declaring the month of December as National Pear Month.  The pear is indeed a Northwest treasure!

USA Pear Crop Statistics

  • There are currently nearly 900 pear growers in Washington and Oregon
  • Pears are Oregon’s number one tree fruit crop, its #8 agricultural commodity, and Oregon’s Official State Fruit
  • Washington’s fresh pear production is the largest in the United States
  • Oregon’s total pear production ranks 2nd overall in the United States and 2nd in terms of fresh pear production
  • In Washington State, pears are the third most valuable tree fruit crop behind apples and sweet cherries, and the tenth most valuable agricultural commodity overall
  • Combined annual fresh pear (not canned) harvest for Washington and Oregon currently averages over 442,000 tons
  • Washington and Oregon export about 35% of their fresh pear crop to more than 50 countries around the world.
  • About a quarter of the overall pear crop is canned (not represented by USA Pears/Pear Bureau Northwest). Most canning pears are Bartletts, with 63% of this variety being used for canning and processing into juices, etc.