21 September 2010

Pear Season

Glorious Pears

Pear cake.

Pear chutney.

Pear cider.

And those are just the ‘C’s…

A few weeks ago my better-half and I went out to Hood River for the Mt. Hood brunch train. If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. The Mt. Hood Railroad has been choo-chooing through gorgeous apple and pear orchards all the way up to Parkdale for 100 years, but it still continues to be a well-kept secret. (Well, ahem, was a well kept secret.) So when the opportunity arose for my chance to hop aboard, I couldn’t say no.

I was relaying this story to one of my favorite vendors at Kiyokawa Orchards (you know, the apple samples…) and she was quick to point out that you can see their fruit orchards right from the train. Throughout the nearly four hours we were whistling away along the historic tracks, we passed row after row of local produce. Some of which is available weekly though our own farmers market.

Don’t you just love that?

When you can visualize the place where your own food comes from? Right down to the tree?

Pears have long been a favorite of mine, but admittedly, they always seem to get overshadowed by their more full-figured cousin, the apple. “As American as apple pie!”, “It’s like comparing apples and oranges”, “An apple a day will keep the doctor away”. Poor pears. Always Ringo and never John…

Don’t get me wrong, I wait all year for apple season to come around. (There I go again, apple season.) But it’s time we spotlight this frequently underappreciated curvy-bottom darling for a while.

In early and mid-September markets you can find varieties like Bartlett and Star Crimson pears, and look forward to more varieties week by week as the season extends into late October and early November. The Comice pear, with its golden skin and buttery flesh will be arriving for some vendors in just a few weeks.

According to Theresa, from Draper Girls Country Farm, new varieties of pears will be coming in every week. The day I called, she excitedly told me that they had actually sold out of all of their U-pick that day. Business is good.

When asked about the recommended storage of pears she said it really depends on the variety, but for summer pears, like Bartlett and Star Crimson, the kitchen counter is a good spot to leave them for a few days until they are fully ripe.

“Winter pears take forever,” she says while explaining the proper cold-storage temperatures that give farmers market patrons delicious local pears right at the start of spring.

To know when pears are ready, the stem-end of the pear will yield to a little bit of pressure when pushed gently. Theresa also says that some varieties of pears will actually turn just a little bit lighter as it gets closer to eating time. That is if you choose to eat your pears rather than drink ‘em…

Draper Girls sell a mean pear cider that is truly something to write home about. Many of us have had their samples of apple cider at the Saturday PSU market, but when pears are in season apple cider better watch out. Sweet and juicy, pear cider delivers the classic sweet-tart goodness of traditional apple cider, but with a sassy this-has-got-to-be-bad-for-you kick.

Imagine pear cider as apple cider, in a red dress and heels.

Wherever you once used apples, you can now use pears: pear sauce, pear pie, and my most recent addition to Sunday morning pancakes, spiced pear compote with cinnamon and ginger. Just chop up some ripe, peeled pears and sauté them over medium heat with cinnamon, sugar, powdered ginger, and a tiny bit of butter for good measure. Your pancakes will never be the same.

And maybe this year, you can let the pears be the center of attention at your fall table. After all, we all need a little time in the spotlight to really shine.