Friday, October 21, 2011


Pear season in Oregon; treasured fruit from cultures both past and present. Sensual in ways both culinary and visual; pears are crunchy and suave, juicy and fragrant, luxurious yet simple. They have been prized and cultivated by Northern cultures, primarily because they are one of the few tree-born (apples, of course being the other) fruits that thrive in cooler climates. From Scandanavia, through Northern China (the People's Republic of China is the largest producer of pears in the world) and Japan and across into the Northern states of the US, pears are grown and loved for their versatility.

Although I have grown to love pears, it is something that has happened mostly in the second half of my life, a bit like beets. When I was very young pears meant that either I was hiding from friends in the pear orchards near where I grew up, dodging the rotting, sweetly pungent, yellow-jacket covered fruit as it lay on the ground; or, my mother was serving them from a can, alongside cottage cheese, as an alternative to a green salad next to our dinner. Neither of those experiences did a lot to enhance a childhood love of pears. The part of the East Bay in Northern California in which I spent my youth, the Lafayette-Moraga area, was a prime pear growing region up into the 1950's, shipping thousands of pounds of pears a year back to the East Coast, but property and houses proved far more lucrative. Where there were once thousands of pear trees, there are now hundreds of million dollar-plus homes.

Here in Oregon, the pear is the State Fruit, and while the two main growing regions are Hood River to the north and the Rogue River Valley to the south, here in the Willamette Valley they do produce quite a large crop of the Pear that Oregon is known for, the Bartlett. It is red and green and irresistibly juicy. The Bartlett is a huge canning pear and the one that you see in those Harry and David fruit ads where they advertise "pears so juicy you can eat them with a spoon", or something like that. Fewer, but also wonderful are my favorite, Bosc's; brownish-gold skinned, firm, flavorful, and elegant. The Bartlett has the juice, but the Bosc has the crunch.

It was clear that in doing what I do I would connect with pears on one level or another and it was when I first tasted an ethereal pear-almond tart at Chez Panisse that I realized what I had been missing. And I credit Mark Miller when I worked with him at the 4th St. Grill in Berkeley for showing me the wonders of the Comice pear. But pears remained mostly a pastry item in my world, despite my working with chefs like Bob Kinkead at the Harvest in Massachusetts who introduced me to those damn tiny tasteless Seckel pears that he made us peel and serve with pork.

I finally reached an understanding of how pears could work in savory dishes when I began grilling and roasting them to serve in both salads and alongside meats and poultry. As with almost any fruit of vegetable, the grill serves to concentrate the flavors and/or sugars in pears and kicks their flavor to another level, one that can stand up to the rich flavors in reduction sauces. One of the dishes I created was a Roasted Guinea Fowl Breast with Roasted Pears and Thyme that I served with a rich Sauvignon Blanc-poultry stock reduction sauce with braised greens and soft polenta. The flavors of the pear proved so complimentary to the bird and the roasted stock and really helped to make the dish.

Pears had been off my radar for quite some time while I was in Costa Rica (go figure), although one does see pears from Chile in the markets occasionally. It wasn't until I got a care package from Kathy last winter just before Christmas that had several bags of dried pears in it that I had even thought of them. What a revelation! They were like candy; sweet and chewy, with just enough of that elusive minerally tang that the fruit is famous for.

So this Fall, at my urging (and because her entire family loves them) she has become the Queen of Dried Pears yet again. She has already peeled, sliced and dried an entire lug (42#) of Bartletts and is working her way through a lug of Boscs. I loved the Bartletts last year, but this year realize that the Boscs seem to have even a richer, deeper concentration of flavor. When Kathy gets bored with the drying process she has been vacuum packing and freezing fresh wedges of peeled pear after dipping them in a bit of sweetened acidulated water.

I, on the other hand, am working on my pear chutney recipes, trying roasted, poached and grilled pears for different flavor and texture feels and flavors. I have a tasting this week for a prospective catering client and am going to serve he and his party a cider-marinated pork tenderloin topped with pear chutney. This is the recipe I will use:


6 Bosc Pears, peeled and cut in 1/2" cubes; tossed in lemon juice and sugar;

1 Red Onion, peeled and cut in 1/4" dice
I Red Bell Pepper, cut in 1/4" dice
1 1" piece fresh Ginger; peeled and grated
1/4 Jalapeno Chile, seeded and cut in very fine dice
1/4 Cup Golden Raisins (or for the holiday, Dried Cranberries) plumped in white wine
1 Cinnamon Stick
4 Whole Cloves
Pinch of freshly ground Cumin
Pinch of freshly ground Nutmeg;
1/2 Cup White Wine Vinegar
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
Juice of 1 Lemon

Bring vinegar, brown sugar and lemon juice to a boil (this chutney base is called a "gastrique") and add all ingredients except the pears. Cook for five minutes, or until the vegetables have softened but not lost their color. Turn off the heat and stir in the cubed pears. Let cool and pack in glass jars. This chutney will hold in the refrigerator for several weeks and is delicious on pork or roast fowl and also on turkey sandwiches (!).


And as no writing about pears would be complete without a recipe for a pear tart, here is one that my sister, Barbara, has used over the years. It originally appeared in Cook's Illustrated.
I am particularly fond of this recipe as it combines pears with one of their most natural and traditional complimentary flavors, almonds. This recipe although lengthy, is actually quite simple and so very, very delicious.

Not all pear tart recipes begin by poaching the pears, but a significant number of them do. You can decide for yourself what you like, but here is a basic poaching recipe for pears for this and other desserts. These pears sliced, by themselves, are delicious over ice cream, and the poaching liquid, if reduced to syrupy consistency is, as well.


6 Peeled, halved and cored pears; Bosc or Bartlett;

1 Bottle of White Wine (I like Sauvignon Blanc)
1 Cinnamon Stick
4 Whole Cloves
2/3 Cup White Sugar
1" Segment of Vanilla Bean, split and seeds scraped into liquid
10-12 Black Peppercorns
Pinch Salt
Juice+Zest of 2 Lemons

Add all ingredients to a non-corrosive sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes. Place pears gently into poaching liquid and return heat to just short of a boil. Reduce yet again, and simmer pears until the can be pierced easily with a wooden skewer, but are not falling apart. Turn the heat off under the pan and allow the pears to cool in the poaching liquid.

This recipe calls for a classic Pate Sucree, or Pastry Dough, that incorporates egg, cream and sugar into a basic flour and butter mixture.


1 Large Egg Yolk
2 TBS Heavy Cream
1/2 Tsp Good Quality Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3/4 Cup Powdered Sugar
Pinch of Salt
1 1/4 Cubes of Unsalted Butter, very cold, cut into 1/2" cubes

Whisk together the egg yolk, cream and vanilla. Place dry ingredients in food processor and pulse briefly to bring together. Scatter the butter chunks over the mixed dry ingredients and pulse the processor several times (up to 20) to incorporate the butter into the mix. With the motor running pour in the wet ingredients and run machine for 12 seconds. Turn the dough out on to plastic wrap, form into a disc, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour (or more if necessary).


4 Oz. Blanched Slivered Almonds
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
Pinch Salt
1 Egg
1 Egg White
1/2 Tsp Good Vanilla Extract
1/2 Tsp Almond Extract
6 TBS Unsalted Butter, cut into 6 pieces, at room temperature

Pulse the almonds, sugar and salt in a food processor until powdered. Add the egg and egg yolk and the extracts and process. Add the butter in chunks and process until smooth. Scrape out into a bowl. Refrigerate if you are not going to use immediately.


Remove pastry from refrigerator and roll out to about 12 inches. Lay over the top of a fluted tart pan and press the pastry down into it. Cover the filled tart pan with clear wrap and freeze for 30 minutes. Spray a sheet of foil with "non-stick" food spray, or brush it with cooking oil and lay it over the pastry. Fill the foil with rice or dried beans and bake at 375 for 20 minutes, rotating once. Remove from oven to cooling rack, gently remove foil and weights and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

If you have refrigerated your Frangipane, remove it from the refrigerator and whisk it a few times to soften it. Using a palette knife or a small plastic spatula, spread the Frangipane evenly and gently over the bottom of the tart shell.

Remove the pears from their poaching liquid and dry them very well on paper towels. Either slice them and lay them in a nice pattern on top of the tart; or, lay the whole pears on the filling, slice them and gently press them into place on top of the tart.

Lower the over temperature to 350 and put the tart in the oven on a baking sheet. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the crust is puffed, brown and crisp to the touch. Allow to cool on the baking sheet. If you wish to glaze the tart, heat about a 1/4 cup of a clear jam like apple until it liquifies and brush it gently over the top of the pears.

Allow the tart to cool for two hours. If you have used a ringed tart pan, remove the outer ring at this point, cut the tart into wedges and serve.

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Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me

This words below are from our website describing La Cusinga.  The story, however is much deeper and much richer than these introductory words can describe.  La Cusinga represents a noble and successful effort to preserve this section of unspoiled coast and to keep it alive as a model of what true ecology can accomplish.  The dreams and visions of John Tresemer, the owner of La Cusinga and the Finca Tres Hermanas that surrounds it, have been realized here in what is a true example for all who would preserve and protect what remains of this, or any natural wonder. 

La Cusinga 
La Cusinga Lodge is a coastal rainforest eco lodge dedicated to marine and terrestrial conservation and environmental education. Its location on the southern Pacific coast provides guests with sweeping ocean views and a relaxing beach vacation. In addition La Cusinga is part of a private nature reserve that supplies the visitor with an unparalleled look at Costa Rican wildlife and rainforest. The reserve consists primarily of 250 hectares of virgin rainforest that borders thousands of more acres of privately protected forest. On Costa Rica’s still wild south-western Pacific coast, La Cusinga Lodge borders Ballena Marine National Park which was developed to protect the humpback whales that frequent the coast. La Cusinga Lodge was established in order to share the unique site with Costa Ricans as well as international visitors. Besides getting exposure to rural Costa Rican culture and beautiful vistas, visitors have access to highly prolific areas of primary tropical rainforest and unspoiled coast, all conveniently accessible. 

i returned to La Cusinga this past January, 2009, with a dream in mind.  I wanted to create a cuisine for our guests that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here.  I knew from having previously lived in Costa Rica for over two years that there were organic farmers and that sustainable agriculture was being practiced, but at that time it had been limited in its scope as well as its distribution.  

My first steps upon returning were toward the local Feria to seek out and communicate my ideas with the growers and vendors who could provide me with a local, organic and sustainable product.  The fertile valleys of San Isidro that lie over the coastal mountains and to the Northeast of our Pacific location are rich and productive but are only now exploring the potential that they hold.  

I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would recreate (or perhaps, create) a new cuisine of Coastal Costa Rica.  I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the  relationships that I believe will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level
Organic farming is a new and not heavily supported concept in our part of Costa Rica.  It is a brave step for farmers to make, as local communities of both growers and consumers have never placed, or not known to place, an importance on farming organically and sustainably.  I feel a responsibility as a Chef here to be at the forefront of those encouraging and supporting these pioneers  

I came to La Cusinga almost three years ago not knowing what to expect.  My first time through here was characterized by a lack of understanding and appreciation on my part as well as an inability to recognize or connect with the local "flavor" that would make for a coherent package for out guests.  I now feel as if I have made a "connect" with the property and the vision.  I am not completely satisfied and hopefully, never will be, until we are able to produce, right here at La Cusinga, the greater share of the produce we serve.  However, the groundwork has been laid with local farmers and the availability and quality of organic produce is impressive.

Now at La Cusinga I serve a variety of organic lettuces and braising greens.  My salads include wedges or slices of rich red tomatoes as well as sweet !00 and yellow pear cherry tomatoes.  I roast organic beets and marinate them in balsamic vinegar to be served alongside the lettuces and topped with a locally made organic goat cheese.

My soups are made from roasted and steamed local organic vegetables and tiny organic yellow creamer potatoes have found their way onto my plates, nestled against filets of locally caught fish.
I am now using a local organic cocoa powder that still contains the nuggets of cocoa butter unlike the fined cocoa powder in the markets.

And better still, I am able to use palmito (hearts of palm), ginger, cilantro and its sawtooth leafed cousin culantro coyote, mangoes, hot and sweet chiles, mandarina limes and yucca root from our own Finca Tres Hermanas to serve in my dining room at La Cusinga.   The connection from jungle and farm to table is evolving.  May it continue to grow.