Pairing with Pears

By Mark Stock

The scene just south of Hood River on Highway 35—after barreling down Mt. Hood’s densely forested east side—is a classic illustration. In the pre-harvest period of late August and early September, the countless shades of green and ballooning fruit trees make the ideal visual accompaniment to the first page of a fable, which always begins “Once upon a time…”

This time, like many times before, fruit bins are stacked 20 stories high, guarding the bursting crop of neighboring pears and creating an agricultural skyline, inhabited—at least at the moment—by quiet anticipation. Growing heavier every day, the first pear will likely have already fallen by the time you read this. And as “fresh produce” signs dot Oregon’s many country roads, you should read them as follows: Grab your corkscrew, there’s wine pairing to be done.

Past Meets Present

If laid down end-to-end, the line of pears Oregon produces every year would wrap around the globe twice. The pear is our state fruit, our number one tree fruit crop and our tenth largest agricultural crop, according to the State of Oregon. Like many wine varietals, Oregon pears long for volcanic soils, abundant precipitation and cool nighttime temperatures. Hence, many orchardists—carrying on a tradition that dates back to the early 1800s—are trying out a new type of farming by winegrowing in these lush pockets.

In the pear and wine relationship, some have gone straight to the core.  Oregon wineries like Honeywood and Pheasant Valley make pear wines, a classic notion made popular in the early days of Northwest fermentation when settlers were looking for something to warm their nights as winter came knocking.

For the scientifically curious, pears provide the perfect ingredient for a first batch of basement fruit wine. Though surely a far cry from anything produced professionally, with a few tools (rubber bin, carboy, yeast, pears) one can make up a palatable batch of wine out of excess fruit from your neighborhood pear tree. If nothing else, you’ll come away with the satisfaction of consuming something you created.

On the Grill

There’s no rule that says fruit can’t be grilled. If there is, it was written to be broken. Grilled pear slices top pork chops beautifully and beg for a dry, slightly chilled Pinot Gris. Go Euro and try pear and cheese for dessert. Halving the pairs and removing the pit creates a natural bowl an intrepid individual can fill—after grilling—with any combination of gorgonzola, honey, toasted walnuts or blue cheese. It’s aesthetically pleasing and plays off a sweeter Pinot Gris excellently (look for a bottle with a bit more residual sugar).

Red Wine

A pear’s natural crispness and sweetness send it straight to white wine territory, but that’s not to say there’s no detour towards the reds. Perhaps the quickest route is by way of chutney, which if given enough kick via raisins, herbs and onions, can equip ham or lamb to share the table with a 2007 Oregon Pinot Noir. Most Pinot might overwhelm, but the ’07 vintage continues to show finesse, redder fruit and noticeable tannins—all friends of chutney.  And chutney keeps like wine, especially in an airtight mason jar in the fridge.  Keep it on hand as a condiment for lunch or pack it for a picnic with crackers, cheese and a dry Riesling.


A classic gastronomical role for pears is poached.  The fruit swims in white wine, absorbing flavor and maintaining its tenderness. Add cloves or other spices for a savory touch, especially if pairing with something a little more herbal, like a Gewürztraminer or a Viognier. Syrupy, honey-like late harvest dessert wines fair extremely well with poached pairs, especially Pinot Gris and Muscat. The only thing more attractive than poached pears is how they taste. Remember to use a heartier skinned pear like Bosc to keep the juice locked in. The first cut is a forkful of delicious autumn and the buttery texture is utterly and uniquely pear.

Like winegrapes, pears run the gamut in size, color and flavor. From the bite-sized Seckel to the scarlet skin of the Starkrimson, each pear bears its own personality; a personality that can only be accentuated with the addition of a partnering wine. ◊

Mark Stock, a Gonzaga University grad, is a Portland-based freelance writer and photographer with a knack for all things Oregon.

Pear Recipes

Oregon Wine Press asked three esteemed chefs—Michael Hendrickson of Bonneville Hot Springs Resort in North Bonneville, Wash., Jennifer Cato of Delicate Palate Bistro in Pacific City and Damon Jones of Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine in Ashland—to create a pear recipe and pair it with an Oregon wine. Enjoy!

Maple-Brined Crown Roast Chop with Pear Chutney, Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Rainbow Chard

Recipe by Chef Michael Hendrickson of Bonneville Hot Springs Resort & Spa

Pair with 2006 Westrey Willamette Valley Chardonnay


4 double bone 8-ounce crown roast chops, bone-in (see your butcher)
3 local ripe pears
1¾ pounds organic fingerling potatoes
1 bunch of rainbow chard
3 minced shallots
1 cup minced white onion
½ cup minced garlic
6 ounces pancetta or pepper bacon
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 tablespoon whole mustard seed
1 tablespoon garam masala
¾ cup rice vinegar
1½ cups brown sugar
1 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup kosher salt
¾ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
½ cup red table wine

Maple Brine

3 quarts water
1 cup maple syrup
¾ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup kosher salt

1. Place ingredients in a bowl, whisk until sugar and salt dissolve. Place chops in a pan and pour brine over them; brine for 24 hours. When cooking chops, season with salt and pepper, mark on the grill and finish in the oven for at 350°F for 22 minutes. Or sear in a pan, and finish in the oven at 350°F for 22 minutes.

Pear Chutney

3 pears peeled, cored, small dice
1 cup minced white onion
1 minced shallot
1 tablespoon whole mustard seed
1  tablespoon garam masala
¾ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
¾ cup brown sugar

2. Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, add onions and shallots; sweat for 4 minutes. Add mustard seeds, garam masala and pears. Sauté for 2 minutes. Deglaze with rice vinegar and add brown sugar. Reduce until thickened and pears are tender.

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

1¾ pounds washed potatoes
½ cup minced garlic
2 sprigs finely chopped rosemary
¼ cup olive oil

3. Combine ingredients in a bowl and toss, place on a sprayed sheet pan and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes; set your timer for 15 minutes and half way through baking, turn potatoes so they cook evenly.

Rainbow Chard

1 bunch washed chard
2 minced shallots
6 ounces pancetta
¾ cup olive oil
1 ounce balsamic vinegar
½ cup red table wine

4. In a sauté pan over medium heat, add olive oil and render the pancetta; once the pancetta in crisp and brown, add shallots and sauté for 1 minute; then add the chard and sauté for 2 minutes. Deglaze with balsamic and red wine, reduce and then remove from heat and serve. Serves four.

Bosc Pear, Oregonzola, Candied Walnuts on Belgian Endive Boats

Recipe by Chef Jennifer Cato of Delicate Palate Bistro in Pacific City

Pair with 2008 Siltstone Pinot Gris, Guadalupe Vineyard

1 Oregon Bosc pear, diced
½ cup Oregonzola cheese (Rogue Creamery), crumbled
½ cup minced red onion
¾ cup chopped candied walnuts
3 tablespoons Champagne Vinigrette
1 head of golden endive, divided into leaves

1. Combine all ingredients in bowl, mix and spoon into endive leaves. Makes 12 to 15 portions.

Cranberry-Pear Pie

Recipe by Chef Damon Jones of Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine in Ashland

Pair with 2008 Cowhorn Viognier, Applegate Valley

1 pie crust (use a favorite recipe for a 9-inch pie)
8–9 pounds pears, firm but ripe (3½–4 pounds)
2½ cups fresh or frozen unsweetened cranberries (7 ounces)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon flour

Streusel Topping

1 stick unsalted butter, cool but still somewhat firm
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

1. Peel, halve, core and stem pears the entire length of the fruit. Cut each pear half in 5 to 6 wedges, depending on their size. Transfer pears to a large bowl. Pick through cranberries and discard any that have begun to turn a translucent brown color. Add cleaned cranberries to the pears in the bowl. Sprinkle cinnamon, allspice, sugar, salt and lemon juice over the fruit and toss to distribute. Allow this mixture to rest at room temperature for a minimum of 30 minutes and maximum of 3 hours. (This would be a good time to make the pie crust and/or streusel). 2. After the minimum 30 minutes, transfer the fruit mixture to a colander with a second large bowl beneath it to catch the juices. When at least 6 tablespoons of juices have collected in the bowl, turn the fruit mixture once more to collect any liquid that may have become trapped, and allow to drain through. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. 3. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, add the fruit liquid and the butter. Boil down this mixture, without stirring, to approximately ½ cup or until it is syrupy and lightly caramelized. Meanwhile, transfer the pear-cranberry mix to one of the large bowls and toss with the cornstarch. Pour the hot syrup over the fruit, tossing gently. (Don’t worry if the caramel hardens and sticks to the fruit; it will liquefy during the baking process). 4. Roll out and prepare the piecrust in the pie pan. Add the fruit, then sprinkle with the streusel topping (see below), pressing it down slightly to make sure it is resting securely on top of the pie. Arrange the pie on a baking pan lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Place an oven rack within the lowest third of the oven. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the thickened juices are bubbling through the top of the pie and the pears feel tender but not mushy when pierced with a sharp knife. If the crust and streusel begin to brown faster than the pie is done, wrap a piece of foil over the pie, with a 1-inch hole cut in the top to allow steam to escape.

Streusel Topping Technique

1. Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes. Place the flour, brown sugar and salt in a medium bowl and whisk, or stir with a fork, to distribute the ingredients evenly. With your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until all of the mix has become taken up and there is no dryness. The streusel should remain fairly loose, however, with no pieces bigger than the size of a marble. If it becomes too homogenized into one lump, refrigerate it until you can break up the streusel with your fingers. 

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