Have A Very Peary Christmas

December is not just National Shop Til You Drop Month and National Drink Too Much Punch Month and National Scramble Around Like a Madperson Month, it’s also National Pear Month. And in honor of National Pear Month, the Pear Bureau Northwest (yes, there’s a pear bureau, and you’ll want stay on its good side, hmm?) held an exquisite four-course pear lunch at Castagna today, complete with interesting pear facts, pear tips, and a delicious and ridiculously easy-to-make pear cocktail recipe from Castagna sommelier Jack Hott.

A meal at Castagna is always interesting, and today’s lunch was no exception. The first course was interactive–we were first presented with a jet black bowl cradling an arresting salad consisting of a creamy dollop of yogurt beneath cubes of Comice pear, sprigs of fresh tarragon and dill, and fennel seeds. We were then handed a translucent pouch of housemade granola enveloped in dehydrated pear, and told to tear open the packet and crumble the whole affair over the salad. So we did.


Sommelier Jack Hott, a recent Star Chefs Portland Rising Star Award recipient, dropped by the table with a trio of pear juices–Bosc, Anjou and Comice. An apt reminder that a pear not need be tarted up to be spectacular.



Next up, Chef Justin Woodward and crew sent out a pear-centric salad sculpture. A ribbon of Bartlett pear puree gently undulated over a slab of inky slate and propped up a perfect pear slice, a walnut half, and a few strategically placed greens, while over in the other corner, indigo pansy petals and vivid radicchio leaves flirted with more pear slices, a creamy daub of marrow, and a small ball of smoked Red Anjou pear. Hott’s wine pairing was a crispt 2009 Domaine du Fresche Anjou Coteaux de la Loire.



Since pork was bound to make a showing at some point, this being Portland and all, the main course was a beautiful hunk of terrifically tender pork glazed in hazelnut butter and partly shrouded with a long ribbon of pear, flanked by foam sentries and pale Japanese turnips cooked sous vide, and served with a brimming glass of Wandering Aengus Ciderworks‘ Anthem cider, made with Bartlett and Anjou pears from Hood River.


The sweet scent of dessert forcefully preceded its arrival, and although you’d think a table filled with professional eaters already stuffed full of pears and pork would be unaffected, everyone visibly perked up. We weren’t disappointed–out came another slate plate with a pear sorbet bullseye surrounded by sticky golden roast Seckel pears resting on dollops of meringue and dotted with slivered almonds and pineapple sage.

peardessertsAnd we conceded pear defeat. The End.

Just kidding, I promised you a ridiculously easy pear cocktail recipe and you’ll get it. I do NOT want to cross the Pear Bureau by making false pear pledges, especially during National Pear Month.

pearlunchcocktailAs Jack Hott explained it, you take a champagne flute, add “two fingers” of Clear Creek Pear Liqueur, fill the flute 3/4 or so full with your favorite Prosecco, and add a crisp slice of pear. Use a red pear variety like Red Anjou, Red Bartlett or Starkrimson, this makes for a beautiful contrast (which you would actually see if I were a better photographer). This is the ideal party cocktail–your guests will be exceedingly impressed, and you will have essentially done nothing.

If for some reason, someone remains unimpressed, you are going to fix that by rattling off fun pear facts. Here are some I found in the Pear Bureau Northwest’s Ultimate Guide to Pears, Cheese and Wine.

1. Late bloomers that they are, pears ripen best after they are harvested. When they are mature, they are hand-picked and sent to good homes at your local grocer’s. Now it’s up to you to finish the job. Store them at room temperature in one of the fruit bowls your mother-in-law gave you that you haven’t stuck in the Goodwill bin yet, or put them in a paper bag until they ripen. In a hurry? Stick an apple or banana in there, pears are competitive and will want to beat their new bagmate to full ripeosity.*

2. Pears are not particularly social. Sure, when it’s their time to shine in a cocktail or dish, they make great culinary partners, as evidenced above, but don’t store them with aromatic foods like onions. There’s a reason nobody has invented a pearnion.

3. How do you know when a pear is ripe? Three little words–Check The Neck. According to the Pear Bureau, “when a pear is at its peak and ready to eat, it will yield slightly to gentle pressure.” Yup, that’s right, pears are kind of easy.

4. To peel or not to peel. Eat the peel! You probably eat too much pork and marrow and need more fiber in your diet.

5. Brown pear flesh is icky, what can you do about it? Good question. Dilute lemon or lime juice with water and dip the pears in it, or if you never get to use your pastry brush, apply the juice with that.

*Possibly not the exact scientific explanation. Please check out www.usapears.org for exact facts.