Hood River is located at the base of the Columbia River, near Mt. Hood. It is about sixty miles east of Portland. As of the 2010 census, there were 7,167 people living there. About 62.9% are white, and 24.4% are Hispanic or Latino. As of the 2000 census, the per capita income is $17,609 and 17.3% live below the poverty line.
The area is known for its fruit production, specifically cherries, apples, and pears. There are several orchards and wineries set up in a large circular pattern that one can visit on the famous "Fruit Loop". Agriculture, recreational sports, and tourism have always been the three largest industries in the area, but the 1990's brought to the region several high-tech companies that helped boost the economy even more. Interesting foodie factoid: The company that makes the Tofurky, is located here.
Hood River was incorporated in 1895, but the area was settled much earlier than that. In 1805, the Hood River, the actual river, not the town, was named Labeasche River by the famed explorers, Lewis and Clark. Over time, though, the river came to be known as Dog River, named after the meat that many settlers were forced to eat in order to survive. In the end, however, it was a pioneer named Mary Coe, whose family would be one of the first to plant apple trees in the region, who managed to get the named changed to the more pleasant-sounding Hood River, named after the mountain that is its ultimate source of water.
Up until 1920, the region was known for its apple orchards, but in 1919, many of the trees were killed due to a freeze. Pear trees were planted in their place and now the region is known for that. Specifically the D'Anjou/Anjou pear. In fact, it is one of the world's largest producers of this particular species of pear.
The Food: D'Anjou Pears
I actually did not know until I researched the area that it was specifically D'Anjou pears that Hood River is known for. I knew pears, but not which kind. So, when I went to the store yesterday with the intent of buying Bartlett pears, but came away with a bag full of D'Anjou pears, it was a happy coincidence for me! Really though, it boiled down to money. Bartletts were $1.99/lb but D'Anjous were on sale for $0.99/lb. D'Anjous tent to be harder than Bartletts but one of them was rather soft and none of them were rock hard, which was good. Since they were all being cooked first, it was less important for them to be very soft. The flavor is very similar to a Bartlett, and it also has that pear "grit" mouth feel when you eat one. I chose a savory and a sweet application for them and was quite pleased with how they turned out. I found recipes from my recipe card collection, so I will write them out here, and put in any changes I made, as well as any notes.
Chicken in Pear Sauce:(Yes, I really made a pear sauce on purpose. This is a note for any of my family members who might have been around for the now infamous "pear gravy" incident at Thanksgiving many years ago...) This recipe comes from the Taste of Home magazine, August/September 2000 edition.
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
5 thick-cut bacon strips, diced (I find it much easier to dice bacon when it is almost completely frozen. It makes it less of a greasy mess to deal with. I highly recommend putting your bacon in the freezer until it's almost frozen before dicing it up.)
1 can(14.5oz) chicken broth
2-3 medium ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. cold water
1 Tbsp. dried chives(that's what I had on-hand, the recipe calls for 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives, if you have those on-hand)
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. In a skillet over medium heat, cook chicken in oil on both sides for about 10 minutes or until juices run clear. Meanwhile, in another small saute pan, cook bacon until crisp. Drain, reserving 1 Tbsp. drippings, set bacon aside.
When the chicken is mostly cooked, remove from the pan to a plate and cover with foil. Add the reserved bacon drippings to the pan and gradually stir the chicken broth in as well. Bring to a boil and stir well to loosen anything on the bottom of the pan.(This is called "deglazing", fyi...) After about 5 minutes, add the pears, and bring to a boil again. Boil, uncovered, about 5 minutes, or until the pears have softened. Combine the cornstarch and cold water, and add to the pan, whisking immediately into the liquid to keep it from gelling. Stir in the bacon bits and the chives until everything has heated through. Add the chicken back to the pan to coat on all sides.
Makes 4 servings.
This was something I was worried about. How would pear, bacon, and chicken taste together? It turns out that the answer is: Delicious. Pear isn't too far off from apple, flavor-wise, and apple and bacon is a natural combo. The chicken also had an almost smoky quality from the cooking process which blended well with the other flavors. I made steamed red potatoes and green beans for the sides. They taste good on their own but don't lend too much of a strong contrast to the other flavors. They allow the sauce and chicken to play the central flavor role in the meal. This was really good and I'd definitely make it again.
Harvest Pear Crisp with Candied Ginger (Source unknown)
1/2 cup flour
1 Tbsp. brown sugar(it calls for 1/4 cup but I cut it down to a quarter of that.)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chilled butter, but into 1/2" cubes(I actually used softened butter and it turned out fine)
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped whole raw hazelnuts(it calls for almonds, but I switched them out for hazelnuts because that is another Oregon specialty food)
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, minced
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
4 lb.(6-7) ripe pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
Topping: Whisk first four ingredients in a medium bowl. Add butter. Thoroughly incorporate butter into the flour mixture. It will resemble cookie dough. Stir in oats, nuts, and ginger. Mix until well combined. Chill while preparing the filling. Can be made one day ahead. (I actually did the filling first and then the topping and didn't chill it at all. It still turned out just fine.)
Filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk first three ingredients in the bottom of a 13"x 9" oval baking dish(You can use whatever shape you have, I just happen to have the oval one it called for). Add pears; toss. Pour the applesauce over this and mix well until all the pears are coated.(I replaced the sugar in the recipe with the applesauce. Also, apples are an Oregon ingredient, so it makes it even more appropriate to use!) Sprinkle the topping over the pear mixture. Bake until topping is crisp and golden grown, and juice is bubbling, about 50 minutes. Serve warm.
Makes 8-10 servings
I was really impressed with how this turned out. Granted, my palate is adjusted to enjoy less sweet things, so to others, this might taste bland. To me, it was very peary and sweet. Because there isn't the sugar called for in the recipe, it might not have been as juicy as it was supposed to be. Sugar tends to draw moisture out of fruit, but I still think it was really good. The topping was crunchy and flavorful. The crystallized ginger adds more sugar to the recipe, so you don't need as much sugar as it calls for, I think. It was really amazing. This could easily be served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, but I ate it just like that. Some people don't enjoy cooked fruit, but I think it's worth trying.
The D'Anjou pears turned out to be the better choice, in the end. If I'd used Bartletts, I think those would have broken down too much during the cooking and baking process and been way too mushy. I made a half batch for both the recipes I tried and they worked just fine. I would definitely make both of these again some time.
This meal made me want to go down to visit Portland again, and make a special trip over to Hood River to see the orchards in person. I might just have to do that one of these days...
Hood River History