I had never seen such a huge box of fruit, certainly not delivered directly to my doorstep, filled to maximum capacity with exquisitely ripened pears, all carefully cushioned to ensure their unblemished arrival. It was a gift from my newly discovered birth mother, straight from the orchards that grew mere minutes away from her home in Hood River, Oregon. They appeared on my doorstep in Middletown, Connecticut, where I was living at the time, attending school for massage therapy.
Naturally, I ate a few right out of the box, but what in the world was I going to do with all the rest? Lucky for me, the pear didn’t fall far from the tree – Donna had included a simple but elegant recipe, handwritten in sharpie pen, now forever carefully preserved in my recipe binder (which is, alas, in storage at the moment or I’d include a shot of it, too). At that point I hadn’t yet gotten to spend much time with her, much less with her family and in her home, but this out-of-the-blue gift gave me an immediate, tangible connection to her life. I was consciously, keenly aware of this connection as I chopped the pears for her “Hood River Winter Fruit Salad”.
I made a double batch of Donna’s recipe and have made variations on it annually ever since. (I also made a pear almond tart, but that’s another recipe for another day.) And now, more than 10 years later, I live in Oregon myself and have two of the same kinds of trees that populated Donna’s neighboring orchards growing in my own backyard. What serendipity, eh?
So, I offer up a spin on Donna’s original, using more plums than pears, and adding a lightly sweet vinaigrette-like dressing.
Note: I went overboard with the thyme at first (nearly 2 tablespoons of fresh) and considered omitting it altogether, but as a more subtle note, I think it really works well. Practically effortless as a whole.
Donna’s Note: I love your flavorful updates, Anne! The toasted walnuts and the thyme – my mouth is watering just thinking about this tasty combination! Just to add my remembrance of the shipping of the pears: In the early days and months after our reunion in 2000, there was something very primal about my feelings of wanting to nourish you. I had missed many of your childhood meals, and I suppose in some subconscious way wanted to make up for that. Sharing recipes (and the ingredients!) allowed me to nurture and nourish you in a way that I couldn’t before. It gave me such joy to send these pears and other foods to you!
Welcome to fall, y’all.
AUTUMN FRUIT SALAD with PLUMS, DRIED CHERRIES & WALNUTS
Juice and zest of one large lemon
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced (or more if desired, but start slow)
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raw walnuts
2 cups plums, diced
1 cup pears, diced
1/2 cup dried cherries (cranberries would work well, too)
Preheat oven to 375. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice and zest, honey, thyme, walnut oil and salt. On another bowl, toss walnuts together with 3 tablespoons of the dressing, then spread over a baking sheet that has been lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Toast for about 10 minutes, shaking pan periodically, until growing fragrant and brown. Set aside to cool and crunch up.
Toss fruit together with the remaining dressing. Ideally, to preserve crunchy texture, you’ll want to wait until just before serving to combine with the nuts, so if it’s going to be a while, store them separately. Enjoy on a crisp but still sunny afternoon.
— posted by Anne