Pear variations

Local flavors gain a regional seasoning at this weekend's festival

Any way you slice it, the Hood River Pear and Wine Festival will serve up something for all tastes this weekend.

The festival returns to Hood River Friday through Sunday after a one-year hiatus, with more than 75 vendors of food, wine, and art, in a taste extravaganza at Hood River Expo Center.

Presenting pear recipes will be chefs and food experts from around the western United States, including Hood River’s own Billie Stevens, Oregon State University Extension Service agent. On Sunday at the Expo Center, Stevens will demonstrate canning and drying pears.

“Pears are good for us,” Stevens said. “They’re good to eat, they’re not expensive, and they’re grown right here in the Hood River Valley.” The festival will focus on locally-produced pears and wines, but vendors are coming in from throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Stevens sees her talk as a chance to inform people about how to select, purchase, and store pears, in addition to safe canning and innovative ways to dry the fruit.

“Canning is like a science — you’ve got to follow the process pretty closely,” she said. “Drying is more of an art — people like to share ideas about how to do it.” Stevens said she’ll be there to learn, too. She’s recently experimented with pre-treating sliced pears with fruit juices, and wants other peoples’ ideas about drying.

Sharing and learning will be keys to the entire festival, with its tours and demonstrations, and sampling of variations on pears, wine, and other food.

The festival itself has been in a state of flux for two years. The Hood River Chamber of Commerce ran the festival for the first two years, then in 2000 asked the Fruit Loop to take it on, according to Kaye White, Fruit Loop director. No festival was held in 2001, but the Fruit Loop spent the year fertilizing the field.

Because of the hiatus, “We knew we were going to have to have a really strong event,” White said. “We’ve brought in top chefs and top vendors. They’re like building blocks: you start at bottom, have a good foundation and build on that.

“We had the luxury of having over a year to plan it,” White said.

White said the “solid foundation” is partnerships with the Pear Bureau NW, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon Tourism Commission, Hood River Chamber of Commerce and Hood River Growers Association.

“The group was able to recruit some of Portland’s best chefs, creating a schedule of cooking demonstrations destined to be popular with festival visitors,” White said.

According to White, “What’s really exciting is the financial support that we have received from the Chamber of Commerce and business community. This winter, the Hood River Chamber’s Visitor Council voted to allocate $5,000 toward the expenses of bringing the media into the valley for two days.

“Chevalla Lopez at the Columbia Gorge Hotel pretty much got the sponsorship ball rolling with local businesses when they came on board as a Gold Sponsor,” according to White. Silver sponsors Q104, Columbia River Bank and Hood River Chrysler Dodge Jeep also have expressed a strong desire to promote Hood River agriculture.

Bronze sponsors include Diamond Fruit Growers, Underwood Fruit, Duckwall-Pooley, Stadelman’s and Professional Business Solutions. “These sponsorships are critical to raising the funds necessary to bring in the media and hold an event of this caliber,” White said.

The official festival program is included in this issue of the Hood River News. All Hood River Pear and Wine Festival events will be inside the Expo Center on the Hood River waterfront. Admission is $5 per day, or $10 for a three-day pass. To order tickets in advance call 386-7697. Friday is community night, from 3-8 p.m; The Golden Pear Wine Award will be presented at 4 p.m. A free shuttle will carry clients from area motels, so those who wish a few extra samples can avoid drinking and driving, White said.

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