Forest Floor-roasted Pears and Putting The Ground (and ourselves) To Rest
Right now is the chance to say goodbye to our forest floor before the snows hit, and I have the perfect recipe to celebrate the terroir of this moment: roasted pears with honey, whipped cream, and alder salt.
For those of you wondering what “terroir” means, it’s an explanation of everything that gives something its particular flavor. It’s often used in describing fine wine and encompasses everything that makes that wine the way it is, from the geology of the soil to the climate the grapes were raised in to the culinary traditions of the maker. I like to think of it as a snapshot of time and place. In this case, the forest floor right before a snow.
Yes, you read that right: we’re using flavors from the forest floor to roast our pears, and they’re going to be delicious. This is a technique I learned from fellow wildcrafter Pascal Baudar, who uses it to cook delicious meat dishes. I think it is equally lovely when used in a more gentle manner with fruits! This recipe is not for the novice forager; you need to have an understanding of the plants you are using for this recipe. Are they edible? Non-toxic? Strongly flavored? With Pascal’s recipe, you can use some stronger flavored wild edibles like white sage but this recipe calls for more delicate herbs. I used wild mint, lungwort, oak moss lichen, lemon balm, and a bit of grass. I would highly recommend creating your own mixture out of the plants that grow around you, just keep in mind to use sweet herbs and gentle flavors and steer clear of anything toxic.
Before you begin your walk, grab a basket, some scissors, a wild plants guide if you’d like one, and some wildflower seeds. Head out into your local landscape and take a moment to just breathe in the complexity of scents that surround you. Does it smell damp? Wet? Cold? Can you pick out any specific plant scents from the overall smell of late fall? With this scent awareness, continue moving through your space, stopping regularly to sniff things. Even if they are things you aren’t familiar with, give them a sniff and consider what they smell like. They might inform other spices you’ll want to add to your blend. For example, many fall mushrooms have a slight anise smell, so you could add wild fennel from your pantry to pay homage to that scent without using the mushrooms themselves. Mindfully gather your ingredients as you come across them, thanking the earth for sharing this contribution with you. Every now and then sniff what is in your basket and consider what you might need to add to round out the complexity of scents. Each time you pick something, hold the awareness of the earth energy flowing through it. You may leave a little offering of thanks by sprinkling some local wildflower seeds as you go. Give yourself plenty of time to just wander, getting lost in the present moment and your newfound focus on smell. Isn’t it a lovely lens to see the world through? Are you noticing things you might not have noticed otherwise? Once you feel as though your blend is done and you are ready to head home, give one last thank you to the land that is offering you such nourishment. Remember that even when it is blanketed by snow, it is still teeming with life: seeds slowly germinating, mycelium spreading, and roots sinking deeper to power up and burst forth in the spring. Though winters in the Northwest can seem long, we are never too far from the energy of the earth. That is certainly a worthy cause for celebration.
forest floor blend (above)
ripe fresh pears
smoked salt (I used alder-smoked)
- Place your forest floor blend in the bottom of an oven-safe pot with a lid. Add a bit of water to the bottom - about 1” or so. The pear (s) will sit on top of the herbs.
- Preheat the oven to 350F and place the pot inside, covered. Let bake for about 20 minutes, then check the done-ness of the pears. If they are soft but not mushy, pull them out. If they aren’t soft yet, let them cook for a few more moments.
- When the pears are fragrant and slightly soft, pull them out of the oven and place on a plate to cool.
- Serve by slicing them into wedges, drizzling them with honey, and sprinkling them with smoked salt. A little whipped cream really seals the deal.
Doesn’t this recipe taste extra special knowing that you delicately crafted the seasoning blend yourself out of an awareness for space and time and season? I think these juicy roasted pears are far more precious because of the terroir that went into them. As you savor your hard-earned dessert, envision the nourishment of those damp fall woods filling you with warm light. Picture yourself slowing down a little like those plants and preparing yourself for rest in the long nights ahead. With the busy holiday season coming it is far too easy to get caught up in the chaotic pace our society sets for us this time of year, but if you possibly can slow down, do. It is natural to be a little more restful right now. Allow yourself to show yourself kindness by getting more in-tune with the energy of the season.
I had an interesting conversation about perfectionism the other day. Perhaps many of you also fall into the trap where you want things to be perfect, exactly how you envisioned them. You want every gift to be handmade and beautifully wrapped, every meal to be perfect down to every little side dish, every outfit for every holiday party to be unique and glamorous and fashionable. We expect a lot of ourselves, don’t we? But there is a cost to that perfection: our happiness, our health, and our relationships.
If we are so busy being caught up in the vision of how things *should* be, we forget to enjoy things as they are. Your family won’t notice or care if your gifts to them aren’t as elaborate as you envision, but they will notice if you disappear during family time to finish them and return stressed and distant. This holiday season, I want to give you the best gift of all: permission to dismiss that perfectionism. It’s a hard gift to accept (and one I most certainly will struggle with as well), but I promise you will have a more fulfilling winter if you’re able to let go, just a little. Give yourself permission to go on that long walk in the woods gathering materials for this dish. Maybe even invite a loved one to join you - you’ll have a great time sniffing things together! And what a beautiful gift to give them too: your presence and company in the great outdoors, together appreciating the beauty that surrounds you. Absolutely magical.
As always, if you like what I do and want to see more, please consider supporting me on my patreon page. Even $1 a month helps!