Under the snowy gaze of Mt. Hood, the orchards of the Hood River Valley burst with fruit in the fall when tree boughs grow heavy with heirloom varieties of apples and pears. Some of these are perfect for cider making and pies. Others are destined for the kitchen at Nora’s Table in Hood River, where Chef Kathy Watson presides.
Before she opened the restaurant, Watson grew up in a foodie family. “We had our own chickens; we had our own goats; we had bees for honey. We cooked from what grew around us,” she says.
She finds some of the choicest fruit around the area at Kiyokawa Family Orchards in Parkdale, just south of Hood River. Japanese-American Randy Kiyokawa, a third-generation orchardist, oversees operations at his family’s farm, which was established in 1911. “The Hood River Valley is such a unique area. People think of it as an apple growing district, but mainly we grow pears,” Kiyokawa says.
Strolling through the orchard with Kiyokawa, Watson gets a taste of just ripened fruit. “The great thing about pears for me, from a chef’s perspective, is that you get such a different taste from them, depending on the variety, Waston says. “The comice, I think, is my favorite because it has that tart sweetness to it.”
Back in the kitchen at Nora’s Table, Watson uses Kiyokawa comice pears in a fall dish paired with chanterelle mushrooms and fresh caught fish. “It’s my opportunity now to take all of that passion from my childhood and bring the bounty of Oregon to the tables in our restaurant,” she says.
Explore more: Get to know the Columbia River Gorge, one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon. Take a seat at Nora’s Table (named the best fine dining spot by The Oregonian in 2014) and enjoy Watson’s cuisine as well as a wine list devoted exclusively to Columbia Gorge wines. Spend the night at Sakura Ridge Farm and Lodge in Hood River with views of Mt. Hood and the orchards of the valley. Or explore more of the Hood River Fruit Loop with our Riding the Hood River Valley itinerary.