On the far Northeast side of The Sea Ranch—just past The Chapel—lies a large meadow. The area is relatively flat with a few scattered outcroppings of rocks dotting the landscape amongst the pervasive fields of wild grasses. On this meadow’s Southern edge are two of The Sea Ranch’s most unusual residents: a pair of pear trees.
As far as I am aware, no one tends to these two trees at all anymore. They stand as the sole reminders of a farm and orchard that were here well over a hundred years ago. One of the pear trees doesn’t appear to be long for this world—but they both still produce fruit. The pears they produce are small and without much flesh, but what flesh there is can be extremely flavorful when ripe.
The outskirts of this same meadow are thick with an altogether different tree: the majestic Madrone. Able to grow wriggling and wild—and sometimes to towering heights—this type of tree can produce flavorful berries that ripen in Winter and unusual, paper-thin bark that tastes reminiscent of a funkier take on cinnamon. However, this time I’m more concerned with some of the Madrone’s thinner branches.
As you’ll see in the recipe below, the Madrone branches will get a quick roast in the oven and then will be used for a secondary infusion which will impart the illusion of barrel aging the primary, or Pear, infusion. It’s a swell technique that could be used with any number of vodka infusions or even soup broths or dashi. Of course, you’re completely free to skip the secondary, Madrone branch infusion…There is nothing wrong at all with having a straight up pear-infused vodka around for sipping with friends.
Feral Pear and Roasted Madrone Branch Infused Vodka
PREP TIME: 30 MINUTES ● INFUSION TIME: APPROXIMATELY 2 WEEKS (TIME WILL VARY)
- 750ml Vodka
- Roughly ½ pound of pears
- 5 small Madrone branches
- Thoroughly sterilize your jar and lid in boiling water.
- If you have not already done so, clean your pears thoroughly, then quarter and core them. Place them into a widemouth jar, then cover them with as much vodka as you can—but be sure to leave at least a one inch gap at the top.
- Place your fermentation weight in the jar to keep the fruit fully submerged and to prevent oxidation from ruining your pears.
- Infuse in a cool, dark place for roughly a week and a half. When ready, you should notice a difference in coloration and the aroma of pears should be evident.
- Remove the fermentation weight and strain through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Return only the infused vodka back into the same wide mouth jar. Get ready to prepare your Madrone branches.
- Preheat your oven to 450°.
- Take a large sheet of tinfoil and create a loosely shaped packet to accommodate your branches. Place your branches into the tinfoil packet and put them into the pre-heated oven. Cook until toasted—approximately 10-15 minutes, or until you notice their unmistakable aroma. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- When they are cool enough to handle, break your Madrone branches into manageable sized bits by hand—making sure that they’ll fit squarely under the vodka fill line.
- Place them into the widemouth jar, along with the previously pear infused vodka and infuse in a cool, dark place for only a day or two—being sure to taste often. The flavor that roasted Madrone will impart can become predominant quickly and can overwhelm any flavor from the previous infusion.
- Strain through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth and enjoy.
- Store in a cool, dry place tightly sealed. When stored properly, your infusion can last for several weeks.
Don’t sweat it if you can’t just happen upon an over 100 year old pear tree while out on a hike like I did—store bought pairs will do just fine. If I were going that route, I’d look for the best Bosc or Comice pears I could get my hands on.