Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Have You Tried... Perry Pears?

Thought to be descended from wild hybrids, or "wildings," perry pears are the fruit of pear trees found primarily in the west of England.

Higher in tannin and acid than most eating or cooking pears, perry pears are also generally smaller.

There were once over 100 varieties of perry pears in Gloucestershire alone, with picturesque names like Red Huffcap, Merrylegs, Mumblehead, Stinking Bishop, Hartpury Green, Bosbury Scarlet and Bartestree Squash. Sadly, many of these have become endangered or lost.

"Perry, which is made from the pure juice of the perry pear, is one of the oldest fermented drinks in Britain and the tree one of Britains most venerable growths," writes John L. Jones in Crafts From The Countryside.

Unlike apple cider, which is usually made from a mix of apple varieties, vintage perry is made from the fruit of a single variety of perry pear. The quality of perry, consequently is critically dependent on the variety it is made from and the quality of soil in which the trees are growing.

"The optimum stage for milling and pressing varies from variety to variety and one of the reasons for the quality of some farmhouse perry was, undoubtedly, that the farmer could get to know his individual trees as well as he knew his cows. With this knowledge, he could mill and press his pears when the fruit was 'vintage ripe,' a much more limited period than that of cider apples which can hang about for weeks. In this respect, farmhouse perry making, based on individually known trees and varieties, was perhaps the nearest English equivalent to the winemaking skills of France."

Perry pear trees often live to a great age with considerable height and very large canopies. They can be fully productive for 250 years.

"The perry pear is unique in its resistance to the trials with which other fruit varieties are beset in old age. Those in Gloucestershire span the generations like parish records, and there is no denying the old saying that, 'he who planteth perry peats truly planeth for his heirs.'"

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