Traditional perry pear orchards are thin on the ground these days, so it was a privilege for Orchard Origins to be invited to help with the winter pruning at Davies Meadow. This ancient pear orchard, which had fallen into neglect, forms part of a 20 acre reserve managed by the Herefordshire Nature Trust. For the last few years, the Trust has been replanting it with traditional perry pear varieties and a few dessert pears.
Swept up in the slipstream of the cider boom, Perry, the fermented beverage produced from perry pears, has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance recently. So, could perry orchards become a more familiar sight in the future?
True Perry tastes more like a delicate white wine or champagne than cider and is made solely from perry pear varieties. It bears little resemblance to its much sweeter, punchier cousin, pear cider, produced from fermented dessert pears.
There is a long tradition of Perry making in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire that goes back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The ancestors of the perry pear we have today were probably first introduced to this country by the Normans. Perry, or a perry-like drink, has been made on continental Europe for thousands of years. References to its production can be found in Greek and Roman texts.
Changing tastes and labour practices led to a dramatic decline in our own perry orchards in the second half of the twentieth century. In Gloucestershire over 75% of the orchards were lost. Perry pears take a long time to become productive – up to fifty years for some varieties – so planting a perry orchard is a long term investment. Once a perry pear reaches maturity it has exceptional yields. A 250 year old tree can still bear fruit. Hopefully, the revival in popularity of Perry bodes well for the few remaining perry pear orchards.