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Growing Perry Pears
   

Perry is the name given to the alcoholic drink made from pears. The process of making perry involves crushing and pressing the fruit to extract the juice, then using wild or cultivated yeasts for fermentation. The apparent similarities with cider making has led to perry sometimes being called pear cider. There are some notable differences however: unlike cider apples, the crushed pears are matured before pressing (primarily to reduce tannin levels) and the juice itself is more astringent and may contain non-fermentable sugars such as sorbitol that can impart a sweetness to perry not found in true cider.

Perry pears are significantly different from the eating and culinary varieties in that they contain much more tannin. A small number of varieties may also be suitable for cooking. Non-perry varieties are not normally used in perry making.

Perry-making dates back to Roman times and became popular in France in the centuries following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.. The production of perry in Britain pre-dates the Doomsday Book (1086). By the Sixteenth Century, perry pear orchards had been extensively planted in western counties of England and nearby parts of Wales. Perry pears have also been grown in many other European countries including Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway. The main producing region nowadays is Normandy (France).

Although fully winter-hardy, perry pears need warm summers to do well. For this reason they should only be planted on sunny sheltered sites in Ireland. However, climate change is likely to increase the viable geographical range within Ireland. Compared to most other top fruit, the trees are very long-lived and on favourable sites may produce fruit for two hundred or possibly even three hundred years. Perry pear trees planted in Much Marcle, Herefordshire, England in 1710 are still productive. Individual trees can grow very large and give enormous yields, in England the famous Holme Lacy Perry Pear (the largest perry tree ever recorded) allegedly produced over 5 tons of fruit in 1790.

 

Site selection

The basic site requirements for a perry orchard are as follows:

No air frosts after the trees begin coming into flower (usually towards the end of April)

Well drained deep fertile soil not prone to drying out with pH of 6.0 -7.0

Good shelter from the wind

Altitude under 150m

Rainfall under 1200mm per annum

Providing the site conditions listed above are met, the geographical range of perry pears in Ireland is likely to be similar to walnuts (see walnut map below), with the possible exceptions of some of the colder northern sites. However, flower damage from frost is a real risk, so valley bottoms and all other sites prone to spring frosts should be considered unsuitable. Sloping sites have a reduced risk of frost as cold air can flow off. Southerly or southeasterly aspects may be best but much depends on local conditions. Easterly aspects are likely to be slower to warm in the spring: this can sometimes be an advantage if it delays flowering till late spring frosts have passed. In certain situations (for example inland sites in the south or south-eastern parts of the country), northeasterly aspects may be suitable. Southwesterly aspects provide good solar gain but are more likely to be exposed to wind.

As with cider apples, on very sheltered sites, there can be a problem of under-ventilation, which raises humidity within the orchard and consequently increases the risk of disease.

Perry pears are generally grown on semi-vigorous or vigorous rootstocks so compared to cider apples, tree density is usually far lower. This factor, combined with the high natural resistance of the perry pear, means that the risk of disease is likely to be lower too. Wiith careful choice of site, and similarly careful selection of varieties and tree husbandry, the perry pear producer can look forward to reasonable crops most years.

Walnut map

 

Choice of rootstocks

All other things being equal, the rootstocks determine the ultimate size of the tree. The possible choices are as follows

Pyrus communis Very vigorous

Pyrus Kirchensaller Very vigorous (crops more consistant than Pyrus communis)

Pyrodwarf Vigorous

Rootstock Growth Use Staking Spacing Tolerance of wet ground Tolerance of infertile soil Resistance to woolly aphid Resistance to fireblight
Pyrus communis Very vigorous Traditional orchards, perry pears 1-2 years 8-20m Good Moderate to good Poor Very poor
Pyrus Kirchesaller Very vigorous Traditional orchards, perry pears 1-2 years 8-20m Good Moderate to good Poor
Pyrodwarf Vigorous Modern orchards, perry pears, large gardens 1-2 years 5-8m Good Moderate Moderate
               
               

In practice the Quince BA29 and Quince A rootstocks are not used much owing to incompatibility issues with many perry varieties. Only one perry variety - Winnal's Longdon - does well on a direct graft onto quince rootstock. One possible solution is to use the dessert variety Beurré Hardy as an intermediate graft. Some nurseries will produce double grafted trees to order.

For the grower who prefers a slightly larger tree, the confusingly-named Pyrodwarf may be the best choice. The Pyrus communis and Pyrus Kirchesaller rootstocks produce very large trees, the kind that could yield a tonne of fruit in one season or live for 300 years. The Kirchensaller rootstock has become popular due to its much more reliable cropping compared to Pyrus communis.

A further consideration regarding tree size is the choice of variety, as the varieties themselves have significantly varying degrees of vigour, even when on the same rootstock.

Choice of Varieties

Although one hundred or more varieties exist, the choice is likely to be limited to the twenty or so more common ones, all of which are UK varieties. Among the important characterics are flowering and ripening dates, production of viable pollen, storage life after harvesting, vigour and tree spread, disease resistance, reliability of cropping, flavour and fruit quality.

The cider classification works reasonably well when applied to perry pears:

Bittersharp with high tannin content and high acid content

Bittersweet with high tannin content and low acid content

Sharp with low tannin content and high acid content

Sweet with low tannin content and low acid content

 

Disease Resistance

The main risks are canker (which affects the whole tree, but especially the young wood), scab (which mainly impacts upon the fruit), mildew (which mainly effects the growing tips and young leaves) and fireblight (which affects the whole tree and is a serious problem in many pear-producer countries but so far is rare in Ireland). Varieties that are particular susceptible to canker or scab will succeed only when there is a regular regime of spraying. The organic grower should select varieties known to have high resistance to these diseases. The only remedy for fireblight is grubbing out and burning the affected trees. While at present, fireblight is very low risk, there are no long term guarantees. It should be noted that all of the rootstocks in common usage are very susceptible to fireblight (fireblight-resistant alternatives include some members of the sorbus and crataegus families).

Perry varieties

Variety Characteristics Quality Harvest Storage Poll Spread Scab Canker Mildew FB
Barnet Sweet Fair Light Oct 1-3 wks 4 Medium R   VS VS
Blakeney Red Mild Bittersharp Fair, Light Sept/Oct 3 wks 4 trip Large        
Brandy Sharp Aromatic. Fair Oct 4 wks 4 Small SS      
Brown Bess Sharp Good Oct 3 wks 4 trip Large VR      
Butt Bittersharp Dry, Fruity Nov 4-10 wks 4 Large   SS    
Gin Mild Bittersharp Good Oct 3-5 wks 4 Medium VR VR    
Greenhorse Mild Bittersharp Good Oct 3 wks 4 Large S      
Hellen's Early Sharp Fair Sept 1 wk 4 trip Medium SS      
Hendre Huffcap Sweet Good, Light Oct 2 wks 4 Medium R      
Judge Amphlet Sharp Fair, Light Oct 1 wk 1 Small VR      
Moorcroft Mild Bittersharp Very Good, Dry Sept 2 days 4 Large VR      
Oldfield Mild Bittersharp Very Good Oct 3-6 wks 4 Large VS VS    
Old Home Sharp Fair, Light Sept/Oct 4-10wks 5 Large   S R VR
Red Pear Sweet Fair Oct 3 wks 5 Small SS   VS VS
Thorn Sharp Fair Sept 1 wk 4 Small R      
Winnal's Longdon Very Sharp Good Oct 1 wk 4 Large VR      
Yellow Huffcap Very Sharp Very Good, Fruity Oct 1 wk 4 Large R      

Key: Poll = pollination group; trip = triploid (won't pollinate other trees); FB = Fireblight; SS = slightly susceptible; S = susceptible; VS = very susceptible; R = resistant; VR = very resistant. A blank space left indicates no information available.

While disease-resistance is the preferred situation, slight disease-susceptibility can be countered with good orchard management, particularly in relation to tidying up the orchard after harvest. Disease risk increases in high rainfall areas.

For good pollination, a perry orchard should include at least three varieties (four or five if one them is Judge Amphlet, as this flowers very early and requires a non-perry variety for a pollinator. The variety Old Home (possibly not a true cider variety but a late-flowering cooker) is sometimes used as a rootstock in North America, where it provides some protection against fireblight. Oldfield and Red Pear are very disease-prone and should be avoided.

Good choices from both quality and disease-resistance perspectives are Brown Bess, Gin, Moorcroft, Winnal's Longdon and Yellow Huffcap. Brown Bess, being a triplod, will not pollinate other perry varieties but can be pollinated by any of the other varieties in this group. The evocative, Alice-in-Wonderland word huffcap can be loosely translated as ' off your head'.

Availability 2016/17

Variety Maiden trees 2 year trees
Blakeney Red

Gin

Hendre Huffcap

Judge Amphlet

Thorn

Winnals Longdon

Yellow Huffcap

 

Barerooted trees (supplied December 2016-April 2017)
  Unit Price (euro)
1 tree 2 trees 3-9 trees 10-49 trees 50-199 trees 200 trees+
Perry Pear maidens
22.00
20.00
18.30
16.50
14.50
12.90
Perry Pear 2 yr
26.00
24.00
22.00
20.00
17.50
15.70
Perry Pear 3 yr
29.00
26.00
24.70
22.60
P.O.A.
P.O.A.

Further reading

Perry Pears, L.C.Luckwill and A. Pollard (eds), National Fruit and Cider Institute [UK] 1963

This is the definitive guide to growing perry pears, with detailed information on over fifty varieties, some with wonderfully descriptive names like Bastard Sack, Dead Boy, Nailer, and Stinking Bishop. Although long out of print, Perry Pears has recently been reprinted by Vigo Press.

 

Success with Apples and Pears to Eat and Drink, Alan Rowe, Groundnut Publishing

Not a specialist perry book but provides useful information on the craft of perry making. Has short section on hawthorn, quince and medlar.

 

Growing Apples for Cider Production

Information for the intending cider apple grower

 

 

Note: this page is a work in progress. As more information becomes known it will be posted.