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Perry Pear Update

Considerations when planting perry pears - July 2010 update

Jim Chapman jjrchapman@btinternet.com

If suitable for apples generally suitable for pears – they will even put up with rather wetter soils.   

One restraint might be pollination since they flower earlier than apples.  If the area is prone to cold winds or late frosts, think twice.  At least two varieties flowering at the same time nearby required for pollination, but dessert pears are OK.

Most perry pears are grafted on seedling pyrus communis rootstock, which produce magnificent landscape trees, but no fruit for 10+ years.  For production sooner use Pyrodwarf rootstocks.  The main nursery that supplies perry pears grafted on Pyrodwarf ‘off the peg’ is Frank Matthews Ltd of Tenbury Wells.  At present their range is small providing little choice, but they are increasing the varieties available over the next few years.  GOG can source graft or bud wood for nearly all varieties listed on their website.

Nurseries may offer pears grafted on Quince to provide earlier fruit.  This was once a common practice, but there can be compatibility issues and Pyrodwarf (the dwarf is a misnomer – the trees are still large but suitable for intensive production) is now generally recommended.  Reasonable production can be expected after 5/6 years.

True perry pears were historically found in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire and their immediate neighbours.  Elsewhere the practice was to use surplus dessert fruit or the hard culinary varieties to make perry (if it was made at all).  There are exceptions – the Barland perry pear was distributed fairly widely in the mid 17th century, and private growers might have planted pears sourced from Glos/Herefs/Worcs

Confusion

Hard culinary (baking) pears are often confused with perry pears or occasionally, if a graft dies, the seedling rootstock grows into a handsome but unknown tree.  There are some majestic pears around where this has happened.

Caution

Perry varieties do not always blend very well, so (unless the intention is to produce small batches of perry), it might be better to plant trees of only one or two varieties rather than single specimens of more varieties.  This is particularly true if they ripen at different times.

Early varieties spoil quickly after falling and need pressing immediately; they won’t wait until you are ready for them!  Later varieties are generally far more accommodating.

Detailed descriptions of Perry Pears can be found in the book “Perry Pears” by Luckwill & Pollard (1964), purchased only from Vigo Ltd. This is the only authoritative source at present, but it is hoped in the next few years Charles Martell and Jim Chapman will bring out an updated, colour version.

Perry Pears by Luckwill & Pollard/Long Ashton Research Station/Ray Williams

From Vigo Ltd (Devon) price £25.00 + delivery £2.50 sales@vigoltd.com  Tel: 01404 890262 Fax: 01404 890263


Note: Jim Chapman can recommend varieties, but at present, the limiting factor is what the nurseries can supply. Jim can release bud or graft wood from almost any variety you wish. For nurseries, visit  

www.gloucestershireorchardgroup.org.uk/directories/nurseries

 

Plant Heritage (NCCPG) National Collection of Pyrus communis (perry pears) - August 2009 update

Jim Chapman jjrchapman@btinternet.com

The relationship between the Plant Heritage (NCCPG) National Collection on the Three Counties Agricultural Society showground at Malvern which I help to manage, my own National Collection and adjoining it the new National Collection (provisional status) belonging to the Hartpury Historic Land and Buildings Trust – Hartpury is a village in north-west Gloucestershire that took its name from the (hard) pear.

First plantings of the Charles Martell collection of perry pears at the Three Counties showground were in 1992.  It has now 66 cultivars.  Unfortunately space has increasingly become limited, so while it remains an excellent showcase for the perry pear, it does not include the rarer perry pear cultivars that Charles has traced in more recent years, nor are significant additions planned.  To accommodate them I started planting my own collection in 1999, initially sourced from Malvern, but latterly supplemented by Charles’ later discoveries and from elsewhere.  It now has (planted and in nursery beds) 98 cultivars.

Recognising that there is a risk attached to a National collection in private hands, we established the Hartpury Trust collection in 2005 on land in charitable ownership.  This is intended to include examples of every known English and Welsh perry pear, a number of other pears associated with the story of perry and a representative selection of perry pears from mainland Europe.  It currently comprises 109 cultivars.  The Trust has established an Orchard Centre that offers courses on the production of juice, cider and perry (www.tasteandexplore.com) and its orchard (although young) is open to the public at any time.  Details of the collection are available on the Gloucestershire Orchard Group website www.gloucestershireorchardgroup.org.uk

The Gloucestershire Orchard Group can arrange the propagation of any variety that may be required.

The collections will combine (with others) to put on a display of perry pears in the Festival of Perry at the Malvern Autumn Show 26 – 27 Sept 2009, when it is hoped to set a World Record of the number of varieties exhibited. 

 

Update on NCCPG National Collections of Pyrus communis (Perry Pears) - Spring 2009

Jim Chapman jjrchapman@btinternet.com

In addition to the small collection (20 varieties) of perry pears forming a part of the National Fruit Collection at the Brogdale Horticultural Trust, there are three National Collections, the established collection at the Three Counties Agricultural Society showground at Malvern in Worcestershire and two at Hartpury in Gloucestershire.

The Three Counties Agricultural Society collection (68 varieties). 

Space and soil conditions have become a limiting factor.  It is unlikely that this collection will expand and may even contract slightly.  The aim will be to concentrate on developing this orchard as a ‘shop window’ for the perry pear, but it will continue to be a source of propagating material for most of the traditional varieties. 

The Hartpury collections

There are now two collections in Hartpury recognised by NCCPG.  The first belonging to Jim Chapman (95 varieties) has been planted over the last 10 years.  Propagating material is available in small quantities for most varieties.  Access is by appointment only.

The second Hartpury collection, belongs to Hartpury Historic Land and Buildings Trust.  86 varieties of pear are planted in the orchard and a further 35 in nursery beds elsewhere.  Probably only 105 of these are generally recognised as perry pears.  The orchard has been established since 2007 and in view of its age has only provisional National Collection status, which is upgraded as the trees mature (usually after about 3 years).  Since all the trees are still very young propagating material is unlikely yet to be available.  The collection forms a part of the Hartpury Orchard Centre in Blackwell’s End, Hartpury.  The public may visit the young orchard at any time.  There are also collections of Gloucestershire apples and plums there, but again the trees are all very young.

Details of courses available at the Perry Pear Orchard Centre (with Peter Mitchell) can be found at www.tasteandexplore.com

 

The perry pear of the Three Counties and of mainland Europe

© Jim Chapman

At the end of the Ice Age, the wild pear Pyrus pyraster (now generally Pyrus communis subsp. pyraster) spread across Europe.  The wild pear can be difficult to differentiate from seedlings of the cultivated variety Pyrus communis subsp. communis, which is thought to have evolved in central Asia from the wild pear through a process of natural selection and possible hybridisation with subsp. caucasica.  The wild pear was followed by Pyrus nivalis spreading northward, but in the interim the English Channel had formed so that the latter never reached these islands.

The Romans planted cultivars of Pyrus communis, but in this country at least these orchards were unlikely to have survived the Dark Ages.  A feral population of chance seedlings (wildings) from them, crossing with indigenous pyraster

 were however to became so common that the monk William of Malmesbury wrote at the start of the 12th century (of Gloucestershire) ‘Here you may see the high wayes and common lanes clad with apple trees and peare trees, not set nor grafted by the industry of mans hand, but growing naturally of their own accord’.  True specimens of P. pyraster are now one of our rarest of trees, but wildings are relatively common in our hedgerows.

The Normans are unlikely to have contributed to the cocktail.  They may perhaps have introduced some varieties of apple to Britain (although William of Malmesbury mentions only one significant orchard in England – at Ely abbey).  It was not really until the end of 13th century that cider began to replace wine in Normandy, with the resulting extensive orchard planting.  Pears were not regarded as a primary crop there at that time.

Whilst the orcharding skills and fruit varieties of the western Roman Empire had been lost through the dark ages, the story in the east was different.  Peaceful government returned quickly following the collapse of the Roman Empire.  Knowledge and skills were preserved by the Islamic invaders and a fruit growing culture assimilated into Moorish life.  This knowledge spread across northern Africa and the Mediterranean to return into Europe through Spain to France where the majority of the pear varieties known today originated.  In England in the 13th century Queen Eleanor of Provence, the wife of Henry III introduced the hard culinary pear Cailhou to the royal gardens.  Another Eleanor (of Castille), the wife of Edward I, having brought her own gardeners from Spain, had an even greater influence.  The pears she introduced were still the hard varieties that required cooking.   Another hard and gritty pear, the Warden, was introduced by the monks at Warden Abbey in Bedfordshire before 1388. 

Ironically pears were introduced as much for their keeping potential as for fruit quality.  The rock-hard warden pear would last well into the spring, providing variety to a limited diet as well as constituting an important source of vitamins.  Root crops were not introduced to Britain until the 16th century, but then came to replace the pear’s storage attributes.  The advocates of the turnip suggested it would even come to supplant the apple in the production of cider!  It was also in 16th century that the sweet dessert pear which could be eaten raw, was introduced. 

Until 17th century perry was made from all varieties of pear, both wild and cultivated, but quality was not outstanding.  The monks of Worcester continued to import pipes of wine to supplement the perry they produced from wyld peres and grete tame peres.  This was to change, John Evelyn’s Pomona(1664) records that growers around May Hill (on the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire border) were then beginning to select the ‘feral’ pears which produced the best perry.  It is from these selections that the varieties known today are descended and are the source of true perry that in the 18th century attained a quality which came to supplant wine – a quality craft producers are today once again seeking to achieve.  Juice from culinary and dessert pears produces a pleasant, but less complex drink - one that should not really bear the name perry, pear cider is perhaps a better description.

There is one interesting twist!  Writing in 1656, Rev. John Beale speaks of the neighbourhood of Bosbury being famous for a pear so hard and coarse that even a pig will not eat it.  This fruit he called the Bareland pear.  The Harleian manuscripts (No. 6726) enlighten us.  At Upleadon in Bosbury a farm called Barlands was held by the medieval service of bearing the Lord’s victuals from place to place.  It was recorded as famous for a ‘peare cider’.  Upleadon was a manor that belonged to the Order of Templars until their suppression.  Rather than this pear being just another wilding, might the Knights Templar have brought home a foreign pear, on their return from defending the route to Jerusalem?  Perhaps analysis of DNA could unravel some of the mystery of the pear.

There are local perry varieties (often hybridised with P. nivalis) in other parts of Europe, for example in Normandy and Brittany and in the countries around the shores of Lake Constance.  Today in these parts much of the juice is distilled, but some is used to produce local variations of perry.

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