I have to confess I hadn’t much idea what a Perry Pear was before I went to Dyrham Park’s Perry Pear Day yesterday. I was lured in by the promise of a tour around the ‘old orchard’ and turned up with hopes of being let into a secret garden full of perfectly manicured fruit trees.
In reality the trees were a little, erm, larger than I imagined. But hey-ho you can’t have everything.
Having only attended an hour’s talk I won’t pretend I know everything. But there are some great resources (Gloucestershire Orchard Group) online that can tell you everything you need to know about how to choose, plant, and even juice Perry Pears in detail. But I will share some of the facts that I found interesting.
To harvest the Pears someone must climb a ladder next to the tree and shake the fruit out with a very long stick! And be sure to stand clear because Perry Pears are rock hard and totally inedible. You can’t eat them, nope, not even if you cook them for three hours first. Sheesh!
What you can do with them is make Perry, a fruity, and as it turns out very nice, alcoholic drink (it’s alright, I didn’t drink much in my state of impending motherhood). So like Cider Apples, Perry Pears are grown just to be made into Perry. In its hey-day Dryham had a vast Perry Pear orchard and in-house brewery. They produced flagons of the stuff, presumably to keep the servants and estate workers
drunk very happy.
And the National Trust guide let us into the old orchard through this wonderful old gate in the orchard wall. It was like stepping into Narnia through the wardrobe.
I’m always amazed at how my childish fascination with walled gardens excites me anew every time I find one. There is something magical about the secret garden, locked away from view, quietly overgrowing itself until someone who cares comes along to reinvent it.
Anyway, if you’re inspired to get out into some secret orchards near you then this handy guide to the UK’s local orchard groups is a good place to start. Many orchards will let you ‘sponsor’ a tree and take home the lion’s share of the fruit each year. Maybe I’ll sponsor a Perry Pear tree and take home the lion’s share of the Perry – no, wait, bad idea.