Perry is a fermented alcoholic beverage, which can be either sparkling or still, and has traditionally been made in England and Wales for more than 500 years – similar to a beverage known in northern France as poiré. Traditionally Perry is a blend of several varietals, each adding different properties to the final beverage.
In Australia, Moorcroft takes the more usual varietal name as the variety in its native UK (where it is also confusingly known as Stinking Bishop, Malvern Pear and Choke Pear). Formerly wild pears, originating in the Forest of Dean in the Wye Valley, this particular variety of pear were propagated/grafted and domesticated by local farmers as early as the 1400s. The fruit is turbinate, sometimes pyriform. The skin is yellowish-green, russet at both ends or usually around the eye. This variety of Perry pear, otherwise inedible, was pressed for its juice and transformed into an alcoholic beverage, records of which exist since the early 1500s mentioned in John Gerard’s ‘The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes’ [sic] published in 1597. Significantly, in historical times it was safer to drink a fermented beverage than the local pond or river water. Traditionally the beverage was made from the extracted juice of the pear, by crushing the pears in circular stone mill by pulled by a horse or mule. Currently in Australia the juice is extracted through matting by hydraulic pressure, by methods not dissimilar to traditional ones, although currently through nylon – rather than horse-hair – matting. The traditional production areas were Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire in the UK, where the beverage, Perry, is a Slow Presidium product. In Australia such Perry pears were introduced to Harcourt near Bendigo during the Gold Rush which began there in 1850. The bud-wood or seedling trees were sourced from a nursery in Melbourne. A disease ‘Fireblight’ wiped out many Perry pear trees four decades ago. Thus preserving such a ‘critically endangered’ variety is critically important, as in Australia there are 20 Moorcroft trees currently in production in Australia. This product is still in commerce, but in very limited quantities, due to the few number of perry pear trees, which need to be preserved. The production is entirely artisanal, as the fruit is in such limited supply. There are currently only two commercial growers of Moorcroft in Australia.