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, Red Longdon takes the same varietal name as the variety native to the UK. 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 or pyriform, the skin is green or yellowish green with a strong red or red-orange flush spreading from the eye, with russet around the stem and more around the eye spreading to the cheeks. 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 horsehair – 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 Bendigo Gold Rush which began there in 1850. The bud-wood or seedling trees were sourced from a nursery in Melbourne. Then 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 15 Red Longdon trees currently in production by the foremost grower in Australia, Adam Marks of Bresse Cider, with a further 45 trees grafted (but yet to bear fruit) by Henry of Harcourt. 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. There are two growers, but only one has sufficient fruit to harvest. The volume is in such small quantities, the juice of Red Longdon is blended. The main grower of this variety blends his into an artisanal cider. It is the variety of fruit which is endangered. The production is entirely artisanal, as the fruit is in such limited supply. There is currently only one commercial grower of Red Longdon in Australia