Monday, 10 August 2009

The Future's Pear Shaped

Excitement is building as the new cidermaking season approaches. We don't aim to start pressing until late September at the earliest, but in the spirit of 'forearmed is for forewarned', last week we went to have a look at the Worcestershire orchard we'll be harvesting our cider and perry fruit from. This also gave us an opportunity to drop off a couple of bottles of last years cider and perry for the owner, John.

It's very hard to judge how the apple and pear crop of a distant orchard is likely to be without getting up close and personal with the trees. The micro-climate here in the Welland Valley is totally different to that of the Cotswolds, and whilst we may have been basking in a fair bit of Springtime sunshine here, the Worcestershire orchard could have been sitting in a nasty frost pocket. Pear blossom comes particularly early, and is quite short lived, a sharp snap of frost or a spell of wet weather is often all it takes to damage the blossom or prevent insects from doing the all important work of pollination.

We didn't venture far into the extensive orchards, it was raining quite hard, and it wasn't long before we'd seen all we needed to. There were a fair few apple trees with good crops, though the Tremlett's Bitter trees which provided much of our tannin last season are having an 'off' year. Tremlett's are described by Liz Copas in her excellent 'A Somerset Pomona' as being 'very biennial in their cropping', which means that they have a tendency to crop very heavily one year, then carry virtually nothing the next. We benefited from a heavy crop last year so the lack of fruit this year is to be expected.

The biggest surprise of all was the profusion of Pears clinging to the huge Perry Pear trees. Last year we barely had enough pears to make 3 barrels of perry, most of the fruit coming from two or three sparsely cropping old trees. This year there are several more trees in crop, and the weight of fruit on each tree is substantial. This is great news, as we were keen to repeat our experiment with Perry making this year, and should have enough fruit for maybe a couple of hundred gallons!

All we need now is a man on the ground who can keep a close eye on the ripening fruit, which is where our friend John comes in. Perry pears come to ripeness over a very short period of time, maybe as little as a week between turning ripe and starting to rot. The situation is complicated by the fact that there are at least two different varieties of Perry Pear in the orchard. We know for example that the Moorcroft and Blakeney Red pears ripen a few weeks apart, so we're looking at two trips at least to harvest all the pears that we can. If we should miss either harvest by more than a week, it could be that all that glorious fruit will go to waste. Now that really would be letting things go 'Pear-shaped'.

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