This week on Island Artisans I told the tale of how one of the most authentic 'perry' ciders came to be made once again on Vancouver Island, at Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse.
These days with so much of our fruit imported to BC from all over the world, it’s easy to forget that this province, and especially this part of Vancouver Island, was once a haven of agricultural diversity. We’ve lost a lot of the heritage species of fruit trees that were brought here by the early settlers, but every so often, a forgotten fruit pops up and once again thrives.
Back in 2007, an abandoned orchard was discovered on the Saanich Peninsula. In the orchard, about a dozen pear trees. Not culinary pears, though, perry pears; that is, pears that have to be crushed, with the resulting juice fermented into a pear cider.
The perry pear has so much tannin in it your mouth might pucker shut permanently. Alistair Bell (in the photo at left) was the cidermaker when someone from the BC Fruit Testers Association brought the old perry trees to notice.
When he first tasted them, they were so astringent just a tiny piece completely dried out his mouth. Of the two varieties they harvested, both were small, about the size of limes. One was shaped like a lime, the other, a pear in miniature. The only reason to have planted these trees would be to make perry from the fruit.
When the trees were found, the folks from Sea Cider asked the woman who owns the farm if she wanted them, but she had no use for them, so the first harvest took place in 2007, and Alistair started making perry.
It was certainly the first time he’d attempted making perry with authentic perry pears, and there wasn’t a lot to work with. In the photo are samples of the two different perrys that he made from the two different varieties. Then he added some fermented, oak-aged cider from some underripe Bartlett culinary pears that came into the cider house, which did affect the overall end result.
Sea Cider did another harvest in 2009, and made a new perry, again a blend of perry pears and some culinary pears, but they were only able to make a total of 60 cases, now available at their shop and a few other places, check the website for more details.. Sea Cider co-owner Kristen Jordan explained to me that the trees are biennial, they only produce fruit every other year, so that’s why supplies are limited.
There aren’t a lot of companies making authentic apple or pear ciders in BC, there could be some sort of resurgence going on if Sea Cider and other cideries stick with crafting these unique blends. I think our palates are becoming much more sophisticated now, and more people are looking for different taste experiences. It’s not going to be a fast process, but if you look at what our BC wine industry used to be like 30 years ago and how much it has improved, that will give the craftsmen on the island here like Sea Cider and Merridale Cider some optimism. And Alistair Bell says if they continue to make the product, maybe more people will grow the kind of apples and pears they need to make the best tasting stuff.