A mature lady does not normally dress in sequins. It sets the sound of mutton dressed as lamb ringing in the ears. This Christmas, those young whippersnapper marketers have dressed the mature lady’s 65-year-old drink in sequins. Yes, sequins. Well, I ask you…
Just because our knees are a bit stiffer in the morning than they used to be, it will not stop us from dancing into our nineties or climbing mountains. Don’t go writing us off yet. We still have a spark in us. We can still sparkle. And keep going when those bright, sequinned, young things have run out of stamina. Alcopops? Not for us. They’ve fizzled out. Babycham has still got its Christmas sparkle after 65 years. And fair few more yet, I can tell you.
The mature lady in question here is a certain sparkling, branded perry. Babycham was invented by brewer Francis Showering in Shepton Mallet, Somerset. It was launched 65 years ago in 1953. It was the first alcoholic drink actively marketed at women with a strong seasonal association. Babycham is still on the Christmas supermarket shelves this year, even if they have had the audacity to dress the bottle in sequins.
Babycham and Showerings have a strong family association. The Babycham deer was a familiar sight in childhood on the roof of the factory in Shepton Mallet. Times have changed. The old family firm has changed hands many times over the years. It’s time to look at botanical aspects of pears and the attempts to revive perry pears in Britain.
Perry is a form of cider made from fermented pear juice. It is a low alcohol, sparkling drink made in much the same way as cider is made from apples. Today, Perry is often termed pear cider. They are disputes over whether British Perry should be made from imported pear concentrate.
Pears were first domesticated from wild pears, Pyrus communis, in ancient times in the Near and Middle East. It is believed that the Romans introduced pears to Britain. Early pears were only considered suitable for culinary uses as they were hard and gritty. Today’s softer and juicier, dessert pears are of more recent origin. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale contains 550 pear varieties.
Pears are less suited to the British climate than apples. They flower earlier and require warmer, sunnier weather to ripen. Pear trees can be grown in most areas if the right variety is selected for its location. They thrive on a well-drained, moisture-retentive soil as long as it is not too alkaline.
Conference pears are the most widely grown pear variety in Britain. It is regarded as one of the most reliable pears in the British climate. A Conference pear tree is able to produce a pear crop on its own as it is self-fertile. Its season is October to November.
Perry Pear Origins
Perry production has been a British tradition for 1,000 years. Perry pear varieties originate from Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The original Perry pear is said to come from wildings or feral pears around May Hill on the Gloucestershire and Herefordshire borders. Perry pear cultivars tend to be smaller. They are high in tannins and considered too astringent for other purposes. Perry pears tend to produce more residual sugar than cider apples, leading to a sweeter drink.
British Perry Pears under Threat
Specific cultivars are used to produce Perry. Many of the original Perry pear trees used by Showerings have gone. Many Perry pear cultivars have become endangered or lost. The National Perry Pear Centre in Malvern, Worcestershire was set up to conserve a genetic resource for Britain.
Conservation in situ
The National Perry Pear Centre’s initiative is in tune with The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to conserve species in situ. The Treaty aims to maintain and recover viable populations of species in the surroundings in which they developed their distinctive properties.
Sustainability of Local Crops
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s sustainability measures are not just addressed at commercial crop varieties. The treaty is signed by 135 nations and also encompasses
- traditional crop varieties
- varieties that cannot be commercialised
- wild crop varieties
Climate Change Risk
Perry pear conservation falls into the areas for in-situ, local conservation and potential climate change impacts on crop diversity. Perry pear trees used to grow well where cider apple trees did not fare well. A detailed list of 105 Perry pears is available on the National Perry Pear Centre’s website. Some have a number of synonyms. Noted cultivars are Borland, Brandy, Thorn and Yellow Huffcap. The very nature of Perry pears makes it difficult to produce traditional Perry in commercial quantities. That is where Francis Showering excelled.
Perry was popular historically in Britain when wine imports from France were difficult. The old Showerings family firm used to provide secure jobs for the local population. It would be good to see a revival of Perry pears. It would be even better if future Perry or Pear cider production could be produced from new local crops instead of concentrate. Local tastes simply cannot be replicated elsewhere.
© Karen Netto (Andrews)
These pages illustrate my love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. I love sharing. This blog is a showcase for my own photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics.
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