As the weather shifts (slowly and gracefully for us this year) and the light dwindles, our work days change markedly from the images in the last blog post. Still plenty to do, but the pace, timing, and balance of things finally brings time to digest the year behind us, as we delve into planning for the coming year. I was thrilled to receive the newest issue of our local Silverton Country Historical Society newsletter and find an article by our friend, Gus Fredrick, sharing about his and GeerCrest owner Jim Toler’s “ex-perry-mentation” with Perry recipes utilizing the abundance of cidering pears here on the farm (perry pears are often too astringent or grainy for fresh eating or canning). I’ve had a number of chances to try their results and have been exceedingly impressed! To further celebrate the recent dedication of the heritage orchard here on the farm, we are featuring Gus’ article, with his kind permission, in this week’s blog post!
Before we delve in, one more mention of our planning process for 2019. Our Summer Camp schedule is now active on our website! As far as events go, we are still deep in planning and hope to have updated calendar before the new year. We hope to see more folks coming out to GeerCrest this year to share nourishing food, community, experience the farm, and have opportunities for dialog and education.
We plan to have much less expensive Farm Fresh Dinners, and create a venue for lectures and dialog on Native and pioneer history and culture, food, and beyond, in addition to featuring local musicians. If you have ideas or suggestions, or would like to be involved please be in touch!
OK! Take it away, Mr Fredrick!
Grampa Ralph’s Perry, by Gus Fredrick. Featured in the Winter issue of the SCHS Newsletter.
In 1847, a nurseryman from Illinois named Ralph Geer, joined his family and traveled West along Oregon Trail. He brought with him bushels of apple and pear seeds. With the assistance of fellow nurseryman Henderson Luelling from Indiana, the two men founded the first non-native nursery and fruit industry in Oregon, and made a killing selling fresh fruit to the Californian gold miners.
Today, the Geer farm south of Silverton still has trees growing from the original plantings, and on October 19, 2018, the Oregon Heritage Tree Program dedicated the surviving GeerCrest Orchard as new Oregon Heritage Trees. The Oregon Heritage Tree program is part of Oregon Travel Experience. In the orchard are 24 pear trees, four plum trees, one apple tree, one hawthorn tree, one butternut tree and one hickory tree that are believed to date to the original plantings from 1848.
Of most interest to myself as a home brewer, was the pear trees. Specifically what can be made from them: Perry, a fermented beverage made exclusively from pears, in much the same manner as hard apple cider is created. Several years back, Jim Toler from GeerCrest Farm found a notice in an old Salem newspaper reporting that Ralph Geer had won a Perry Competition at the Oregon State Fair in the 1850s.
So last year, Jim and I whipped up several batched of Perry, for later enjoyment at the monthly Farm Fresh Dinners at GeerCrest. Since we lacked any recipes from Ralph, I consulted several antiquarian sources from the early 19th Century. England and France during this period produced a wide variety of Perrys, which we attempted to duplicate using modern brewing techniques. We used Jim’s hand-cranked cider masher and press to squeeze out almost two dozen gallons of fresh pear juice.
I did three different batches, each with a different yeast strain: Belgian farm style for one, Red Wine yeast for another and the third we let “go wild” and fermented it out with native yeasts. The Belgian one was the winner, as it finished out somewhat dry with notes of fresh pear, and an alcohol level comparable to wine. Indeed, this batch was basically a “pear wine.” To clear the finished brew, I first pasteurized the batch, then added a tiny amount of skimmed milk, as per one suggestion in “Cider & Perry – Reduced to Rules” from 1827. Other “fining agents” include isinglass, (fish bladders) and sea weed, (aka “Irish Moss”).
Needless to say, the Perry was a rousing success! At least that one batch. The others, not so much. But I took good notes! And we are in the process of brewing a new batch for the 2019 Farm Fresh Dinner season. The main batch of seven gallons will be from the “Pound Pears” which Grampa Ralph used to win his ribbon. It is also one of the pear trees included in the newly designated Heritage Orchard.
Image credits to Gus Fredrick and “Cider and Perry Production”