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    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    Rare pears produce ‘liquid gold’ at Mystic’s Coogan Farm

    Greg Post of Saltwater Farm Vineyard pours Coogan Farm Perry for attendees at a tasting event hosted by the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 at Coogan Farm. (Carrie Zwerwinski, Special to The Day)
    A tasting of Coogan Farm Perry on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, highlighted nature and the history of Coogan Farm with three of just 20 bottles created from a 2021 harvest from the newly restored Gallop Orchard. (Carrie Czerwinski, Special to The Day)

    Mystic — The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center is using a unique varietal of pear discovered while restoring a centuries-old abandoned orchard to celebrate the history of Coogan Farm and make a one of a kind alcoholic drink called perry.

    “It’s the essence of what makes Mystic, as it was first founded, to now. It’s one of the only pieces that has been uninterrupted ― this orchard ― while everything else is changing around us,” said Greg Post of Saltwater Farm Vineyard.

    On Feb. 22, the nature center held a tasting of the inaugural limited batch of Coogan Farm Perry, made exclusively from the rare pears grown in the Gallop Orchard at the center’s historic Coogan Farm property.

    Perry is an alcoholic beverage, common in Europe, made by fermenting the juice of pears in a process similar to that of wine or cider making. The resulting beverage is generally lighter and more delicate than a wine or hard cider.

    Post, a nature center member, led the tasting event, declaring the 7% alcohol by volume product “incredible,” with notes of star anise, white pepper, fig and honey and some residual effervescence from the fermentation process.

    Gallop Orchard is named for the original owners of the Greenmanville Avenue farm, and it is known as one of the first European homesteads in America. The orchard contains the descendants of the first European and Asian dessert pears that were planted there after Captain John Gallop was granted the 500-acre property in 1654.

    When the center began restoring the overgrown orchard in 2020, it was initially thought to contain primarily apple trees, but as work began to reestablish the 350-year-old orchard, the majority of the trees were found to be pears.

    Scott Parry, facilities director for the nature center, said there are approximately 10 apple trees and 90 pear trees in the orchard, and another 10-12 pear trees in the adjacent woods, some of which are estimated to be more than a century old.

    None of the original trees remains, but after the orchard was abandoned, it underwent a transformation. Centuries of cross pollination produced hybrid pears that fell and sprouted new trees in a repeating cycle, resulting in rare varietals and cultivars found nowhere else.

    Weather, climate and soil conditions all change the resulting fruit, and when combined with the unique hybrid varietals found only in the Gallop Orchard, create a product that is unique to the property and the specific year of harvest.

    “This is a snapshot of a moment in time, in this place,” said Stonington resident Kim Kunzik after tasting the perry.

    The nature center received a $250,000 grant from the Norwich-based Edward and Mary Lord Foundation to restore the orchard in 2019, and recognized it needed an orchardist who specialized in ancient orchards to oversee the complicated restoration.

    In a strange coincidence, the center found orchardist Eliza Greenman, a descendant of the Greenman brothers, who owned the Coogan Farm property for approximately 50 years beginning in 1853. The Greenmans produced food for workers at the shipyard they operated on what is today the site of Mystic Seaport Museum.

    “The whole overwhelming thing of it is the weaving together of the past, the present and where the future is going. What was left for dead is now resurrected, and it’s here, in this place,” said Kathryn Lord, the foundation’s executive director and trustee, at the tasting event.

    In the fall of 2021, the nature center enlisted a small artisanal wine and cider producer, Benford Lepley of Floral Terranes on Long Island, to harvest fruit from the orchard and ferment the pears into perry.

    Fermentation times vary by individual batch and though Coogan Farm Perry was anticipated to be ready in a year, it took two full years.

    It takes approximately three pounds of pears to make a single bottle, and though Lepley could have made more by incorporating pears from other orchards, the nature center wanted the final product to be authentic to the history and uniqueness of the orchard.

    In the end, the harvest produced just 20 bottles of what center Executive Director Davnet Conway called “liquid gold.”

    No new production was possible in 2022 or 2023 because storms and poor weather interfered with the very narrow window of just a few days when the pears are at peak ripeness to produce perry, but the nature center hopes to harvest and begin production of Coogan Farm Perry again in 2024.

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