The earliest hard documentation I have found for perry use dates from the 15th century. One source cites a reference claiming that in 15th century English households perry was both made and drunk (Hammond, 1993). The diary of a Parisian includes this in the entries for 1447 "Wine was very dear now in Paris, poor people drank ale or mead or beer or cider or perry and suchlike drinks." (Scully, 1995). Beyond this, it appears likely that perry was made from much earlier times as well.
Perry is best classified with a group of fermented beverages made from various fruits. Excluding wine due to its singular position, the fruits from which these beverages were made include apples, medlars, quinces, pears, mulberries, pomegranates, gooseberries, sloes, and sorb-apples (service berries).
I found two paintings showing pears (variety unnamed) from the early 17th century in Italy, these pears appear midway in shape between modern Bosc and Bartletts, and have a red hue.
My earliest extensive information on perry is from a book called 'Maison Rustique'. This book was originally published in French in 1569-1570. The book was translated into English and published in 1600. Michael Best, in his book on (and including the text of) Gervase Markham's 'The English Housewife' credits 'Maison Rustique' as the inspiration for Markhams book.
Because there are about a dozen single-spaced pages potentially relevant to this discussion I have selected and summarized the information presented here. The additional material discusses specifics of pressing out juice, how the process may vary depending on the type of pear being used, and the specific nutritional/medicinal properties of types of perry and cider.
The authors claim that fruit wines are made where grape vines cannot flourish due to weather. It is noted that wine cannot be made from all fruits. "The way then to make these kinds of drinkes generally, is to gather the fruit not all out ripe, and after to let them ripen some certaine time in the open aire, or to drie in the sunne, for the spending and wasting of their waterie humour, then to breake and crush them with milstones or such other heauie instruments, and lastly to presse them out ... When the iuice is pressed out from the fruit it must be put into caske for to boile therein a certaine time, and to be ordered after the manner of the ordering of the iuice of grapes, as we intende to declare more particularly."
On perry specifically we see "Perrie is made of diuers sortes of peares: sometimes of rough, harsh, sowre, and wilde ones, neuer husbanded, planted, grafted, or otherwise hauing had anie labour or paines taken with them: such perrie will keep long, euen three or fower yeares, and be better at the ende then at the beginning. Sometimes of garden, tender and delicate peares, such as are the Eusebian and the Marie peare, the roset, hasting, rimolt, mollart, greening, butter peare, the Iaques du four peare, the little conie peare, the perplexed peare, the alabaster peare, the two headed peare, the dew peare, and the wood of Hierusalem: and such perrie is pleasant for a certaine time, but after it is once come to be fiue monethes old it becommeth voide of all taste and dead: the best and most excellent perrie is made of little yellow waxe peares, and such as haue beene throughly dressed and husbanded, as the little muske peare, the two headed peare, the peare robart, the fine gold peare, bargamot, tahou, squire, and such other peares, which haue a fast and solide flesh and hard coat. The amiot peare is commended aboue all the rest, ... Some doe also sometimes mingle diuers sorts of peares together to make perrie of."
"Whether they bee peares to be gathered earely or late, pressed they must be, and the like implements and meanes vsed about them in making the perrie, that were vsed in the making of cyder, for after the same manner must you proceed, ... besides, that perrie is not so good for keeping as cyder is, except it bee the carisie, or that which is made of the peare Grosmeuill, or such other peares as haue a harde flesh and skin, the perrie whereof may be kept two yeeres vndrawn, and after they be perced or drawne of, sixe weekes, foreseene they be well ordered and gouerned."
"The faculties and qualities of perrie must be considered of and weighed in such manner as we haue saide of cyder, that is by his taste, age, and making. The taste of the perry dependeth for the most part of the relish of the peares out of which it is pressed, ... following such forme and manner as we haue largely laid downe in the handling of cyder ... There is no cause why you should greatly esteeme in respect of your health of the perries which are pressed out of wilde peares, and all such as are vnhusbanded, vntamed, of a sharp taste, fat, reddish; or of those which are pressed out of diuers sorts of peares, not agreeing together either in taste or otherwise, neither yet of such as are made of apples and peares mingled and pressed togither, as neither of that perrie which is newly put vp into the vessels and not fined, or that which had water mixt with it when it was made, or that which is made of the peare called the wood-peare ... it would be easie to iudge that the perrie is more holsome and profitable for the stomake and whole bodie then the cyder"
In making cider, the authors give brief descriptions of several ways of obtaining the juice from the apples. The preferred way, to which they devote the greatest time, gives three grades of must: that juice which runs out by itself; the juice which is pressed out; and the juice which is removed when water is added to the dross, steeped, and pressed. The must is allowed to ferment in an open cask until it has purged of "all his froth, scum, and other impurities" and is then closed tight for furthur fermentation. Alternatives are given for some aspects of the fermentation process.
To adjust this to a modern recipe I would start either with pear juice or with a good amount of pears. Since no sugar is added in these recipes, the most difficult step to replicate is the evaporation of some water from the fruit by letting it lay out for some time (in order the get a higher sugar content in the juice). With a juice extract this could be solved by adding less water. Alternatively, the must could be boiled to remove water (although no such step is called for in the documentation, it achieves the goal, and some contemporary texts on wine approve this action in winemaking). My choice for yeast is generally a beer/ale or bread yeast as these would be the most likely wild yeasts, and because I suspect the sugar content will not be very high. Note that the source indicates the resulting drink should not be expected to be long aging.
In case you are interested, some of the books I referred to in writing this post are:
Hammond, P.W. 1993. Food and Feast in Medieval England. Alan Sutton
Scully, Terence. 1995. The Art of Cookery in the Middel Ages. Boydell.
Surflet, Richerd, Tr. Charles Stevens & John Liebault. 1606. Maison Rustique, or the Countrey Farme". Arnold Hatfield.