It’s time to harvest many tree fruits including apples, pears and figs. For best results, fruit should be picked at the proper stage of maturation which may (or may not) be when the fruit looks “ripe” or when it tastes its best.
Apples that are to be consumed soon after picking should be fully ripened on the tree; apples to be stored should be picked a week or so before they are at their fully ripe stage. Be patient and check the apples frequently to assess ripeness. Apples picked overly early will never reach their “tastiest best.”
Skin color is not a reliable indicator of the ripeness for apples; taste a few to make sure they no longer have a “puckery” astringent quality. The seeds in a ripe apple are black or brown and the flesh is white (as opposed to having a greenish tinge).
To harvest, lift each apple and twist slightly. The fruit should separate easily from the branch and the stem should remain attached to the fruit.
Asian pears (which include ‘Chojuro,’ ‘Hosui’ and ‘Shinseiki’) should be ripened on the tree. When ripe, Asian pears typically change from a greenish color to shades of yellow. They are ready to eat when they are sweet, crisp and crunchy; if left too long on the tree Asian pears may
develop a “winey” taste. Lift and twist the pear and it should separate easily from the branch.
European pears (which include ‘Anjou,’ ‘Bartlett,’ ‘Bosc’ and ‘Comice’) should be picked before they are ripe and allowed to ripen off the tree. The fruit should be full-size but firm (not soft); if left too long on the tree, European pears will develop a gritty texture and the area around the core will become mushy and brown. European pears are ready for harvest when they come off easily when you take the pear in your hand and lightly tip it away from the branch.
Most European pear varieties benefit from a period of cooling at 32-45 degrees. ‘Bartlett’ pears need a day or two of chilling; ‘Anjou,’ ‘Bosc’ and ‘Comice’ varieties develop their best flavor when chilled for three to four weeks. Wrap the pears in paper to reduce shriveling while in chilled storage.
Figs should be left on the tree until ripe. When ripe, the flesh of the fig becomes very soft and fruit will bend at the neck and hang limply; depending on the variety, the color at maturity can vary from green to dark brown. If the stem exudes a milky sap when the fruit is picked, the fruit is not yet ripe.
For all fruits, once picked, handle them with care. Gently place the fruit into a basket or other container to avoid bruising. Bruised fruit spoils more quickly.
Wash fruit right before usage to prevent spoilage; do not wash and then store.
To increase the shelf life, keep harvested fruit cool (32-36 degrees) but avoid freezing. Freezing will rupture the cells of the fruit and cause it to spoil. High humidity (90-95 percent relative humidity) keeps fruit from shriveling, but do not get fruit wet. Placing a wet towel nearby can help.
Check the stored fruit periodically and remove any that are spoiling. A bruised or rotten piece of fruit gives off a lot of ethylene gas which will swiftly ripen other fruit (and possibly lead to rotting).
The length of storage depends on the fruit and variety. Some varieties when stored in a cool, dark place can keep for one to three months; others only a couple of weeks. Fresh figs will only last a day or two, but can be frozen whole, sliced or peeled in a sealed container for 10-12 months.
Judy English and Jeanette Stehr-Green are WSU-certified Clallam County Master Gardeners.