Do you have a childhood memory of eating fruit, ripe from the tree? Maybe at your grandma’s house or a house where you lived as a kid, or somewhere you visited in your summer holidays. Maybe your special fruit memory is a dish your Mum made every summer, or bottled apricots eaten in the middle of winter. After talking to literally thousands of people about fruit, we’ve heard so many of these stories that we know it’s almost a universal shared memory.
But these days, the common lament we hear is that “fruit just doesn’t taste like it used to”, or the variation “you can’t buy good fruit at a supermarket”. People’s expectations of being able to buy fruit that tastes as good as their childhood memories is almost nil.
That’s just one of the reasons why people are starting to grow their own in droves.
And now that they are starting to grow their own fruit, we get lots of questions from people about how do you tell when is the right time to pick fruit.
Coincidentally, this is one of the biggest challenges of our job, and something we put a lot of energy and thought into. We’re always aiming to get fruit to our customers in absolutely perfect condition, just ready to eat, and ripe and delicious – and truthfully, those things can be very hard to achieve simultaneously.
When you’re growing your own, you have the huge advantage of not having to get your fruit to market, and can afford to let the balance fall more on the side of ripening the fruit on the tree, and become more flavourful, juicy, sweet and delicious. If it has a few bruises from being over-ripe when you pick, it doesn’t really matter because you have no-one to please but yourself, and anyway, you’re probably going to eat it within a day or two.
But even in your home garden, knowing what you’re planning to do with the fruit you pick will help you decide when to pick it – and actually, this is quite an important part of getting the most out of your fruit trees.
Pick too green (before the fruit has reached maturity) and it won’t ripen off the tree, and may have only reached 50% of its potential size (and, by the way, will never taste very good).
Pick over-ripe and you risk bruising, much shorter storage time, a higher chance of post-harvest rots, and the fruit going floury. Plus over-ripe fruit rapidly starts losing its nutrient value after picking, and often doesn’t preserve as well.
So how do you tell the perfect time to pick each piece of fruit? This is actually quite a science, and there are many specific indicators and even tests you can do to really figure this out, and to further complicate things it can vary wildly between different types of fruit and even between different varieties.
However, there’s lots of simple indicators that will help you to get it right without getting too scientific about it – here’s our top 5 tips:
1. Judge whether a tree’s crop has reached maturity by whether at least one piece of fruit is definitely ripe – either because it’s fallen from the tree from ripeness, or judge by eating it (you need to sacrifice some fruit to make this decision).
2. Fruit colour is actually a very poor guide because fruit will often start to colour weeks or months before it’s ripe, so look instead at the background colour which will be persistently green until it starts to change to yellow, white or cream (depending on the fruit type) as the fruit ripens.
3. If birds are starting to get interested in the fruit, it’s a good sign that it will be ready soon (though annoyingly, some birds will attack fruit even when it’s still completely green, so use caution with this one).
4. Taste! Again, this one involves sacrificing a piece of fruit to test, but is an excellent way to start linking the way a variety tastes with the way it looks at different stages of ripeness.
5. Our last (and most important) tip … start to make a note of when you pick each variety each year, and make a little note of whether you got it right or not!