On how leaving fruit to hang can be fruitful.
I always leave a big patch of blackberries to thrive in one corner of our little property. It’s true they are a notorious weed but they serve a double purpose.
We have several families of beautiful, totally harmless Eastern-barred bandicoots that wander through our garden each night and dense blackberry clumps provide a perfect safe haven against marauding cats and dogs.
For the past three weeks these bushes have been laden with the biggest, juiciest and sweetest berries I’ve ever seen, certainly because of a very wet spring.
Oddly enough, I also grow those vigorous, thornless blackberry plants which produce huge berries, but are nowhere near as sweet as their wild relatives.
Autumn is the great fruit harvesting time and home gardeners have a huge advantage. We can pick most fruit when at its most perfect stage of maturity or ripeness. For example, most stone fruits such as plums, peaches, nectarines must
Don’t be fooled when bunches of table grapes take on a good colour while still hanging
be left to hang until fully ripe. Same with grapes. That’s when they develop full, rich flavours, maximum juiciness and sweetness. If picked too early, these small fruits may soften, but never become sweeter or tastier.
This is why so much stone fruit bought at major supermarkets can be relatively tasteless. It’s because many commercial growers are forced to harvest too early so their fruit travels better, with a longer shelf life.
European plums are now ripening fast and I’m prepared to wait until the skins of some, especially Golden Drop, Golden Gage and Jefferson become slightly wrinkled and soft. That’s when flavour is truly magnificent.
Don’t be fooled when bunches of table grapes take on a good colour while still hanging. Hesitate before snipping them off because if unripe and sour they remain so and you’ve wasted your crop.
Many table grape varieties, especially in cool districts, need a long season in order to fully sugar-up.
I’m a dedicated sampler and it’s no big deal to snap off the odd grape to check for sweetness.
The most richly-flavoured wine grapes are usually grown in cool districts where harvesting can often be deliberately delayed until late autumn. It is this long, slow period of gentle ripening which ensures unbelievably intense flavours develop.
Apples and pears are different because if picked while mature, but still unripe, most continue to sweeten over the following days or weeks. As apples and pears approach maturity, the cells where stalk-tips cling to trees start to deteriorate, weakening the link and causing a few wind-falls. That’s a sign that they are ready to be picked and there’s a trick to doing this job properly.
When an apple or pear is lifted or pivoted upwards, then immediately comes away easily with a faint click, stalk intact, it is ready. If too hard to pull off easily, they are still immature, so leave to hang.
Pears are never allowed to fully ripen on trees because they turn mushy and tasteless. In fact most pears are still hard and relatively tasteless when picked, but soften and sweeten to perfection within a few days of being stored in a cool place.
Test stored pears by pulling on stalks which slip out easily when fully ripe. Nashi-fruit or Asian pears can be left hanging until fully flavoured and aromatic.
Then, while still crispy they can be harvested for storage in plastic bags in the fridge or even eaten directly from the tree.
Some apple varieties, such as Gravenstein, Spartan, Golden Delicious and Lady-in-the-Snow can be eaten straight from trees. Others such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, Jonathan, Jonagold and Pink Lady are best picked while still hard and sour, then finish ripening indoors over the next week or so. Late bearing apples such as Sturmer Pippin and Red Fuji have little flavour or sweetness when harvested, but after storage, sometimes for weeks, develop amazing, utterly refreshing flavours.
And probably the most versatile of all dessert-cooking apples, Australia’s heavycropping Granny Smith can be steadily harvested directly from trees from late March until early July. No wonder it’s among the world’s most sought-after variety.