Lus­cious fruits come from timely har­vest

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Lee Re­ich

“Ripe” is a term that’s used much too freely when it comes to fruits.

A plum is not sup­posed to taste sour like a le­mon; that le­mon-y plum is not ripe. Nor — and this is im­por­tant — will it ever be.

Ripen­ing can be­gin in a fruit’s “ma­ture” stage, and when the fruit reaches the “ripe” stage, it’s best for eat­ing. As it ripens, its color changes, the flesh soft­ens, sug­ars in­crease and dis­tinc­tive fla­vors de­velop. Ap­ples, pears, ki­wis, ba­nanas, per­sim­mons and quinces are some fruits that can ripen ei­ther on or off the plant, but to do so they must be ma­ture be­fore be­ing har­vested.

Some fruits ripen af­ter har­vest, some do not

Whether a fruit can be­come de­li­cious when ripened off the plant de­pends on the va­ri­ety. For in­stance, sum­mer ap­ples gen­er­ally taste best when picked dead ripe, but some “win­ter” ap­ples (har­vested late in the sea­son), such as Idared and New­town Pip­pin, taste best when they are picked ma­ture and then ripen for a few months in stor­age.

A few fruits MUST be har­vested when ma­ture and then ripened off the plants. Euro­pean pears, ex­cept for Seckel, are at their gus­ta­tory best only if ripened af­ter har­vest. Left to fully ripen on the plant, Euro­pean pears turn mushy and brown in­side.

Av­o­ca­dos also must be har­vested un­der-ripe. Left to fully ripen on the tree, they de­velop off-fla­vors.

Now the im­por­tant point: Many fruits do not ripen at all af­ter be­ing picked, so must be picked fully ripe to taste their best. Plums are in this group, as are grapes, figs, mel­ons, cher­ries, peaches and more. Picked un­der-ripe, th­ese fruits will still soften, and some of their com­plex car­bo­hy­drates may break down to sug­ars. But those changes are more akin to the first stages of rot­ting than the fla­vor changes as­so­ci­ated with true ripen­ing.

Good stor­age means good fla­vor

Late sum­mer and fall bring on such an abun­dance of fruit that eat­ing can­not keep pace with har­vest­ing, so stor­age is nec­es­sary. Most fruits store best when kept cool and in high hu­mid­ity. Cool tem­per­a­tures slow the ripen­ing of ma­ture fruits, the ag­ing of al­ready ripe fruits, and the growth of de­cay-caus­ing micro­organ­isms. High hu­mid­ity, as well as cool tem­per­a­tures, slows water loss from fruits, pre­vent­ing shriv­el­ing.

For most fruits (ba­nanas and av­o­ca­dos are no­table ex­cep­tions), op­ti­mum stor­age tem­per­a­tures are near freez­ing, with rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity about 90 per­cent.

The tem­per­a­ture in most re­frig­er­a­tors is be­tween 35 and 40 de­grees F, and the rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity in a frost-free re­frig­er­a­tor is 40 per­cent on the shelves and 70 per­cent in the crisper. That’s a bit too warm and dry, but it’s a con­ve­nient place to store a small quan­tity of fruit.

An old-fash­ioned root cel­lar pro­vides al­most ideal low tem­per­a­tures and high hu­mid­ity.

In late fall and win­ter, you may find stor­age ar­eas around your home where you can keep a few bushels of sea­sonal fruits, such as ap­ples, in good con­di­tion. In­vest in a min­i­mum-max­i­mum ther­mome­ter, and check the tem­per­a­tures in your garage, at­tic, foyer and cel­lar.

I move bushels of ap­ples from my garage to my foyer and then to my cool base­ment as out­door tem­per­a­tures turn pro­gres­sively colder.

For long-term stor­age, main­tain hu­mid­ity around fruits. Pack them in plas­tic bags with a few holes for ven­ti­la­tion, in dry leaves, or — my fa­vorite method — in ply­wood boxes (which “breathe” with the fruits).

Re­move fruit from cold stor­age some time be­fore you are ready to eat it. Fruit that was picked ma­ture but un­der-ripe may need to fin­ish ripen­ing, which oc­curs more rapidly at room tem­per­a­ture.

Even fruit that is al­ready ripe should be al­lowed to reach room tem­per­a­ture so you can ap­pre­ci­ate its full fla­vor.

LEE RE­ICH — VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This un­dated photo shows har­vested grapes and ap­ples in New Paltz. Grapes, picked dead ripe, and ap­ples, picked ma­ture to fin­ish ripen­ing in­doors, are part of au­tumn’s lus­cious bounty.

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