Eat fruit at peak fla­vor

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - By Lee Re­ich On­line: http://www. leere­

Pick up an ap­ple and hold it to your ear. Can you hear it breath­ing?

Of course you can’t. But that ap­ple, like any other har­vested fruit or nut, is breath­ing, tak­ing in oxy­gen and giv­ing off car­bon diox­ide just as you or I do.

The har­vested ap­ple is breath­ing be­cause it’s still alive. If it stops breath­ing, it will die and taste bad. Be­ing alive, an ap­ple (or any other fruit) is al­ways chang­ing, and the job for us fruit lovers is to bite into it dur­ing the win­dow of peak fla­vor.

Two Kinds of Fruits

Back to the tree: As har­vest time ap­proached, sug­ars were de­vel­op­ing and cer­tain “volatiles,” or fla­vor com­po­nents, be­gan to form. At this point in a fruit’s life, we have to dis­tin­guish be­tween two groups of fruits.

The first, called non­cli­mac­teric fruits, and in­clud­ing such del­i­ca­cies as cher­ries, grapes, rasp­ber­ries and straw­ber­ries, undergoes a smooth tran­si­tion from un­ripe to ripe to over­ripe. Th­ese fruits’ breath­ing slows down as ripen­ing is ap­proached and then passed. You pick them when they are per­fectly ripe and then, ideally, eat them on the spot, be­cause they’re not go­ing to get any bet­ter.

Pears and ap­ples are in the sec­ond group, cli­mac­teric fruits. As they ap­proach ma­tu­rity, their breath­ing also slows down. But then, just as peak fla­vor is de­vel­op­ing, they be­gin pant­ing heav­ily. This pe­riod of heavy pant­ing and peak fla­vor is short­lived, and soon after it, ev­ery­thing sub­sides and the fruit is on its way to be­com­ing over­ripe.

Ripen After Har­vest?

Once a cli­mac­teric fruit reaches a cer­tain ma­tu­rity, it can be plucked from the tree to fin­ish ripen­ing off the plant. (Not so for non­cli­mac­teric fruits.) What’s more, a ma­ture ap­ple or pear can be plucked from the tree and cooled to slow its reach­ing that cli­mac­teric stage. This is con­ve­nient for us: We can store ma­ture ap­ples and pears, so abun­dant now, in the re­frig­er­a­tor, and then take them out later to fin­ish ripen­ing.

All this as­sumes, of course, that the fruit was picked when truly ma­ture. An ap­ple or pear picked too early will never ripen.

It’s a Gas

Any cli­mac­teric fruit that is about to ripen is spew­ing out not only car­bon diox­ide but also a sim­ple gas called eth­yl­ene. The more eth­yl­ene to which the fruit is ex­posed, the more heav­ily it breathes, speed­ing ripen­ing. And the more heav­ily it breathes, the more eth­yl­ene it gives off. And so on.

So you can re­tard or pro­mote ripen­ing by let­ting eth­yl­ene es­cape or by con­tain­ing it. Bag­ging fruit, for ex­am­ple, will con­tain the eth­yl­ene. Dam­age from bruis­ing and pests, in­ci­den­tally, also pro­motes eth­yl­ene evo­lu­tion, speed­ing ripen­ing and, after that, rot­ting. That’s why an ap­ple is of­ten red­der around a point of dam­age, and why “one rot­ten ap­ple spoils the bar­rel.”

An­other way to ma­nip­u­late ripen­ing is to add eth­yl­ene from an­other source. Burn­ing re­leases eth­yl­ene. This was first re­al­ized when pineap­ple plants fruited sooner the closer they were to the ends of the fields where su­gar-cane waste was be­ing burned. Fruit grow­ers have sprays which pro­duce the same ef­fect. Even pick­ing a fruit speeds up eth­yl­ene pro­duc­tion by re­leas­ing the hold of an eth­yl­ene in­hibitor present in plant leaves.

Some cli­mac­teric fruits, such as pear and av­o­cado, can­not ripen to gus­ta­tory per­fec­tion on the tree. And ripen­ing a pear to per­fec­tion takes al­most as much skill as growing it on the tree. You must pick the fruit at the ap­pro­pri­ate, pre-ripe stage and then, for some pears at least, chill the fruit for a few weeks. After that, the fruits ripen best in a room that is cool (about 65 de­grees) and not too dry. It is some trou­ble, but plant a Mag­ness or Comice pear tree, pick the fruit at the right mo­ment, ripen them care­fully, and your taste buds will thank you.


This un­dated photo shows Seckel pears be­ing har­vested in New Paltz. Seckel, like other Euro­pean pears, can be picked ma­ture to fin­ish ripen­ing off the plant.

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