Time to Pick Apples!

Time to Pick Apples!

Part of Ep. 903 Fall is for Planting and Picking

Use skin color, firmness, and seed color to determine apple ripeness.  Extension Specialist Teryl Roper describes the science behind the ripening process and explains that, unlike apples, pears are picked when mature so that they can ripen off the tree. He also demonstrates the proper apple harvesting technique.

Premiere date: Oct 03, 2001

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
It's fall in Wisconsin. And that apple tree you planted about four years ago is finally bearing fruit. So, it's time to harvest. And with me is Extension Specialist Teryl Roper. Teryl, I'm excited. This looks like it's going to be the first apple of the season. Look at the gorgeous color on this.

Teryl:
That does look nice. Why don't you take a bite?

Shelley:
Why are you so eager for me to take a bite? You can take a bite.

Teryl:
I would do that, but why don't you take it?

Shelley:
What's wrong with the apple, Teryl?

Teryl:
It would probably taste like a potato. It would be starchy inside.

Shelley:
It doesn't look like a potato. Explain.

Teryl:
As apples mature, the starch that they have inside changes to sugar, and they develop that sweet flavor.

Shelley:
So, an unripe apple is going to taste like a potato?

Teryl:
It's going to taste starchy. One way we can visualize this is in the lab. We can dip cut apples in a solution that will turn the starch blue or purple.

Shelley:
So you can actually see it.

Teryl:
We have two apples here. They're both the same variety. This one is ripe, dead-ripe. And this one is not ripe. In this apple, there's no, really, there's no purple. There's no starch. But in this one that isn't ready to harvest, there's a lot of starch, indicated by the blue color.

Shelley:
Well, we can't do this at home, but this is a great way to show what a change these apples are going through.

Teryl:
That's right. The starch changes to sugar. We have a Golden Delicious apple, and it's not ready to harvest either, indicated by the blue in the tissue. But this McIntosh is just about ready to harvest. The starch is beginning to turn to sugar.

Shelley:
It's starting to change right in the middle, there.

Teryl:
It's starting to get some blotchiness to the starch.

Shelley:
Now, obviously, tasting like a potato is a good indication that it's not ripe. Color is no good at all, because these both look ripe.

Teryl:
They're both bright red.

Shelley:
But one of them is not going to taste very good at all.

Teryl:
That's right.

Shelley:
Okay, are there other indications? Is this our best bet, then, for trying to decide when to harvest?

Teryl:
There's no single way to tell if apples are ripe. You need an array of tools to tell you if apples are ripe. Another thing you could use is firmness. If you take these two apples and just give them a squeeze.

Shelley:
Okay, this one is soft. In fact, there's actually a bruise where my thumb dented it. And this one is rock hard.

Teryl:
So, which one do you think is mature and ready to be harvested?

Shelley:
I don't trust you anymore, but I'm guessing the soft one.

Teryl:
That's right. The soft one would be ready. As apples mature, they begin to soften some. Another way that you can tell is from seed color. As the fruit develops and matures, the seeds turn from a cream color to a dark brown color. This isn't reliable for all varieties in all years, particularly not for early maturing apples, apples that would mature in August or early September. But it does work pretty well for apples in late September and October.

Shelley:
So, it's a good tool, as long as we tie it in with other indicators, as well.

Teryl:
That's right. Use them all in concert.

Shelley:
What about picking? I thought I'd heard that if the apple comes off the tree easily, it's ready.

Teryl:
That's another indication. Obviously, if you pull on that fruit and the whole branch comes off with it, it's not ready to harvest.

Shelley:
So, give it to someone else to eat!

Teryl:
Like you!

Shelley:
Thanks!

Teryl:
But if you can pull on the fruit and it separates from the branch pretty readily, then that fruit may be ready to harvest.

Shelley:
Now, you've said, "mature," and you've said, "ripe." Are these words interchangeable?

Teryl:
They're not interchangeable. "Mature" means that the fruit has completed its development. It's as large as it's going to be, but it doesn't mean that it's ready to eat.

Shelley:
It's done growing.

Teryl:
On the other hand, "ripe" means that it's at its peak of flavor, and texture, and sweetness, and it's ready to eat.

Shelley:
I'm assuming most apples we harvest are pretty close to ripe. We can almost eat them off the tree.

Teryl:
Apples, you want to harvest when they're ripe. But that's not true for all fruits. European pears, for example, they're harvested when they're a green color, this color. As the fruit matures, the green changes from a bright, or dark green, to a softer green, and they get brown spots on the fruit.

Shelley:
So, basically, the spots turn a darker brown.

Teryl:
That's right, and the fruit turns a lighter color. So, we pick them at this stage and then put them in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. They need a period of after-ripening. Once they've completed that, then you can take them out in room temperature, put them on the kitchen counter, maybe on top of the refrigerator, and they'll turn this nice, soft yellow color. And the flesh softens and gets a real buttery, juicy texture.

Shelley:
So, that's when we can actually be eating them.

Teryl:
Right. And if you leave them on the tree until they look like that, they'll be brown inside.

Shelley:
I did that. They didn't taste very good, either. I thought there was something wrong with the variety I was growing. They were too ripe. They were over-ripe, basically.

Teryl:
They were left on the tree beyond they're maturity.

Shelley:
So, pick them mature and ripen them in your kitchen.

Teryl:
That's right.

Shelley:
I'll remember that.

Teryl:
That's true for other fruit crops, as well. When you go to the grocery store, you'll find fruits that are mature, but are not fully ripe.

Shelley:
These are not fruit we're growing in Wisconsin.

Teryl:
Right, it's fruit that you'd find at the grocery store, nectarines, peaches, avocados. You need to plan ahead a few days, purchase them, take them home and give them a period to continue to become ripe. The best way to do that is just put them in a paper bag.

Shelley:
Is this one of those special ripening bags I see in the grocery store?

Teryl:
It's one of those really expensive lunch bags.

Shelley:
That's great, I can afford this. Thanks a lot, Teryl. With this advice, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Teryl:
It's also important to harvest apples correctly. If you grab the apple in your fingers, you'll cause bruises that are unsightly on the skin of the fruit. What you want to do is hold the fruit in the palm of your hand and then twist it off of the branch. Grab the fruit in the palm of your hand and then twist it off of the branch. You also don't want to just grab the fruit and pull. When you do that, you can pull the spur off the fruit, as well. In the palm of your hand and twist it off the branch.

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