Harvesting and Storing Fruit

When harvesting and storing fruit a lot is dependent on what use you have in mind. The best way to prolong the freshness of your fruit is to leave on the tree for as long as possible, then to pick them off and eat as and when you fancy. You can also store fruit for weeks, months, or even a year, depending on variety.

Harvesting

Fruit should be harvested just before full maturity. Fruit ripening is the process of starch converting to sugars and if you pick too early, fruit does not have the capacity to convert all the starch to sugar. Flavour and sweetness will suffer as a result.

Always pick fruit when dry, this includes avoiding dewy mornings. Wet fruit attracts mildews and rots.

Fruit ripens unevenly with those most exposed to the sun and on the outside of the tree ripening before fruit on the north or shaded fruit further inside the tree canopy.

Fruit from trees on clay or heavy soils will store longer than from trees growing on light sandy soils.

Retain stalks on fruit if possible. When picking be careful to ‘unhook’ fruit rather than pull in haste.

Handle with extreme care, bruising will take time to appear, often after the fruit has been stored away with obvious consequences.

Storing

The small fruit will store longer than the large fruit, which should be eaten first.

Blemished fruit should not be stored but eaten or processed without delay.

Wrapping individual fruit will extend its storage and many materials can be used. Newspaper is probably the most handy and economical but aluminium foil and grease proof paper in particular work well at extending shelf life.

Store in a cool airy place and in single layers if space allows.

Cellars and out-buildings with earth floors are ideal for keeping day/night temperatures low and even. Those with cellars are fortunate but those without can still help by opening windows and doors at night and closing them during the day.

Rats and mice will run riot given the opportunity.

Remove stones from fruit before freezing while fruit it still firm.

Apples

Avoid storing early varieties other than in the fridge and mid season only for a short period. East from the tree daily and give surplus fruit to friends and schools.

Apricots

If unable to eat fresh, then dry, bottle, jam or freeze for the winter.

Cherries

Immerse in cold water as soon as they are picked, they will stay fresher longer. They can also be frozen successfully.

Hazels and Filberts

Harvest when the husks are green for fresh eating or as the husks turn yellow for storage. Protect from vermin. Dry in the airing cupboard.

Damsons

Shaking the tree regularly removes only the fruit that has ripened and importantly retains the stalks. All processing including jams, cheeses and bottling can be carried out after freezing if time is short. Certainly freeze before adding to gin – defrosting breaks the skin for better flavour infusion.

Figs

Store for several weeks in the fridge. Pick when the fruit are well coloured and begin to droop or split near the base. Eat fresh or bottle in syrup.

Medlars

‘Bletting’ (controlled ripening in sawdust in stone or glass jars) separates the fruit and slows ripening.

Mulberries

Shake from the tree each day and gather the ripe fruit. Ideal for freezing.

Peaches and Nectarines

Pick when fruit is still firm but able to be ‘unhooked’. Use the palm of the hand rather than gripping with fingers. Place on soft tissue, cotton wool or bubble polythene. Store in a cool, dark place but a fridge is ideal. Inspect daily and eat when the stalk end softens.

Pears

Always ‘unhook’ fruit leaving stalk intact, pick when firm, store in single layers wrapped individually. Inspect regularly as pears in particular ripen unevenly.

Plums

Use egg cartons to keep fruit separate. Shrivelled fruit can still retain good flavour. Later varieties can be stored in the fridge for some weeks. Good for freezing.

Quince

Pick as the first fruits drop from the tree. Quinces emit high levels of ethylene that will hasten the ripening of other fruits.

Chestnuts

Collect from the ground, de-husk and dry before storing in a cool dry atmosphere.

Walnuts

Collect from the ground or pick as the husks split. De-husk and dry quickly in the airing cupboard in single layers. Store in dry sand and salt mix.

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