Cambrian: Opinion

How to tell when the time is ripe to eat tasty, juicy fruit

Asian pears grow well in Cambria. They are best harvested by lifting up or tipping sideways on the tree.
Asian pears grow well in Cambria. They are best harvested by lifting up or tipping sideways on the tree. Special to The Cambrian

Biting into a juicy, ripe peach or apricot is one of the joys of summer. That experience is becoming more and more rare.

So much of our fruit is shipped to us from great distances. Unless you grow your own fruit, participate in a “pick your own” program or find a local grower at the farmers market, the fruit you’re eating is harvested long before its prime.

But, be of good cheer. Understanding a bit about individual fruits and their custom of ripening will help you get juicier and more flavorful fruit for your table.

We can blame Mother Nature for creating ripening behavior that has us buying less-than-mature fruit and fruit that makes us pucker. She makes unripe fruit on a plant hard to find and impossible to eat.

Unripened fruit are often green, camouflaged to blend with the leaves, making them hard to spot. They are odorless, hard and sour, making them undesirable to ranging animals and birds. As fruits mature, they change in size, color, aroma, texture and nutrient value.

They’re irresistible to creatures that devour them and spread their seeds.

Chemical changes occur during ripening. Chlorophyll, the green color, breaks down, allowing the yellow in bananas, cantaloupe and pears to become dominant.

The colors that have been there from the beginning show through. Berries create their own red colors through a chemical process that also enhances their healthful qualities.

Knowing the characteristics of ripening fruit will help you get the most flavors for your produce dollar. Ripened fruit has natural sweetness, flavor and color.

Avocados are the only fruit that will not ripen on the tree. They ripen after picking. Once you get them home, they will usually ripen within two to five days.

Bananas ripen in sugar content, color and aroma after harvesting. Buy them when firm and green. They’ve likely sustained less shipping damage.

Use your nose. Judge the ripeness of the following by aroma: apples, mangos, kiwis and papayas. Buy peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums when they appear mature, have well-developed shoulders and are just beginning to soften. Buy passion fruit, figs and blueberries when plump and firm, but not soft.

Fruits, such as soft berries, cherries, grapes, citrus fruits and pineapples may get softer but will not become sweeter after picking. Smell these fruits to determine ripeness. Choose citrus fruits that have glossy, smooth skin and are heavy for their size.

Watermelons are as ripe as they get when they are picked. Choose a watermelon that is heavy for its size.

Fruits that ripen in texture, juiciness and color after they are picked include apricots; melons, such as cantaloupe and casaba; nectarines; peaches; and persimmons. Sadly, they do not increase in sugar.

Fruits that do increase in sweetness after harvesting include apples, kiwis, mangoes, papayas, cherimoyas and pears.

Judging the ripeness of fruit requires using all your senses. Observe color, feel and aroma. A little knowledge will help you better enjoy the fruits of summer.

Lee Oliphant’s column runs the third Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian

Tip of the Month

Pears, unlike apples, do not ripen well on a tree. They become mushy around the core. Pears actually need a little refrigeration or cold spell to begin their ripening process. When commercial pears are picked, they are usually harvested when mature and put into cold storage. Once you get them home, they should be kept at 65 to 75 degrees for four to eight days, until ripening is completed.

Pears fresh from trees should be placed in the refrigerator for a few weeks or longer, depending on the variety. They should be taken out to finish ripening.