University of Illinois Extension

Picking And Storing Apples and Pears

As fall approaches, many homeowners with fruit trees would like to know when to pick their apples and pears, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“Apples and pears tend to have different maturity indicators that will help the backyard orchardist know when fruits are mature,” explained Maurice Ogutu. “Fruits tend to mature based on weather conditions and where they are grown in the state. Fruit maturity is late in northern parts of the state compared to the central and southern parts.”

ApplesFor apples, the time to pick is when the fruit is fully mature but before it becomes overripe.

“When to pick apples can also be determined by the time elapsed between full blooms and when it is picked, changes in ground color or flesh, and ease of separation of the fruit from the spur,” he said. “The maturity indicators for apples are color, ease of separation, fruit drop, and softness and flavor.

“Color both outside and beneath the skin is a very important indicator of maturity. In varieties of apples that are yellow, when green gives way to yellow, then it is mature. The change of flesh color from green to white is also a sign of maturity in apples.”

Ease of separation from the spur usually occurs in mature apples, he noted. When testing if the apple fruit is mature, do not pull it down but twist it upwards with a rotating motion. Dropping of good fruit from the tree is a signal that the fruits on the tree are mature.

“When apple fruits become softer and taste sweet and juicy, this indicates maturity, although there are some varieties that become sweeter in storage such as the Delicious,” he said.

Pears, however, are picked before they are ripe and continue to ripen in storage. Mature pear fruit detaches from the fruit stem when held at a horizontal position from the usual vertical hanging position.

“However, some varieties such as Bosc are hard to separate from the spur,” he said. “Pears picked when the fruit is mature and starting to ripen will ripen better in storage.

“It is also very important to know the usual period of maturity for each variety.”

Color and size of the fruit are important factors to determine pear fruit maturity. The yellow pear varieties, such as Bartlett, D’Anjou, and Comice, show a change in skin color to a lighter shade of green at maturity.

“The flesh becomes whiter, and juice will ooze on a cut surface,” he noted. “When pear fruits are mature, they should be at least two inches in diameter at the widest portion of the fruit except fruits from the Seckel variety.

“The larger fruits are mature so it is advisable to start picking larger fruits first and then smaller ones when they have reached the right size.”

Fruits that are not going to be used immediately should be stored. Separate bruised and damaged fruits and store those that are in good condition. Store apples and pears in well-ventilated containers immediately after they are picked. The storage temperature should be 30 to 32 degrees F in a humid environment.

“Do not store fruits with onions, potatoes, or other strong-smelling vegetables and herbs, as the fruits will absorb the flavors,” Ogutu said. “Inspect the fruits regularly and remove the ones with excessive ripening, mold, freezing, or flesh breakdown.”

Check storage temperatures to ensure that fruits are not frozen, particularly apples. Partly frozen pears can be thawed and still maintain their quality, but freezing usually ruins apples.

Ripen pears before they are ready for consumption, he added. The storage lives of apples and pears vary according to variety, storage temperature, and relative humidity.