Whether you’ve got one apple tree in a tiny back garden or what amounts to a mini orchard, this is the time of year when you can indulge in one of my (many!) gardening passions – harvesting tree-ripe apples as the early autumn sun warms your back …and then, before you even think to venture inside with the sun-warmed fruits, sinking your teeth into one (or maybe more?) perfectly ripe, sweet, juicy apples and enjoying the amazing sensation as the zingy yet sweet favours combine in your mouth. Perfection and not something so easily achieved with fruit you buy in the shops! One of the secrets to home harvested apples is the fact you can pick them when they are ripe, not when you want but when the tree wants. So how do you ensure the fruits you harvest are perfect for picking and, if there are any left, how do you make sure that they store well?
Start by checking each fruit as soon as you think it is ready – go by the colour of the skin and in some cases even the aroma (‘Discovery’, for instance are wonderfully perfumed when ripe) . Then cup the fruit in your hand, grip it firmly yet gently and twist it – if the fruit and its stalk do not separate easily from the spur or branch, you’ll need to wait. Remember that the fruits on the tree won’t all be at that stage of perfect ripeness simultaneously , so try several. If you’re not happy with this (my favourite method), then you can cut a sample fruit in half and look at the pips – if they’re still white the fruit isn’t ripe, blotched brown and white nearly there, so fine if you like extra sharpness, but for most of us better to wait a few days or more.
I always pick all the fruits, even those with a bit of bird damage or showing signs of scab attack will still taste good or maybe be useful in an apple pie ! If there are several trees in your life then you may have some to spare, so don’t forget friends and family who may not be so lucky. If after that there are still some left then, chose those which are totally perfect with no holes or blemishes and pop 5 or 6 in a clear polythene bag, carefully add a few holes using the sharp end of a pencil, fold the top over and pop them in the vegetable compartment of the fridge – most will store happily for several weeks, sometimes longer, like this.