It was with a huge sigh of relief that last week we were able to start harvesting our first apples of 2013. We picked six crates of delicious James Grieve, an old variety which when picked early can be used for cooking. Once it has been stored it will mellow in flavour and can be eaten as a dessert apple.
The run up to Christmas is one of our main selling seasons and we have been anxious to get on with the preparation of this year’s chutneys, jams and juices ready for the Flavours of Herefordshire Festival at the beginning of November.
So how do you know when your apples are at the right stage for picking? Here are five simple methods.
If a few healthy apples have fallen from the tree this is an indication that the apples are nearing maturity. Check the apples that have dropped carefully. Rotten, diseased or those infested with bugs will fall at anytime.
The Seed Test
This works best with apple varieties that mature later in the season. Cut an apple through the middle horizontally and examine the seeds. If they look like chocolate chips then the apple is ripe. Earlier varieties of apples can be ready to pick before the seeds have gone brown.
Cup an apple in your hand and gently twist upwards. If the apple comes away easily they are ready to harvest. As apples ripen the fruit releases a hormone that weakens the cells that cause the fruit stem to separate from the spur on which it is growing.
Your taste buds are good guide to how ripe an apple is. Take a bite. Does it taste sweet or sour? How soft is it? Unripe apples often have a raw starchy taste.
This method is for those with a scientific bent. As apples ripen the starch is converted back to sugars. Apples usually ripen from the core outwards. Cut through the middle of the apple horizontally and spread a few drops of iodine over the cut surface. The cells containing starch will turn dark brown almost black. Those that do not colour have converted to sugar. If only the core is clear and the rest of the flesh is dark the apple is still unripe. The smaller the dark area the riper the apple is.
Finally, remember that not all the fruit on a tree will mature at the same time. Apples on the outside of the tree tend to ripen before those in the centre so you may have to pick in stages. Happy harvesting!