Storing Your Fruit Crops
The suitability of the various fruits for some form of storage has changed dramatically in the last twenty years with the arrival of freezers. Hitherto, only apples andcould be kept whole for any length of time; other fruits had to be bottled or canned.
Now, most fruits can be frozen; either in their natural form, stewed or puréed. The only real problem remaining is that, notably,and collapse on thawing. This, though, always seems a small price to pay for the luxury of having them at any time of the year. As regards strawberries, there are now varieties becoming available that have a far better internal colour and which don’t collapse like a jelly on thawing. Totem is one of these.
The only fruits that can be stored for any length of time ‘au naturel’ are still certain varieties of apples and pears.
As a rule, apple varieties which ripen during November and later should be picked before maturing and then stored until ripe. If they are left on the trees, they run the risk of being ruined by either birds, weather or both.
The time at which apples and pears should be picked for storage is a little more precise than just guessing that they look about ready. In fact, it is one of the hardest tasks you are likely to be faced with whenbecause there are no hard and fast rules; too many variable factors come into it — for example variety, rainfall, temperature and the amount of sunshine.
All these factors will have an effect on the picking time and also the potential storage life of the fruit. Ripening is a very complex process, but we know quite a lot about it now, which helps. From the practical angle, early varieties like Discovery and Worcester Pearmain are best left on the trees to ripen and develop their flavour. Mid-season varieties, such as Cox, can either be left on the tree to mature or they may be picked in late September and stored. The choice really depends on when you want to eat them.
In some districts, birds will start to feed on the fruit long before it’s ripe. Then there is always the risk that the whole lot will be brought crashing to the ground by autumn gales. Yet another problem, especially in the north, is the risk of severe frosts early in the winter.
Late-maturing varieties, those ripening after Christmas, certainly need to be picked and stored in all but the most sheltered and protected gardens.
In spite of the difficulties and variables, the point at which to pick apples and pears for storing is, technically, when internal activity is at a minimum. This occurs when the fruit has reached maximum size. Very soon after that, ripening starts, so the aim is to pick the fruit intended for storage during this lull. At that point, cool temperatures will postpone the onset of ripening, but delaying picking until after that will simply slow down ripening. Storage at just below 40°F will usually give the longest home-storage life.
But how, without a laboratory, does one judge the moment to pick? The short answer is simply by spending a lifetime at it.
Pears usually hang on a bit harder than apples, but they should never need to be tugged at and, if they seem to bring bits of tree off with them, then clearly you are being too heavy handed and too early.
While the best time to pick a variety for storing is when it has reached its maximum size but before it has started to mature (shown by a slight change in the ground colour), the date at which it will be ready to eat is a little more elastic. This will depend on the variety and the storage conditions.
Here are some examples of average picking dates and maximum storage dates for varieties of apple:
Blenheim Orange Late Sept. until Nov-Jan.
Cox Last week Sept. until Nov-Jan.
Egremont Russet Late Sept. until Oct-Nov.
Greensleeves (new) Mid-Sept. Until Oct-Nov.
Jupiter (new) Mid-Sept. until Oct-Jan
Laxton’s Superb Early Oct. until Nov-Jan.
Lord Lambourne Mid-Sept until Sept-Nov.
Spartan (new) Early Oct. until Nov-Feb
Sturmer Pippin Mid-Oct until Jan-April.
Annie Elizabeth End Sept. until Nov-April
Bramley Seedling Mid-Oct. until Dec-March
Lane’s Prince Albert Late Sept. until Dec-March
Lord Derby Late Sept. until Oct-Dec.
Newton Wonder Mid-Oct. until Nov-March
Temperature is the first requirement. This should be constant and, ideally, above but close to freezing. However, it is unlikely that you will find anywhere much below about 10°C (50°F) in October capable of storing boxes of apples.
Avoid a stuffy and still atmosphere, this encourages disease in the fruit. The air should also be moist so that the fruit stays firm.
The store should be in darkness. In the light, chemical changes take place within the fruit which shorten its storage life.
The place most likely to answer all these requirements is a cellar. Failing that, a good stout outbuilding or garage will do, preferably brick or stone and with a solid floor Try to avoid small wooden sheds; the temperature within changes greatly and frequently.
Always remove tins of paint and other strong-smelling things from the vicinity of the apples for fear of taint;are especially likely to do this.
The best way to store apples is to wrap each fruit individually in paper and then pack them in boxes. They last well like this and any rots are prevented from spreading to touching fruits by the paper.
Storing apples in polythene bags is quite a good system, provided that not too many are involved. The fruits do not need to be wrapped. Never seal the bag completely, however; this causes a build-up of carbon dioxide. Simply fold the top under when it is full.
You can always keep just a few apples in the bottom of the fridge.
Most of what has been said about apples applies equally well to pears, but there is one big difference: the method of storage.
Pears keep much better and can be inspected easier if they are laid out on shelves or racks in the storage place; they are seldom happy wrapped and packed away in boxes.
When apples and pears are brought out of store and into the house, remember that it could be ten to fourteen days before they are ready for eating. Pears, in particular; are all too often as tasteless and hard asand need this time to mature.