Pear season is coming. It typically starts early in August for early maturing varieties and continues into the fall for later maturing varieties. Therefore, it is time to begin checking your trees for fruit maturity and harvest before the pears are fully ripe for later enjoyment. While most types of fruit reach their peak on the branch or vine, the classic European* pears are an exception and need to be picked before ripening. Most varieties ripen from the inside out; if left on the tree to ripen, they will become brown at the core and mushy in the middle. Further, pears have a grainy texture caused by cells in the fruit called stone cells. Picking pears before they have matured, and holding them under cool conditions, prevents the formation of the stone cells and resulting gritty pear.
To avoid such results, pears must be picked when they are mature but not yet fully ripened. Unfortunately, there isn’t a pat answer to knowing when pears are ready for picking. Due to firmness and variations in color, neither touch or sight are good indicators of maturity. Here are some tips to help determine whether pears are mature and ready for picking:
- Tree attachment: Pears are best picked when the fruit separates easily from the twigs. Take the fruit in your hand and tilt it horizontally. The mature fruit will easily come away from the branch at this angle (as opposed to its natural vertical hanging position). If it holds on to the branch, it isn’t ready.
- Flesh texture: A mature pear should have a feeling of springiness to its flesh and give slightly when gently squeezed in the hand. If it feels rock hard, it’s not ready.
- Drops: Healthy pears begin to drop as they reach maturity. If you see fruit on the ground, it is a sure sign that it is time to check the fruit on the tree.
Once harvested, most pears will require about a week to ripen at room temperature (64-72F). This will result in optimum quality and smoothness of flesh. If you store the fruit in a paper bag, you can speed up the ripening process. Adding an apple or a banana to the bag will also speed ripening as these fruits release ethylene gas, a ripening accelerant. If you want to keep pears for a longer period of time, store the freshly picked fruit in the refrigerator; they will keep for many weeks.
Ripened pears can be used in a variety of ways—fresh eating, baking, canning, freezing, preserving. If canning, freezing, or preserving pears, check for recipes and guidelines at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
*Asian pears, unlike European pears, should be allowed to ripen on the tree and need no ripening time. Asian pears are ready for harvest when they come away easily from the branch when lifted and twisted slightly and the green skin color starts to change to yellow. Asian pears should be crisp and crunchy when eaten.