This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
This is a subject respecting which we have much to learn in this country; and considering the vast amount of capital invested in fruit culture, and the prospective importance of the business in a commercial point of view, it becomes worthy of serious and immediate attention. How many of those who are in the possession of orchards and fruit-gardens know exactly when even to gather fruits in order to secure their greatest possible amount of excellence ? May we not safely say that three-fourths of nearly all our summer fruits are consumed in an immature state ? The keeping of fruits in winter, and the packing for distant markets, are questions that concern deeply the extensive orchardists of this country. We have translated from the Revue Horticole the following observations on this subject by Prof. Dobriel, formerly of Rouen and now of Paris. They contain many valuable hints and suggestions worthy of attentive perusal:
" The preservation of fruits is a question intimately connected with the fruit-garden. This should furnish during the entire year the same quantity of the best possible fruits. In order to do this it is true we must plant an equal number of varieties ripening their fruits during each month of the year. But this will be insufficient unless we adopt a mode of preservation which will retard the ripening of fruits to mid-winter, spring, or even the following summer. The fruit-garden can not give the results expected from it, if we are deprived of its products from February till June, when the earliest fruits begin to ripen. This question, then, has a certain importance, not only for those who gather and consume the fruit, but for those who deal in fruits and who without proper modes of keeping are exposed to great losses. As the mode of gathering has a certain influence on the preservation of fruits, we will first treat of that operation.
Fruits should be gathered when they present a sufficient degree of maturity; and in this respect the different species of fruits require different treatment.
" All the Stone Fruits, the cherries excepted, should be taken from the tree three or four days before their absolute maturity.
"The Kernel Fruits of Summer and Autumn are gathered eight to twelve days before maturity.
" These fruits possess, then, the necessary elements to accomplish their maturition, which is nothing more than a chemical re-action independent in some measure of vital action. In thus separating them from the tree they are deprived of the sap from the roots, they elaborate more completely that which is contained in their tissue, the sugary principle is then less affected by water, and a higher flavor is therefore acquired. The time suitable for gathering is when the side next the sun commences to change from green to yellow.
"The Kernel Fruits which ripen only in Winter are gathered when they have accomplished their full development and before vegetation has completely ceased - that is to say, from the end of September to the end of October, according to the variety, the earliness of the season, and climate. Experience has demonstrated that fruits left on the trees after their growth do not keep so well; they lose their sugar and perfume, because at this time the temperature is ordinarily too low for the new fluids which arrive in their tissue to be sufficiently elaborated. It, on the contrary, this epoch be anticipated, the fruits wither and do not attain maturity. It is equally necessary to gather the fruits from the same tree at different times - first, those placed on the lower parts of the tree; then, eight or ten days after, those on the upper part, of which the growth is prolonged by the influence of the sap, which remains longer in this part of the tree. For the same reason the fruits of standard trees in the open ground are gathered later than those of espalier, and those of aged or languishing trees before those of young and vigorous ones.
The precise moment for the gathering of each fruit is indicated by the facility with which it is detached from the tree when slightly lifted upwards.
"Various instruments under the name of 'Fruit Gatherers' have been invented to detach the fruits at the tops of the trees without the aid of ladders; but their employment is too slow, and the fruits are more or less bruised and do not keep. When the fruits are gathered they are deposited in a basket similar to that used by the cultivators of Montreuil, fig. 1. It is about two feet long, eighteen inches wide, and a foot deep, with a carpet on the bottom. The fruits are laid in one by one, and only in three rows or tiers; when too many are laid on the top of each other, the bottom ones are bruised. Each tier is separated by a quantity of leaves. If they are peaches, each one is enveloped in a leaf of the vine. The basket, being sufficiently full, is carried on the head into a spacious and airy place, where the fruits are deposited on leaves or dry moss; the table of the fruit-room can serve this purpose. There the summer and autumn fruits achieve their maturity, and are taken thence to be consumed.
The peaches should be cleaned of the down which covers them, and which is disagreeable to the mouth.
"Grapes, for immediate consumption or to be preserved fresh, are gathered only at perfect maturity; the longer they are left on the vine, the more the sugary principle will be developed. Grapes from contre-espaliers are to be preferred for keeping to those from espaliers, as experience has demonstrated to the cultivators of Thomery that they keep better.
"The Dry Fruits, such, as filberts, chestnuts, etc., are gathered at the moment when they detach themselves from the trees.