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.
Currants, when intended for the table in a raw state, should be quite ripe, otherwise their sharp acidity will render them unfit for use. Currants look ripe a long time before they really are so. Like Cherries, they are very seldom seen ripe in the markets; and not one person in a thousand knows how mild and pleasant are large, well-grown, ripe Currants. Instead of being as hard as grape shot, they should be so soft that at the slightest pressure the juice will run out. When over-ripe, they begin to shrivel, and very soon become worthless. Very few persons who are sent to gather Currants will do it properly; instead of taking only the ripe fruit, they take whole bunches, ripe and unripe, as convenient In all the long-bunched varieties a certain number of the fruits of each bunch will ripen before the others, and hence the whole bunch should not be gathered at once. Ripe Currants are healthy and refreshing fruits; and we believe if the large Dutch, Cherry, White Grape, and Victoria varieties, were grown well, ripened to perfect maturity, and brought fresh into market in small baskets, as are Strawberries and Raspberries, they would find ready sale at good prices.
Gooseberries are used considerably in a green state for tarts, but when intended for the dessert they should be quite ripe. In this state a shake of the bush will cause them to fall. They will not shake off easily until fully ripe, nor will they hang on a great length of time after they are ripe.
Blackberries also shake off easily when quite ripe. As long as it requires some force to separate them from the stalk, it is certain that they are uneatable.
Mulberries, too, are very easily shaken off, or drop when they are ripe.
Apricots should ripen on the tree, and. should be used within twenty-four hours after they are gathered. Their ripeness may be judged of by sound specimens falling when the branches are agitated by the wind or by hand.
Peaches and Nectarines, as a general thing, are better if house-ripened a day or two. The early sorts, ripening in very warm weather, can not be kept long after gathering. The later sorts, and especially clings, are improved by being in the fruit-room several days - in some cases a week. Some of the late clings may be kept a month in the house. All Peaches inclined to be dry or pasty when ripe, should be gathered early, say a day or two before fit for use, and they will be juicy. Many good Peaches are pronounced Worthless on account of being dried up on the branch. In all cases, however, the ripening process must have attained a certain stage on the tree, to enable it to reach perfection in the fruit-room. Gathered too soon, they become sour, as are most of the Peaches brought into market in a half ripe or unripe state.
Plums should ripen completely on the tree. Some, the greater number, will fall, or are easily shaken off when ripe; but many will hang on after they are ripe, without decaying. Such are the Jefferson, Smith's Orleans, Coe's Golden Drop, Blue Imperatrice. These even improve, sweeten, and become higher flavored, by hanging on the branch after they are ripe, and shriveling slightly. A few varieties of the prune character will keep in a dry, cool place, a considerable length of time after being gathered. The Ickworth Imperatrice will keep a month or more, becoming sugary and dry, like a prune.
All Summer Apples should be gathered a few days before being used. Varieties with a good deal of acidity, such as the Red Astracan, Early Harvest, and Graven-stein, may be allowed to ripen so far as to drop, or be easily shaken from the tree.
Strawberry, Summer Rose, Williams' Favorite, Sweet Bough, Golden Sweeting, and all of that class, become mealy, and should be gathered as soon as the skin changes color and the stalk can be easily removed from the branch. Laid on shelves in thin layers, where the air is still, they will remain in use a considerable length of time, or they may be safely sent to distant markets.
Summer Pears are mismanaged to a much greater extent than any other fruit, partly because they bear ripening on the tree worse than any other fruits, but more particularly on account of the lack of knowledge that exists in regard to the proper time for gathering them and the circumstances most favorable to their perfect maturation. A summer Pear ripened on the tree is a detestable thing; there is scarcely an exception. The process of ripening on the tree, which is the natural one, seems to act upon the fruit for the benefit of the seed, as it tends to the formation of woody fibre and farina. When the fruit is removed from the tree at the very commencement of ripening, and placed in a still atmosphere, the natural process seems to be counteracted, and sugar and juice are elaborated instead of fibre and farina. Thus Pears that become mealy and rot .at the core when left on the tree to ripen, and are pronounced worthless, become juicy, melting, and delicious when ripened in the house. Good Pears are very often condemned on- this account, and not one person in a hundred ever tastes even the finest sorts in a perfect state. It requires more skill, more close observation and practice, to gather summer and autumn Pears at the right time, than most people possess, or are willing to bestow.
The most experienced and the most careful of us fall short in this matter. Every new Pear is a new study in its ripening. Some people say that they would prefer Pears that would ripen on the tree; but we regard as a most important and valuable property that of ripening in the house, because it enables the orchardist to gather his fruit ten or twelve days or more before he offers it in market, and gives him ample time to assort it and convey it, if he choose, hundreds of miles. Summer Pears, such as Madelaine, Doyenne d'Ete, Beurre Osffard, Osbancd's Summer, Bloodgood, Bartlett, etc, may be grown in Western New York or Ohio, and be sent forward to the markets of Boston, New York, or Philadelphia, in as good condition as though they were grown within twenty miles of either of those cities. Is not this an important advantage 9 We believe it is, and we desire to call the attention of fruit-growers to it particularly, because it is a common impression that summer Pears can not be grown for distant markets.
Fruiterers in these large cities should provide themselves with spacious rooms convenient to the city, where they could take these summer Pears in an immature state, as they come from the trees, and there ripen and assort them to fit them for their market stalls and the tables of their customers. When summer Pears have attained their full growth, a change in the color and feeling of the skin immediately begins to take place; - the green becomes paler; the red, if it have red, lighter; the surface becomes smoother and finer; the base of the stalk at the union with the branch enlarges: and these are the indications of fitness for gathering. In our experiments in gathering, we find the earliest picked, provided they have attained their growth, are the best. Beurre Giffard, which is the largest and finest early summer Pear we have, immediately succeeding the Madelaine and Doyenne d'Ete, will remain on the tree a fortnight after they should be gathered, without appearing to be ripe. We picked some this season in the last week of July, before the very earliest varieties were gone, and while they were quite green-looking; and after laying about two weeks in a drawer, excluded from currents of air, we found them better, more melting, juicy, and higher flavored, than we ever tasted it before, and of finer quality than we had ever expected to find it, equaling a luscious Belle Lucrative.
It is by experimenting in this way that people must find out the proper time to gather, and the best mode of ripening their fruits. Written instructions, such as we can give, can not be a reliable guide to persons in other localities, where season, climate, and other causes exert a great influence On fruits. All we can do is to suggest the course which must be taken. As a general thing, ten to fifteen days of house-ripening are essential to bring out the real excellence of summer Pears, and no variety should be pronounced worthless without having been fairly submitted to this treatment. We think that currents of air passing over fruits while undergoing the process of ripening, are injurious, though summer fruit rooms should be ventilated, but in such a way as not to produce agitation. We are not positive that light, even the direct rays of the sun, are injurious; but our experience is, that both color and flavor are brought out more perfectly where the light is subdued. We think our best ripened Pears generally are those shut up in drawers when taken from the tree, and kept there till ripe. Changes of temperature should always be avoided, because they produce a reaction in the ripening process that can not fail to be injurious.
A steady temperate heat is the best; excessive heat in the fruit-room has somewhat the same effect on the fruits as ripening on the tree.
We will thank our correspondents who may have experience in these matters, however trifling it may be, if with but one variety, to communicate the results, and thus aid us in collecting in our pages a fund of information on this important topic We have but opened the matter for discussion; who will follow?