Robert Ingram, on Not Picking Pears Too Early

Pear ‘Nouveau Poitou’, Plot #79 orchard, October 2020m – NOT RIPE YET!!

“I consider that a great deal of the winter pears are too soon pulled, and the reason of it is: We have often some frost early in autumn, and when that happens, the fruit is gathered before it has got the full benefit which the tree can afford. But pears are not very soon hurt by frost; for I have tried the experiment, and allowed them to remain, although there was a little frost in the night, and they have suffered no harm from that; but, on the contrary, I found the fruit improved a great deal from remaining on the trees, perhaps fourteen days longer than they would have done, had they been gathered when frost came on early. Every one who has got fruit to gather, must judge when the tree ceases to nourish it; for when this is the case, it will part from the tree by being gently lifted up. The pears or apples when pulled, should be carefully laid one by one into the, baskets, so as not to. bruise one another.”

Robert Ingram, ‘On the means of bringing Fruit-Trees into a bearing State, on preserving Fruit, and the proper Construction of Fruit-Rooms’, in
The Belfast Monthly Magazine, Vol. 13, No. 77 (Dec. 31st, 1814), pp. 491-494

At the start of October last year, I tested the ripeness of a couple of ‘Nouveau Poitou’ pears on the tree in our Plot #79 allotment orchard. I gently lifted them towards horizontal and, sure enough, the stems snapped and they came away cleanly and easily. Happy that they’d passed the standard ‘are the pears ready to pick yet?’ test, I took them home and left them on the windowsill to ripen up.

Instead, they just shrivelled. No gradual softening of the gritty schlerenchyma (stone cells), no breakdown of stored starches into sugary, juicy, buttery pear flesh. I tried one, just to see if I was imagining things, but no: it was dry, brittle, tasteless: horrible.

Then the second (sort of) UK lockdown started in early October and, furloughed again, I threw myself into digging over our front garden, constructing trellis panels, adding eight tonnes of top-soil… so by the time I got back to the Plot #79 allotment orchard, it was late November. There were still plenty of ‘Nouveau Poitou’ on the tree and they seemed to be at least half the size again compared to when I’d last seen them.

I gently lifted one towards horizontal, the stem snapped and it came away cleanly and easily. I took it home, left it on the windowsill for a week and… it ripened, perfectly. Tasted amazing, too, genuinely one of the best pears I’ve ever eaten. Needless to say, I was back down the plot for more, quicker than you can say “You know what, I think the pears are definitely ready this time…”

Long story short: Robert Ingram was absolutely right, back in the day. Leave those pears on the tree a bit longer than you think you need to folks – even if there’s a bit of a frost forecast – and there’s a good chance you’ll get a much, much better pear for your patience.

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