Apple picking season is right around the corner, time to brush up on how to tell when apples are ripe and ready to pick.
I know it’s alarming when apples start dropping, but having several apples fall before they are actually ripe for picking is normal. Do not be alarmed and feel that you need to harvest the entire tree right away. In fact, not all of your apples will be ready at the same time. Typically apples along the outer edges of the tree will ripen before those towards the center of the tree.
Ideally, you would pick apples on more than one day, covering a span of one to two weeks. Picking in this manner will ensure you get consistently ripe apples, but it is not necessarily the most efficient way of picking.
If you’d like to have one large pick in order to make juice, apples sauce, preserves or confectioneries, it’s okay to have a mix of overripe, underripe and just right apples. For this type of picking, you want to pick when the majority of apples are perfectly ripe.
Here are five tips from the Prairie Fruit Cookbook on how to tell if your apples are ripe for picking.
Knowing the variety of apple you have can help you narrow down when you should start to consider whether or not your apples need picking. Apples and crab apples can typically be classified as early summer (July to mid August), mid-summer (mid-August to early September) or fall apples (mid-September to October).
If you don’t know the variety, no problem, there are plenty of other ways to judge ripeness. Just don’t be swayed by whether or not your neighbours are picking their apple tree. You may have a different variety and just because they’re picking, doesn’t mean you should!
Start keeping tabs on your apple tree and soon you’ll get a sense of when your apples are typically ready to harvest. Although, some years there can be up to 3 to 4 week differences in harvest times.
Did you know that some apples are best when picked after a frost? You bet! These red fall apples (variety may be a Haralson or Frostbite from the Univeristy of Minnesota) are super sweet and store really well, but aren’t harvested until mid-October.
These Goodland apples are often ready towards late August. They should be yellow with a blush of red.
These rescue crab apples are one of the first to ripen in early August. The ones here are over ripe and have become grainy, but still good for juicing.
Look carefully at the color of your apples, especially the base or ground color – it may be green, creamy or yellow. Watch it change as the apples mature and wait for the entire apple to change. Unless you have a green apple variety like Granny Smith, most apples will turn a softer shade of green or even a creamy yellow when they’re fully ripe.
Here’s what our Prairie Sensation apples look like in early July. They’re a good size and have the start of a red blush, but the base color is much too green.
In late August last year, this same apple variety looked like this. Quite a difference, but if you’re not patient enough, you’d miss out on this transformation and would assume you have a tart green apple instead of the sweet delicious red apple you could enjoy if you wait.
3. Ease of Separation from Tree
Ripe apples come off a tree quite easily – they don’t need to be tugged or pulled. Simply hold the bottom of the apple, lift it against the stem and twist. If it doesn’t come off easily, it’s not ripe.
Unless you have a crab apple or a tart apple variety, your apples should not be sour and make you make a face like my boy did when I asked him to “taste test” our unripe apples! It’s amazing how much sweeter your apples will become with a couple of days of sunshine.
5. Pip Color
Pick an apple and slice it open to see what color the pips or seeds are. A ripe apple, no matter what size or variety, will have dark brown pips. Here’s the pips in one of our apples that fell off the tree mid-July. Notice that one seed is just starting to turn brown while the two beside it are still white. Even though the apple fell off the tree, it is no where near being ripe enough to pick.
Keep testing and tasting your apples, after a couple of seasons, you’ll know just what to look for.
In the mood to pick some apples, but don’t have your own apple tree? Check out Fruit Share or similar fruit rescuing organizations throughout Manitoba, Canada and the US that match up people interested in picking fruit with people who have too much fruit in their back yard. Pick, share and enjoy the bounty!
Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this. Getty is a Professional Home Economist, speaker and writer putting good food on tables and agendas. She is the author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.