The ripening time of a particular fruit varies from one location to another and from year to year, though the order in which varieties ripen stays roughly the same.
In this first part of our three-part series on fruit processing, we’ll focus on figs, sea berries, shipova and cornus mas. Part two will talk about aronia, grapes, kiwi, nuts and paw paw. Part three will be about apples and pears.
Figs Aren’t Just for Cookies
Figs are ready when the fruit fully droops from its own weight and is soft. The breba crop (over-wintering crop) typically ripens in August. In September the alpha (spring initiating) crop starts expanding and ripens in areas with hot summers, in October or November.
In the Pacific Northwest, our cool fall temperatures prevent the fruit from maturing. If this is your experience, you may be able to hasten the ripening in the fall, and pick that second crop, by applying a bloom fertilizer when the fruits are about nickel size late August or early September.
Bloom fertilizers are high in phosphorous, which supports growth of the reproductive parts of the plant. A fig fruit is an ovary, and the bloom fertilizer encourages it to start and keep expanding. Use a water soluble fertilizer, so the phosphorous is immediately available. Desert King is particularly rich tasting if you wait until the skin takes on a brown gnarly look.
Sea Berries are ready to harvest when the fruit starts to soften and you no longer taste the astringency. The ripe fruit will have a combination of sweetness and acidity.
The fruit can be harvested by cutting whole branches and then working the fruit off the branches into a bowl. Or pick the fruits from the plant if your bush is young.
Use the juice to make jellies, syrups, or to mix with other juices. The raw fruit and juice are not recommended for fresh consumption in large quantity, as the high vitamin C content can cause nausea.
Shipova, a natural cross between European pear and mountain ash, benefit from being harvested before they are fully ripe, similar to the pear. Look for color change in the portion of the fruit facing away from the sun, from green to yellow. Cut a few fruit open, and check to see that the seeds are mature, deep brown or black. Shipova have a pear flavor when fully ripe, high sugar content, and firm flesh. They dry very well, and can also be canned.
Cornus mas are ripe when the fruits readily drop from the tree or are soft and no longer astringent. Yellow fruited cornus mas will be translucent and incredibly sweet when ready to eat.
The fruit tends to ripen unevenly, so check your bush regularly to harvest them fully ripe. Laying a ground cloth down and shaking the bush to loosen the ready fruit can work. Or harvest the berries at the firm ripe stage when they have turned from orange to red (or from white to yellow in the case of the yellow fruited), but are still firm; they will finish ripening off the bush at room temperature.
Process berries that are soft when harvested right away—they don’t store well. The red varieties vary in flavor, and are usually preferred for cooking, rather than fresh eating.