Apples and pears are rewarding fruit to grow. Picking them at the right time and storing then under the proper conditions will enhance their flavor and help them last into the fall and winter.
Apples should be harvested when the fruit is fully ripe. Color change can be deceiving, since apples may turn red before they are fully ripe. Apples will develop flavor and sweetness over time, and sometimes the best test is simply to keep sampling the fruit until it has developed its full flavor. Another indicator is to slice open a few apples, and check the seed. The seed will turn brown when the apple is ripe. Pick them with a slight upward twist of them stem to avoid damaging the fruiting spurs they are borne on.
Once picked, apples will keep best when stored unwashed at 32-34 degrees; they will freeze at 29 degrees. Try not to store them with carrots, as the ethylene from the apples will be detrimental to the taste of the carrots.
Pears, unlike apples, should be picked from the tree before they are fully ripe. If the fruit are left on the tree to ripen, stone cells develop in the fruit giving the pear a gritty texture, and the inner flesh may begin the rot from the inside. Tree-ripened fruit may also be poorly flavored.
For optimal flavor, texture and storage life, harvest pears when the fruit is just be beginning to turn from a bright, leaf-green to a light greenish yellow; at this stage the small spots (lenticels) on the fruit surface change from white to brown, and the surface may become somewhat waxy. The flesh should give slightly when squeezed in your hand, as opposed to the rock-hard consistency of immature fruit, but the fruit should not be fully soft. Juice should appear on a cut inner surface, and the seeds will have turned brown. Stems should separate easily from the spurs with an upward twist of the fruit. If the spurs come off the tree, the pears are not ready to pick. If picked too early, they also do not develop good flavor and will shrivel in storage.
Refrigerate pears at a temperature of 30 to 32°F and a relative humidity of 90 percent until you are ready to ripen them. To ripen stored pears for best quality and full maturity, place them at room temperatures (60° to 70°F). The ripening process should take 7 to 10 days. To hasten ripening, place the fruit in a tightly sealed plastic bag. Pears give off ethylene gas which accumulates in the bag and promotes ripening.
Once ripe, pears may be stored under refrigeration for only a few days. If held beyond their normal storage life (1 to 3 months, depending on variety), they will not ripen after removal from storage. For canning, pears should be soft enough to dent with the thumb and still be slightly resilient, and will peel easily. Pears that become soft after canning were probably overripe.