Although we don't think of harvest time till the middle of Autumn, Mother Nature's bounty is already beginning.
If you were lucky enough to receive a cherry or pear tree as a gift a few years ago, or have a tree in your garden or local area, then you will have probably have noticed the fruit has been coming along in leaps and bounds recently. In the warmest parts of the country, cherries and pears could be ready for harvesting as early as August.
So, it seems that now is the perfect time to have a look at the best to way to harvest your cherry and pear trees, how to store the fruit, and if you get a bumper crop, how to preserve it.
Every day on my way home, I walk along a cherry tree lined road, and have been avidly watching the tiny little cherries swelling, and turning from green through to a light yellow, and finally the blushing pink that they are currently. Over the next few weeks, I am very much looking forward to them darkening even more to a perfect cherry red - at which point I will know it is my time to take advantage of this summer harvest!
Did you know that with the correct care, a full sized mature cherry tree can produce up to 34 litres of cherries in a year, while a dwarf cherry tree can produce around 17 litres? That's a lot of cherries!
When it comes to picking sweet cherries, the best way to check for ripeness is to pick one and give it a taste. Remember that the sweetness of cherries can increases drastically in a short space of time, so if your not sure that your cherries are ready, check back in a couple of days and you might be surprised.
Rainfall can cause stoned fruit to split, so if you know a summer shower is on its way, try and fit your harvest in beforehand. Alternatively, you can protect smaller cherry trees from the rain with tarpaulin, canvas or even a few bin liners.
If you have a bumper harvest, try and remove the cherries with the stem on as they will remain fresh for longer.
How to Store Fruit
After the fruit picking is done, cherries can be stored in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to use them. Cherries will keep in the fridge for up to a week in perforated plastic bags; make sure they are completely dry before storage.
If you decide to freeze your cherries, this will keep them fresh for up to two months, if stored correctly. Wash and dry the cherries thoroughly and remove the stalks and stones (you can remove the cherry stones at a later if you wish, but If you remove them now you can use the cherries straight from the freezer).
There are many, many different ways to preserve cherries. A few of my favourites include:
- Dried Cherries. Wash, dry, stem and stone the cherries as you would to freeze. Turn your oven on as low as it will go, and disperse the cherries over a wire rack on a baking tray. Bake for 6-8 hours, turning the cherries over occasionally. Allow to cool and store in a sterilised air tight jar. These dried cherries are delicious in granola and fruit cake
- Cherry Jam - we love this simple recipe for cherry and cinnamon jam from BBC Good Food
- Pickled Cherries. Sounds strange, tastes fantastic. These super versatile pickled cherries taste amazing with roasted meats, and are a great addition to a cheese board. Find a recipe on our 'Cherry on Top' Pinterest page
- Cherries Preserved in Alcohol. This isn't difficult, but the results are fantastic! You don't only get delicious boozy cherries, you also end up with cherry flavoured booze. What more could you want? Find a great recipe here.
Depending on the variety of pear tree you are growing, your pears will be ready to harvest from August through to late September. Make sure you make the most out of this late summer harvest by picking, storing and preserving your pears properly!
The top tip we can share with you when it comes to picking pears is this - unlike most other fruit, including cherries, pears don't ripen on the tree. Why? Well because they ripen from the inside out. If you waited until they felt fully ripe on the tree, you would quickly find out that they were in fact OVER-ripe.
The best way to tell if your pears are ripe, is to take the pear in your hand, tilt it to a slight angle and pull gently. If the pear comes away from the tree with ease, your pears are ready to harvest. If they are not ready for harvesting, you will have a job pulling the fruit away from the tree.
How to Store Fruit
How you chose to store your pears will be key to how quickly they ripen. Handling them very gently, lay flat in well lined boxes and store at room temperature until ripe, which should take about a week. If you want your pears to ripen faster, wrap them in paper bags, or store in a fruit bowl with other fruit, which should speed up ripening to around four days.
To test when your pears are ripe, apply gently pressure to the flesh around the stem of the pear. If it gives slightly, your pear should be ripe
Pears are slightly trickier to preserve, as they have such high water content, and like we mentioned before, they ripen from the inside out. But it can be done, and done well. Here are some ideas:
- Alcohol is a classic way to preserve fruit. Try mulling your pears in cider or wine, this River Cottage recipe works well.
- Pears make great chutney that can be eaten for the rest of the year with any number of meats, cheese and savoury snacks. I like this Nigella Lawsons recipe, but once you have made chutney a few times, you will get to know the process so well that making your own will be no challenge.
- Pear liquor - tastes delicious served over ice with soda water and lime. Find a recipe here
We hope you enjoy our ideas for using your preserving fruit, and making the most of the summer harvest! We would love to see pictures or hear your tips and tricks for picking, storing and preserving fruit this Summer and Autumn. Get in touch on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest!