How To Tell When Fruit is Ripe
August 17, 2014 6:55 PM   Subscribe

A guide for the perplexed.

I knew the gooseberries should be ripe sometime in July. So, early July I bent down over the thorny bush and looked at the two dozen berries. Are they ripe? I gave on a gentle squeeze. It was pretty firm so I figured, no not ripe. A week later I checked again. Hmm, still firm. Maybe I should give it taste test? So I plucked a gooseberry and popped it in my mouth. Now, I have never had gooseberries before so I had no idea what a ripe one would taste like. I assumed sweet so when my mouth puckered up and I exclaimed, oh tart! I decided, nope, not ripe.

A week later I checked again. Oh look, they are starting to get pink! I guess my gooseberry is a red one. A week later and they were still pink but getting darker. A few more days I thought. And then I forgot until a week had gone by. As I squatted down before the gooseberry my mouth watering in anticipation of the ripe red fruit I was about to taste, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Not a single berry. Zip. Nada. Nothing. The thorns on a gooseberry are about half an inch (1.3 cm) long and I stabbed myself upon them several times looking under leaves and little branches just to make sure they were all gone. With the thorns, I didn’t expect any critters would bother it. Guess again.

So, how to tell when gooseberries are ripe? Someone else eats them before you do.
posted by whyareyouatriangle (21 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
My parents, for some unknown-to-me reason, had 6 or so gooseberry bushes in our garden. One of my most hated tasks was gooseberry-picking: those thorns are nasty. "Oh tart!" is pretty much what gooseberries always taste like, ripe or not. Ripe ones are juicier is all.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:16 PM on August 17, 2014

Why no netting?
posted by Ideefixe at 7:40 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I inherited gooseberries when I bought my first palatial country estate, a Sears-Roebuck kit bungalow on 12.5 acres of acidic blowsand in Western Michigan. Currants & gooseberries were pretty much all that would grow there. I had the advantage of John Steele, a man who knew all there was to know about living in that neck of the woods. The father of my dearest high school friend, he stopped by when I bought the place, told me I should have called him before I bought it, told me I should get some pigs and goats, told me bees would be a good idea and told me that you pick your gooseberries two days before the racoons get 'em.
These days our garden is 5 houses down the street from our de-luxe penthouse apartment at our friends house, we've got cucumber, sage, jalapeno, anise and kale. The squirrels steal the communal tomatoes, the clearly labled bush squash turned into a vine cucumber and our fellow gardeners steal all the beets.
There's a reason the gods gave us the farmer's market.

But Oh! That gooseberry jam!
posted by Floydd at 7:53 PM on August 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

I have always been amused by the fact that fruit is the product of a natural process that if the tabloids got the right kind of drugs up in them, could only be described as INTERSPECIES SEX ORGY (pictures page 5)

A gentle ear will listen for a fruit's ripeness.
posted by angerbot at 8:12 PM on August 17, 2014

Great post.

I have three pots sitting on a small shelf next to the south-facing window in my apartment that gets the most sunlight this time of year (not that much as the sun is mostly directly overhead all day). One, and the first one I got, is a basil plant from Trader Joe's. The second, some wee cilantro sprouts grown from seeds. And the third, an aloe vera plant from Ikea, which I transplanted to a larger pot; I was very proud of myself. I water them occasionally (the aloe vera more rarely) and feel like a farmer.

I have plans for a lineup of herbs there, ready for clipping during cooking. Recently I have had further fantasies of getting a house again, this time with a back yard set up for growing food.

Posts like this one scare me silly.

I imagine myself crying out and swooning like a Victorian Gothic Novel heroine, shattering my blue TARDIS-themed watering can on the back porch concrete as I collapse and beat my Portal-Gun-themed-gardening-gloved fists into the now-empty beds where a plague of unidentified insects* has just vaporized the entirety of the crops I have been methodically tending for months.

So for now I will stick to my little plant shelf and dream of future gardens.

* Probably a South American beetle that only comes through the area every fourteenth year and which every other local gardener knows about and was prepared for by planting a certain flowering shrub which won't bloom unless within 48 hours after a lunar eclipse during the Perseid meteor showers.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:45 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Needs some mackerel.
posted by unliteral at 8:51 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mulberries disappear near instantly once they're ripe as well. Birds love those things.
posted by Ferreous at 9:50 PM on August 17, 2014

Gooseberries are never ripe, and suck. Huckleberries are never ripe but useful to send the grandkids out to pick in the early morning when you want the lively little fuckers to leave you alone and have a coffee [I'm pretty sure this was my granfather's theory] [The beer in the pancake mix was probably an excuse for an early half a beer] though they are good in pancakes I'll admit.

Salmon berries are terrible, they look like a berry, I suppose are, but really are terrible. Cherries last for a day before they split or the birds get them so you have to be fast there or have a cat, a cat doll looking thing, or an owl or an owl doll looking thing to chase the birds away. Blackberries, if you live near the railroad tracks in the PNW are huge and damn near invincible but hard to get at and humans seem to be the only thing that eats blackberries. Pears attract bees and only ripen after a freeze but are great and messy for a week. Plums look ripe but they aren't yet so you eat one, and not yet, so you eat another, and not yet and then too late. Same with Peaches.

I like apples and wild strawberries are tiny but so tasty.

All I know of vegetables [as opposed to fruit] is don't let them get too big.
posted by vapidave at 9:58 PM on August 17, 2014 [15 favorites]

I know about keeping a produce schedule. I went two days without picking cherry tomatoes this weekend so I'm going to have to double up on consumption for a couple days starting tomorrow. It's amazing how much just two of those plants produce.
posted by sourwookie at 10:57 PM on August 17, 2014

None of the berry crops this year are impressive. We went through 24 lbs of blueberries last Summer, this year our yield was only 10 lbs.
posted by furtive at 11:25 PM on August 17, 2014

In a thread about persimmons here on MeFi I learned that some kinds of fruit have to go through an extra maturing stage beyond ripening called "bletting". Which sounds like a word that Billy Crystal's character would have made up in The Princess Bride, but is evidently a real thing.
posted by XMLicious at 12:24 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Of course. Can't eat your medlars without a good bletting first.

Note to self: find a medlar. Eat it. Ponder its almost complete extinction as a fruit modern people enjoy.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:17 AM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you ever seen lettuce bolt?

I didn't know this as a possibility until I started growing lettuce. I didn't understand what it meant for a plant to "bolt".

Basically, the plant decides that there isn't sufficient water and nutrients where it's at, so it grows fast and sends out seeds. But it takes on strange non-lettuce forms while it does this.

I'm a casual gardener, occasionally experiencing trippy plant growth. I wish my meager harvest reflected this.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:32 AM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's lettuce, Jim, but not as we know it.
posted by XMLicious at 2:22 AM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Caterpillars are eating my tomatoes. They don't really like tomatoes and die before they get very big, but manage to put holes right through to the core first.

On the other hand, the peacock butterfly caterpillars are welcome to eat the nettles, the outcome of less nettles and more peacock butterflies is a double bonus!
posted by asok at 3:56 AM on August 18, 2014

I was expecting more introspective caffeine based musings, given the title.
posted by asok at 4:04 AM on August 18, 2014

Raspberries have started growing in one of the more unkempt parts of my front lawn, they appeared a couple of years ago. This reminds me that I've been meaning to try and diversify my berry harvest by planting some blueberries.

Something ate all the raspberries this year. Maybe it was a groundhog, which had been living right next to them. But then something came along and ate the groundhog. I guess it was ripe. The subsequent rodent murder investigation by ravens and vultures was inconclusive.
posted by sfenders at 4:30 AM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

The squirrels and groundhogs tell me when me fruit is close to being ripe.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 6:18 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

...for some unknown-to-me reason, had 6 or so gooseberry bushes in our garden.

Reason 1: Gooseberry pie.
Reason infinity: Gooseberry pie.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:20 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Speaking of overripe things, may apples add a nice bit of excitement to the make sure they're ripe angle. Under ripe may apples are toxic!
posted by Ferreous at 10:00 PM on August 18, 2014

Last fall we bought our first house. It has mature fruit trees in cherry, pear, peach, and apple. As nears as I can tell they haven't been pruned in several years. We determined that we would do this, then promptly forgot. Despite our incompetence we've had a little success:

1. The cherries came in alright, enough for a few batches of strudel and eating out of the bowl etc
2. The peaches are growing well
3. The pears are coming in
4. The apple trees are completely barren :(

We also had a patch of ground and set about to row gardening. Corn, peas, green beans, radishes, zucchini, broccoli, carrots. Oh yes and tomatoes. Oh heavens the tomatoes. My partner-in-crime is a patient and kind woman who, in spite of her personal distaste for tomatoes, graciously accommodates my obsession with them and has permitted me to foster a rather unruly horde of tomato plants.

We are total novices. The soil is unprepared; the lot was neglected for years before we bought the house. The weeds are relentless...we took two weeks off at a critical time and now the weeds are so overwhelming we just grit our teeth and hope we can still reach our ripe fruits through the evil cloud of morning glory.

I did a bit of googling about my tomatoes. I found some crunchy little blog that told about how to prune tomato plants, thoughI confess I skimmed it and probably missed some crucial aspect. Mrs. Creature remarked that perhaps my pruning was a "a little much" but luckily I haven't managed to kill the tomatoes and they are doing well. They seem to do so well in Utah's high desert heat, as long as you remember to water them.

We planted mostly slicing tomatoes because one of the finest pleasures on earth is a slice of garden tomato resting on a slice of homemade wheat bread (mayo optional). We did manage some paste tomatoes and those aren't ready yet, though soon I hope. I'm quite excited to make some marinara and vodka sauces, and maybe even some mexican salsas. This is pretty much the only form in which my wife can enjoy tomatoes.

I think next year we'll build up some raised beds and do the square gardening thing. I never thought I'd be the kind of grown-up who wants to have a garden. As a child I never understood gardens, they didn't appeal to me. But now, mysteriously, I'm quite interested in them. Our own children seem to be very into the garden, too, which is nice. What a simple, perplexing, humbling, pleasure it is to have a garden.

Oh yeah and THIS YEAR I'm gonna prune the damned fruit trees.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:50 AM on August 19, 2014

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