Pears Don’t Ripen on the Tree

Ripe or not ripe? With pears, you can’t tell by looking or even by touching! Photo:

Unlike apples, cherries and in fact the vast majority of other fruits, the European pear, also known as the common pear, (Pyrus communis) doesn’t ripen on the tree, at least not from the point of view of the consumer. If you leave it long enough for the outside to soften, it will be too ripe inside, with a mushy consistency. You can use overripe pears in cooking, but you wouldn’t want to eat them fresh.

Moreover, you can’t rely on the pear’s appearance to tell you when it’s ready to harvest. True enough, most varieties change color at least a bit as maturity approaches, but many are still green or only somewhat yellowish when ripe. And even if the fruit becomes flushed with red, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ready to harvest.

Nor can you solely rely on a calendar date. Some pears ripen as early as August, but most in September or October, more rarely in November … but the date will vary according not only to your climate, but to the weather starting from the time the tree first bloomed the previous spring.

20170923B Apple and Pear Australia, Flickr
Pear harvesting. Photo: Apple and Pear Australia, Flickr

To know if a pear is truly ready to be harvested, hold the branch in one hand and the fruit in the other, then lift it upwards from its hanging position as you twist very gently. If the pear remains firmly attached, it’s not ready to harvest. If it comes off easily, get out a few baskets: it’s time to get at it!

After the Harvest

But the European pear is not yet ready to eat, even when it’s ready to harvest. It will still be too hard and astringent. It simply doesn’t ripen on the tree! Instead, place it on a shelf, preferably in the dark, or in a paper bag, and store it at room temperature for a week or two until it does soften up. Then it will finally be ready to eat.

There is even a term for allowing a pear to soften until it’s edible: it’s called bletting.

Asian Pears: Different Rules Apply

20170923C Fir0002, WC.jpg
Asian pears do ripen on the tree. Photo: User:Fir0002, Wikimedia Commons

The above information applies only to the European pear (P. communis), with its oblong shape, wider at the base than the top. The Asian pear (P. pyrifolia), round as an apple, ripens on the tree just like most fruits do.20170923A

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

6 comments on “Pears Don’t Ripen on the Tree

  1. Matthew Jones

    Thanks for pairing me with this information! I enjoy all that you write. Very glad to have stumbled across your blog.

  2. Derek Arnesen

    Nowhere can I find the reason WHY pears don’t ripen on the tree

    • Actually, other fruits (mostly tropical though) likewise ripen on the ground (which is what pears would do if we didn’t harvest them). It seems perfectly logical to me.

  3. Derek Arnesen

    Thanks, but what are the benefits in evolutionary terms? Are they targeting ground eating animals to spread their seeds rather than competing with other fruits that ripen on branches? I find this fascinating.

    • I’m assuming the same as you, but have never seen a discussion about it. Possibly more mammals (not are many are climbers and many mammals too are colour-blind, while pears, especially wild ones, are certainly not that striking in color) than birds (that are especially attracted by red colors). Pear seeds can travel through digestive systems and be excreted elsewhere: sounds like an efficient system to me!

  4. Derek arnesen

    Thanks, and I totally agree with your analysis.

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