I recently had a fox in my garden. My sister had stopped by and was out working in it when she noticed some movement on the other side of the garden from where she was. She looked over and noticed a fox happily munching away on the Swiss Chard. Once it noticed it had been seen, it turned away and strolled under the fence into my neighbor’s pasture.
On Saturday I stopped by the local fresh market and found myself looking at the largest apricots I have ever seen. I like apricots, but, like almonds, they are not one of the trees I felt I could have much success with so I have not included them in the orchyard. These were perfectly colored, highly aromatic, the size of a peach, and hard as a rock. The woman selling them apologized for not having any that had softened up yet, but said she figured by Monday or Tuesday they would be ready to eat out of hand and were good as they were for baking. Saturday evening I decided to try one, and as I should have known it was not ready yet. It was unpleasantly hard and mouth-puckeringly tart. I was able to salvage the remaining part of it by adding it to the stir-fry I was making for dinner, but it was basically a wasted apricot.
On Sunday I noticed one of them was slightly softer than the others, and on trying it I found it was edible but not overly pleasant. Another wasted apricot.
This afternoon I walked into the kitchen and the aroma of perfectly ripe apricots overwhelmed me. The remaining three had ripened sufficiently for eating, and while I intended to only eat one all three were gone a few hours later.
When fruit (or veg) hits it’s window of perfect ripeness is often far too short a time to be able to effectively make use of it. In an ideal world, of course, we would all be right at the plant to snatch the fruit from it and eat it on the spot. Unfortunately that is rarely the case. Even for someone with a large number of plants ripening at different times, and accordingly having many opportunities, the other demands of life tend to limit our time to stand by and wait for that perfect moment. On a commercial scale the timeframe for harvesting, processing, and distributing as well as the resistance to damage during those processes has to be taken into account, which far too often leads to fruit missing it’s perfect moment at the table.
Farmers markets are even more troublesome as their distribution window is short. For a Saturday market, what is perfectly ripe on Tuesday is over-ripe by Saturday, and what is ripe on the plant on Saturday doesn’t help because of the need to be at the market. In addition, for small growers there is often a strong economic incentive to be the first to market with a certain product. One of the things I enjoy about being interested in the many varieties of apples is going to local markets in the fall and seeing what “oddities” I can find in the apple bins. It can be a mixed experience. Grimes Golden, for example, is a wonderful apple when ripe late in the season. My first experience with it nearly turned me off of it for good. The seller at the market brought them out with the first apples of the season, and made a point of being the first at the market with that variety. Had I known what to look for at the time I would have known not to bother with them, but I trusted that a seller would not bring unripe fruit to market. I was disappointed. Fortunately I later came across properly ripened Grimes Golden, and realized the problem was not with the apple itself but with it having been presented underripe.
The woman with the apricots was amazingly correct. Perhaps she knows her fruit that well, or perhaps it was just luck, but she made a point of saying that the fruit wasn’t ready at the time of sell and set realistic expectations. I believe that’s all we can do, whether it is picking items for sale or for our own use.
As for the Swiss Chard, I think I should take the fox’s advice and harvest some.