Two great stalwarts of the Irish gardening harvest are apples and pears. Most apples and pears like a pollinating partner near by but with such a proliferation of trees across the country you can often get a reliable crop from single trees thanks to your near neighbours.
Apples can be harvested from late August through to October depending on the variety, some will need eating directly from picking while others can be stored and eaten later. You need to know the variety you are growing to ascertain this and sometimes if you have inherited an apple in a house move or such like it may be trial and error finding the best time to harvest. A tester is to gently cup an apple in the palm of your hand and give it a slight twist, of course if it comes free its ripe if it shows resistance it is probably not. Generally the earlier the apple is ripe the less well it will store.
Unfortunately we don't live in a utopian world especially in respect to our weather and from my experience the longer apples are left on a tree the more likely they are to be ripped off by autumn storms and end up bruised and slug ridden as windfalls. Birds are also and increasing problem seemingly wanting to peck every apple once before moving on to another. This encourages wasps and insects leaving the fruits often inedible and certainly not storable.
To store apples well you need a dark space where the stored apples won't touch each other and a cool controlled temperature. Most of us don't really have the conditions to be very successful at this and certainly with eating apples they become quite waxy on the skins and unless peeled quite unpleasent. Cookers are better because as the name suggests they are peeled and cooked becoming a different proposition. That said some eating apples like Egremont Russet need to be stored to make them edible otherwise they are hard and dry. This old variety is very much out of favour these days though and for most of us pick and eat varieties are the best way to go.
Pears, unlike apples, don't ripen well on the tree. If left they begin to ripen from the inside going brown and mushy around the core and gritty and mealy in the flesh. You have to harvest pears at a mature stage rather than a ripe stage. The best method for testing when to pick a pear is to lift it while attached to the tree into a horizontal position. If it comes away its time to pick, if not try again in a few days time.
Like apples pears become mature at different times depending on the variety. Once harvested you need to head for the fridge. Commercial growers store their fruit at just 1 or 2 degrees celsius, the sugars stop the pears from freezing at these temperatures, but your 4 or 5 degree fridge will do. This cooling is actually needed to get the pears to ripen properly without it you get the results I've already mentioned or they just sit rock hard and slowly wither and rot in your fruit bowl.
The variety determines how long you need to chill them for but a couple of weeks is not out of the question by any means and sometimes longer.
In general the longer your pears are in cold storage the faster they will ripen. Test yours by removing a couple at a time and see how they ripen up this can be anything from a couple of days to over a week. Naturally pears bought in the supermarkets have already been chilled to suit their varieties so will ripen at home for you. As fruit ripens it produces ethylene gas and pears are no different. To speed up the ripening process you can put your pears in a paper bag with a banana or an apple which both produce a lot of ethylene gas. This will kick start your pears into ripening.
To tell if the pear is ripe gently feel the flesh around the stalk and if there is a little softness there they should be ready. A note of caution once pears start to ripen they go through the process quickly and soon become over ripe.