It seems to me that apples and pears are pretty much hard for a long time. Does it make sense to speak of some point at which they are ripe and best for eating?
And if they do ever ripen, how do I tell when they are ripe?
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Ripe pears range from as firm as soft wood (think balsa) to as soft as a sponge when ripe, depending on the variety. If your store-bought pears are hard for more than a week, then you bought ones which were picked too young and will never really ripen. This is a common issue with supermarket produce.
Ripe apples are generally always firm, even when ripe. Soft apples are generally rotten, except for a few varieties which are primarily meant for cooking into sauce or fillings. This makes it more complicated to tell when they are ripe.
Both apples and pears ripen much more slowly when refrigerated. Most fruit will ripen faster when put in an enclosed space with ripening apples, including other apples.