By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner
With the interest people are showing towards heirloom
vegetables, especially tomatoes, that interest should
spill over into the fruit tree world. The reason heirloom
vegetables are gaining in popularity is the unique flavors
and colors available. We all know that home grown usually
taste better than store bought, and this is true with
fruit trees. Peaches picked at the peak of ripeness have
a flavor that is beyond anything available at the store.
Fruit varieties grown for the supermarket are developed
for their ability to travel long distances and remain
attractive to the consumer. While the growers try to
incorporate good flavor into the fruit it is often impossible
to reconcile the two attributes of taste and transport.
If the grower waits until the peak of ripeness the fruit
is often too soft to travel. We as home fruit growers
can pick the fruit when it has reached the peak of perfection.
Unfortunately most people plant varieties of fruit that
have names they recognize from the supermarket. These
varieties are the ones developed for the mass market,
not for the home grower. So while you can pick the fruit
when perfectly ripe, the fruit it self may not be the
best tasting available. I know that if I am going to
take the time to care for my home grown trees all year
I want taste that is going to wow me. I need to pick
varieties of fruit for flavor, not commercial success.
Dave Wilson Nursery, Hickman California, grows fruit
trees for the garden center trade. Over the last nine
years they have conducted what they call “blind” fruit
tasting. They invite nursery people and others to taste
fruit without knowing what types of fruits or varieties
they taste. They offer samples of fruit at the peak of
ripeness and ask the tasters to rate these fruits. The
ratings are then available to the retail garden centers
to help them choose varieties that are exceptionally
good flavored. Often the customer still chooses the well-known
name over these better tasting but less known varieties.
Let's look at peaches and nectarines, often sold rock
hard and never ripening with the flavor of fresh picked.
Most people have heard of Babcock, and Elberta, two popular
peaches. In the blind tastings these varieties don’t
score at the top for flavor. The most flavorful varieties
are the ‘Arctic Jay’ white fleshed nectarine,
and the ‘Snow Beauty’ white fleshed peach.
These will never be in the store as they are not good
travelers. You need to pick these as they ripen on the
tree. The flavor is beyond anything you can buy. Those
of us who think nectarines are bland will soon find that
they can be even more flavorful than peaches.
Apples tend to be dominated by ‘Red Delicious’, ‘Golden
Delicious’, ‘Granny Smith’, and lately ‘Fuji’ and ‘Gala’.
These are in most supermarkets. What about ‘Spitzenburg’?
Apple connoisseurs consider this old heirloom variety
as the very best dessert apple. Its flavor is renowned,
but finding the tree is hard if not impossible. ‘Ashmead’s
Kernel’ Apple is a small to medium sized fruit,
with a greenish to golden brown russet skin with red
highlights. Creamy yellow flesh is aromatic, crisp and
sweet. From England, discovered in the 1700’s it
is widely regarded as on of the all-time best-flavored
Talk to your favorite nurseryperson today and ask if
they will be carrying any of the taste test winners this
winter during bare root season. See if you can get a
copy of the taste test results. Choose varieties to plant
in your yard that will offer flavor that will wow your
family and friends. I find the ability to grow varieties
that are exceptionally good, and not commonly found,
part of the fun of home orchard culture. You need to
find out where to get these varieties now, since garden
centers are putting in the orders for what they will
carry next year. Maybe they will order some of these
taste test winners for you.