Tuesday, 02 April 2013 15:56

Taste is Tops - Recommended Variety Lists

This post might get me in trouble.  I might offend those tasteless people with poor tasters underdeveloped uninitiated taste buds.

A story from my past:  For 16 years, before I returned to the family business, I worked at Westinghouse Electric Corporation in various engineering and management positions.  On several occasions, I had the duty privilege of visiting corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA (beautiful city except most of my trips were in freezing or sweltering times of the year).  One lovely August week, when there should have been a law forbidding suits and ties, I was invited along with some other stuffed shirts to an elegant dinner at one of the finer restaurants in town.  The corporate hosts repeatedly bragged about this dining establishment hosting the finest fresh fruit bar in all of the region.  As a country boy, I looked forward to it.

Yuck!  No flavor, no sugar, tasted little better than soggy cardboard in my opinion. Yet the locals raved over the quality of the fruit.  I figured that the fruit came from California or Georgia by rail car (yes it was that long ago), picked weeks before it was ripe to survive the rigors of transit.  Surely I did not want to find out what the "normal" fruit tasted like in their other restaurants. I had my eyes opend that day and marveled at how much enjoyment people were missing without truly delicious, tree ripened fruit.  And they did not know better.

Fast forward to re-joining the family business at the nursery and our 72 acres of budwood orchards.  Next to the office on this shared 20 acre parcel, we have the research orchard with one of nearly every fruit tree in production or in evaluation.  All summer we get to taste and evaluate the varieties so we (office, sales staff and visiting customers) can select and recommend the best tasting fruit.  Tough job, but someone has to do itSmile!

Now, I also know there are differences in what people like even with tree ripened fruit.  I lean toward the sweeter side of fruit - but a watery-sugery peach without flavor doesn't pass muster with me.  My father leans toward the tarter side.  He wants strong flavor with a little kick to it. (He'll test taste persimmons to see how astringent it might be and I won't even risk finding out).  So I know my first choice may not be his.  But we all usually agree on what varieties should not be put on a recommended variety list.

Recommended Variety Lists

Years ago, some of us created recommended variety lists to help us as salesmen and our customers select the appropriate trees for their marketing regions.  Otherwise all the selections in the catalog can get overwhelming.  After all, the best tasting of a variety does you no good if it won't fruit in your neighborhood.  Over time, we had too many fine tuned regional or citywide lists and still did not cover most of the country.  So we decided it was time to try to make easier sense of it which took a lot if time.

Fruit trees cannot go by the USDA Cold Hardiness Zones.  That only tells you where extremes of the cold will kill a tree.  It does not address rainfall, summer heat and humidity, late frosts, length of season, chill  hours, drought, etc.  The closest thing we found that tries to address the all year round climate is the Sunset Climate Zones.  We agree that it is far from perfect, but it is the best that is availabile at this time.  So we set about over the last few years to create recommended variety lists for most of these climate zones.  Now, every year management and sales staff review the recommended variety lists and update with newer selections as appropriate and remove those that slipped further down the preferred list.  I hope you will take a look at them and use them in your marketing plan.


1) Find your Sunset Climate Zone (by Zip Code): Sunset Climate Zones 


2) Look up the Recommended Variety List for your area from this page:  Recommended Variety Lists by Sunset Zones


Disclaimer:  We do not live in every climate zone and in many places have made our recommendations based upon our understanding of the climate, anectdotal evidence of similar varieties and feed back from customers and passionate fruit hobbyists (thank you!).  So if you have concrete evidence of why something should or should not be on your list, we welcome feedback (email comments to sales (at) lecooke.com).  This is always a work in progress with constant fine tuning.  On the other hand, if something grows well in your area but in our opinion tastes less than stellar, we may not add it to the list.  After all, we can be opinionated (ask my wife) and your taste buds must be broken....Wink See - I knew I'd get in trouble.


Happy fruit tasting!

Ron Ludekens 05/30/2013


Published in Marketing Ideas