Wednesday, 19 February 2014 23:38

History of L.E. Cooke Introductions

Written by  Bob Ludekens

History of L.E. Cooke Tree & Plant Introductions

The company has over 60 varieties we have named and been the original producer.  We have close to another 100 we have helped introduce to the retail nursery trade.

The L.E. Cooke Co began its history in the mild climates of Southern California in 1944.  For all that there is to like about the climate, there were very few choices for mild winter stone and pome fruits for the home gardens. That included both the edible and flowering choices. Today that is different - much through the efforts of L.E. Cooke Co and the many observant people in the industry who find those trees that are different and new and bring them to us.

Homeowners want quality of taste first and foremost.  Why put in the effort of growing a fruit tree if all you get is what you can buy at the supermarket?  Home grown fruit needs to burst with mouth watering, chin dripping flavor.  And if the fruit lasts longer on the tree - all the better.  Most families cannot eat all the fruit on a tree if it only lasts 3-5 days.

Most fruit tree growers produce for the commercial farm market.  These growers introduce new varieties to help fill in a ripening date so peaches, plums, apples are coming into production every week to keep markets supplied.  They hybridize for earlier and later crops to stretch the production as long as possible.

Commercial orchard growers attempt to produce the qualities the broker, grocery store, consumer will buy.  The fruit must be a perfect size for lunches or meal preparation and must have bright color and shiny skin.  Most of the commercial fruits must ripen at the one time for one picking if possible.  The preference is self pollinating trees with good production.

The retail nurseries need a different tree.  Yes, you want production, self fertile, nice appearance but you need flavor and prefer to be able to pick over a longer time period.  As an example, high sugar fruit spoils quickly so you do not see Babcock peach in the market.  It will bruise in picking but is still very popular for the home gardener because of production, sugar, and flavor.

Since the 1950's, I have looked for good tasting fruit that produces for the climates of mild winters to the cold late freeze areas.  Today we have introduced many fruits for the southern mild winter areas from California to Florida.

The L. E. Cooke Co has 90 acres of scion and research orchard.  At all times we have new varieties in research.  We are looking at a new peach and fig from the very mild areas.  Over the years we rejected hundreds of selections given to us for trial.  We do not do the hybridizing in most instances.  We look for sports or seedlings or a commercial reject that has great flavor but produces over weeks or has high sugar and not of commercial value.

Today, the company has dropped most varieties without good flavor.  We still grow two I have wanted to drop but nurseries want them because of the large beautiful fruit:  Sam Houston Peach and Bonanza Genetic Dwarf Peach.  Both fruit well in the mild winter areas but to me have no taste.  Sam Houston sales have dropped from 15,000 to 500 and Bonanza to 1400.

The L. E. Cooke Co now has apples which fruit for three months, apricot for 3-4 weeks and a great flavorful Japanese plum that fruits for over two months and is self-fertile.  Homeowners want self fertile varieties such as the newer cherries.

We have a few thousand trees in our orchard not in production.  Some are varieties once in production and are being replaced and others are there to be reviewed.  Many good varieties we receive are no better than what we already sell and if they do not fit a need for chilling or ripening dates, they are not introduced.  We have about 22,500 trees, plants, and vines growing on the 90 acres of scion orchard.  I am in the process of writing about some of our introductions and the source.

My history in the business is from 1946 to now 2014.  From a time of limited choices to today's many choices, I am told there are 150 Red Delicious apple selections which fit a commercial need, but not for the homeowner needs.  We select for the homeowner.

Bob Ludekens 12-29-2013

List of L.E. Cooke Co Introductions and History Behind Each One.