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Keeping Up With Maury
When Flavor and Taste were King
by Maury Feren

Some 40 years ago I wrote a regular weekly column for shippers and growers of fresh produce for the Produce News. It was entitled Thinking Retail. It was aimed at educating growers on the value of thinking about their products when it arrived at the retail level. Nobody thought of that possibility at that time.

Some gains have been made. Here we are 40 years later and we are back in the same groove. Tomatoes that taste like tomatoes are a rarity. We are left with only one or two varieties that have any flavor; one of them being the Campari. Note when you go into a supermarket you will find ten different varieties of tomatoes. All of them pretending to be tomatoes, but they have no flavor whatsoever. There are exceptions with some exotic shipments grown in faraway places.

What happened to the honeydews this year? I did not taste one honeydew melon that had their original flavor. Every shipment comes in hard with no sense of what you were going to get. Frustrating for sure!

King of the West, a major brand, used to ship at least one or two shipments of good tasting fruit. Cantaloupes fared much better with a 50% average. We received a few good tasting shipments, but on the average it was very mixed. The worst part of this report is when you go to any affair where they serve fresh cut up fruit, the fruit is hard and tasteless. It disturbs me no end. The public deserves better than that.

Let's turn to red grapes. I know it is late in the season now, but the bags hide the quality. Every once in a while you buy a bag of grapes, take them home, and find them only fair to good. It is important to build trust in the packages you ship. I don't know why growers don't think of this when they package their fruit for shipment.

I always admired the Bud Brand lettuce when I was in the wholesale business. You knew if you purchased Bud lettuce it would be extra fancy. The second grade would have another brand. Fruit of the month used to pack a number one brand for wholesale purposes and also a secondary brand. So, you were always aware of what you were purchasing.

There's a great story about the Conice pears that Fruit of the Month ships. The two brothers, Harry and David, who owned the Conice Pear Farm attended a direct mail conference. They said,"We have this wonderful pear that we harvest every year. They are so juicy and sweet that when you bite into any Conice pear, the juice literally runs out of them, oftentimes all over your shirt. We have so many of them at harvest time what do you suggest we do with them?"

There was a great a deal of discussion. Finally, one Direct Mail producer suggested sending them out for gifts, once every month. This is what the Harry and David decided to do. From that discussion, Fruit of the Month became the largest gift shipper in the industry. Today they ship apples and exotic fruit, chocolates, and rare jams besides their Conice pears.

Nobody can come close to the flavor of these pears. People have tried, but nobody has been successful. They grow in an ideal spot in Oregon on a mountain and that's what makes them so special. Today, they are owned by the Pillsbury Corporation.

Interestingly, the seedless watermelons have been excellent all year. The round variety took over the marketplace. There were very few shipments of the long varieties. That was a strange shift. The smaller refrigerator watermelons made some impact, but in most cases they never hit their mark. They just were not destined to bring out the best in flavor. The season is over for regular watermelons for now. Mexico has begun to ship. You will see the red watermelons, but again the flavor will not be there. It takes good ground to produce good taste. That will not happen as a general statement.

I just want people to know I write from my own personal experience. If I write about honey dews, I've experienced it. I didn't mention the Gala Cantaloupes which were harvested for one month. They had wonderful taste. Unfortunately, they cost about $5.00 and I only found them once or twice.

I'll add this special note. I was the produce supplier for three of the best caterers in that business in the 50s and 60s. I had to make sure that the fruit I delivered met their specifications. They were Executive Caterers, Sherwin's and Lenny Fishman. Nobody could compare to them at that time.

You can bet your last dollar that the fruit I delivered came up to their expectations. It wasn't if they would taste good. They had to taste good to meet the requirements of these caterers. I served them for any number of years. So you can be sure I met the taste test.

I wonder if we will be returning to the time when flavor and taste was king. It wasn't too long ago before the advent of genetically modified foods that the emphasis was on flavor more than shelf life. At some point, we have to come back to that period. I definitely want that to happen.

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