What is quality fruit?
Denny Hayden's constant use of the word "quality" either makes one leery or desirous of hearing more, much more. Denny has obviously and consciously chosen the latter option. However, how much of our industry's babbling and blathering really has much to do about eating quality, and how much sinks like a lead weight in a barrel of water? We've heard this word before, we think we are experts, we know. Is quality the reason why apple consumption has been flat for more than the last decade? Surplus of quality or lack of quality?
Over the last couple of years, I've noticed crutches developing for the notion of quality maintenance, notably MCP [1-methylcyclopropene]. Here in the humid East, with our variety choices, we've seen, but very often NOT admitted, that MCP is a two-edged sword.
I buy apples 52 weeks of each year. On August 15 of last year, I bought some Cortlands, Macouns, and McIntosh from a well-known and excellent chain store here in the Northeast. Never have I seen green fleshed Cortlands, but these rock-hard apples were picked incredibly early and gassed with MCP to maintain pressures and "quality." The Macoun is a notable and wonderful Northeast apple in its proper, but very short, time period. They taste very inferior when tried in CA, but harvested in the early season and gassed and stored ten (gasp!) months, they were not quite up to the level of pine sawdust.
The competitive interactions in our fruit industry have made certain necessities a fact of life. High production levels, good appearance, pressures, reduced input costs, the need to stay ahead of the curve, and other factors are living, breathing variables that are not optional. However, how easy it appears to be able to subvert the most important cog in the machine, "The Consumer." He's allegedly the king, but is this guy the most important link in the chain or does this distinction fall on the rest of the production and handling chain?
Those ten-month stored MCP wonders I ate last August came from a vaunted, legendary, gigantic shipper in the Northeast. The store chain buyer bought pressure. The consumer got pressure, too, but he bit into that apple, like I did, and found out his well was poisoned.
Stagnant consumption is telling us something. I'm a consumer, and, frankly, I've been cheated all too often. As long as every apple has to be a long-haul apple, available from harvest to June or July, we are going to see all too often that this approach cannot ever project optimal quality for our consumers. Never.
As long as apples have to be available for extended periods, we are going to see all too many instances of fruit simply not in optimum shape. The customer loses, growers lose.