The Strong Staying Power Of The Redhaven Name In Peaches
People tend to be nostalgic about peach varieties, but the switch of varieties grown by a region happens for a good reason. If one looks at the many peach varieties that were once common in the upper Midwest, it is largely a list of unfamiliar names like St. Johns, Crosby, and Smock.
Even Elberta, the most widely planted variety in the late 1800s and early 1900s, is becoming harder to find. When Elberta was introduced, it was a great improvement over older varieties due to its good size and firmness that could hold up during picking, shipping and selling. Riding on the popularity of Elberta were many close and not-so-close relatives such as Faye Elberta and Early Elberta. But by today’s standards, Elberta is a fuzzy, green-tinged peach that U. P. Hendrick noted in the Peaches of New York “is scarcely edible by those who know good peaches.”
Staying Power Of The Redhaven Name
A current popular variety is Redhaven, still the most widely planted variety in the upper Midwest, but generally not for the wholesale chain store market. Unlike Elberta, the flavor and texture of Redhaven is still prized. Wholesale growers dislike this variety’s tendency for split pits, sometimes inadequate red skin coloration, and the need for extended multiple harvests.
The staying power of the Redhaven variety for direct market growers is in part due to the fact that the tree is relatively tough and tends to have reliable cropping in years with low temperature problems in winter and spring.
The recent two harsh winters in the upper Midwest have been tough on peach orchards, especially those at poorer sites in low areas and away from the Great Lakes. Crop loss and tree decline has sparked a current resurgence of interest in peach varieties with more reliable cropping and tree hardiness, but even this will not resurrect Redhaven.
An Identity Crisis Among Varieties
Unlike apples, it can be difficult to identify fresh market peach varieties by appearance and taste. This lack of distinctive appearance is perhaps responsible for a mild form of deception practiced by fruit stands when they leave the road sign reading “Redhaven peaches” on display even when the supply is gone. The sign brings in the traffic from the road. “You want Redhaven? You are in luck, we have Redhaven peaches!”
A name such as Redhaven becomes representative of a generalized type, the same way that Kleenex became a generic name for facial tissue or Googling is a common term for internet browsing.
I had a conversation some years ago with a manager of a packing house who said he had two rubber stamps to mark his boxes of peaches either “Redhaven” for early season or “Flamin’ Fury” for later season fresh market peaches. His rationale was that he did not want to confuse the buyers or their customers who, he said, couldn’t tell the difference between peach varieties anyway.
The Demise Of The Roman Nose Peach
As a peach breeder for Michigan State University I ask growers, packers, co-workers, and family to taste and give their opinions on experimental peach test selection. Many years ago, my family and co-workers sampled a test selection that I dubbed “the Roman nose peach” because it had a bump that looked like a classical beaked nose. Due to its wonderful flavor and excellent flesh texture the experimental peach was a hit.
My family and friends loved the peach but were disappointed to learn that the experimental peach tree was tagged for removal. Mock protest signs appeared at home reading “Save the Roman Nose Peach!” In spite of its excellent flavor The Roman nose peach would never make it in the commercial world because it was too small and too misshapen.
Changes in peach varieties grown in a region are the result of many decisions over time, despite nostalgia. Usually there are very good reasons for a variety’s decline — namely, that it is not profitable. And this is as obvious as the nose on your peach.