The best fresh fruit on sale in February
Even in the depths of winter, February offers some fruit that is at its best for the entire year. Look no further than sumptuous oranges, fabulous mandarins and crisp, sweet grapes. Such is the quality of this fruit that little else is really needed to satisfy the tastebuds. However, there are also excellent varieties of apples and pears; peak season stone fruit from South Africa; lychee, melons and persimmons; raspberries and blueberries; avocados and figs, all in great shape. How lucky we are! Read below for the best fresh fruit on sale in February.
The early apple harvest is underway in the southern hemisphere, so it won’t be long before we see the first new season Gala and Cox. In the meantime, quality of European top fruit is still excellent, as is the choice. The usual standard range is in all stores (Braeburn, Cox, Gala, Jazz, Pink Lady, etc), while each retailer’s own selection of varieties adds some interest: M&S (Envy, Smitten, Egremont Russet, Rocket, Amelia); Waitrose (Envy, Smitten, Daliclass, Winter Wonder, Opal); Tesco (Rubens, Kanzi); Sainsbury’s (Cameo, Kanzi); Asda (Honeycrisp, Egremont Russet); and Morrisons (Smitten, Egremont Russet). These are all worth trying as they offer something quite different from the standard range: watch for other options as odd, low volume varieties are released by growers and packers during February.
Apricots from South Africa should be good, if allowed to ripen.
Hass from Spain and Israel is in peak season, while stocks from Columbia, Mexico and Dominican Republic will make-up the volumes. Spanish and Israel green-skin varieties, Fuerte and Pinkerton are also available here and there (often in Tesco and Waitrose).
South Africa is the source of the large-berried, sweet Driscoll Victoria, while the more tangy Tupi and Ark45 are from Mexico and Guatemala.
Blueberries are entering late season from Chile. There is still some excellent fruit available but watch-out for softness and wrinkling when buying, and don’t keep this fruit longer than 2-3 days in the fridge. The Moroccan and Spanish seasons start in February, so buy this fresher choice, if you have the option. The Spanish season tends to start with Snowchaser, and can be quite tart, but is reliably firm.
Lovely cherries continue to be available from Chile and, sometimes, South Africa.
Toro Sentado from Peru is the most common fresh fig on sale in early February, but Evita, Tangier and Ronde de Bordeaux from South Africa will become increasingly available. The baby Ronde de Bordeaux is a particular delight: make sure it is well coloured and without light patches to get the best eating quality (similarly for Evita).
Choice of variety of grapes becomes more complex in February as the South African/Namibian season consolidates. There are, in particular, numerous red options, but, if you look out, there is some lovely fruit to be found.
Red grapes: Timco, Sweet Celebration and Jack’s Salute among the best of the newer mainstream red grapes, while, for flavour, look out for varieties such as Sweet Mayabelle, Candy Hearts and Candy Snaps. Decent, but relatively unexciting, red grapes such as Crimson and Flame, will be common in many stores as is Tawny Seedless and Ralli.
Black grapes: Vitoria from Brazil, which is widely available for an extended season, is a power-packed flavour grape, though not to everyone’s taste. More subtle are Sable, Candy Dreams and Arra 14-1 (Mystic Bloom), one of which should be available in big stores. Midnight Beauty and Melody will make up the main volumes of black grapes, the latter being particularly good from South Africa.
Green grapes: Much of South African green grape production is of the seedless stalwarts Thompson and Sugraone (aka Superior) and modern alternative such as Prime, Early Sweet and Arra 15. At their best, these are lovely grapes: sweet, slightly tangy and juicy. However, they are often rather unexceptional, so a good rule of thumb is to look for bolder berries with a nice straw colour. For the sweeter-toothed, there is the flavoursome Cotton Candy and increasing volumes of Sweet Globe and Sugar Crisp: excellent crisp, plump varieties.
GRAPEFRUIT & POMELO Update:
Due to its growing conditions, Israel produces the best red and white grapefruit at this time of year: White Marsh Seedless and Sunrise (aka Star Ruby). For pink, the sublime Florida Pink, will appeal to anyone: sweet, mild and full of juice.
Chinese Pomelo is easily available in most larger stores.
All green Hayward kiwifruit on sale are from Italy. The sweeter yellow kiwifruit are mostly Dori, Jintao or Sungold also from Italy. Sungold tends to be the sweeter of the three, or perhaps more accurately, the one with least acid tanginess.
All lemons sold in supermarkets are variety Primofiori from Spain, except organic lemons which are often Feminello from Italy.
Lychee from southern Africa usually continues on sale through most of February: such a wonderful, luxurious fruit.
By February, it is time to move on from Clemenules and Clemenvilla which have been the mainstay of supply since November. These are a shadow of their former selves as the acids disappear and flavour is reduced to a flat sweetness. The alternative, on sale in every store, is Nadorcott and Tangold which are lovely, deeply flavoured easy-peelers for the late season, still with some acid tanginess, but very satisfying all the same.
However, if you want some extraordinarily wonderful mandarins, you will need to do a bit of leg work. On offer are some fruit that are difficult to describe, but so complete in their perfect attributes that you always want another. These are an unusual group of varieties, many being hybrids of true mandarins, which bring out the best of their parentage. Easiest of all to find is Orri, as most stores sell it as a tangerine: a firm and satisfyingly complex fruit from Spain and Israel. Then there are the Sicilian mandarins such as Tacle, Manadred and Mandalate. These have Tarocco blood orange as a parent which brings such a distinctive flavour and texture. Find these on occasion in Waitrose and M&S, or even Lidl, when in peak season. A new variety, thin skinned, dense and juicy and deeply flavoured, is Leanri which you will be lucky to find as volumes are low, though perhaps in M&S: certainly, one for the future. Then there is Banzzai, also in M&S, which is extraordinary, though at £1 each, a bit of a novelty: a lovely mix of several varieties, it is plump and rich and opulent.
Kent and Keitt are really the only choice we have of mangoes at this time of year. Normally this would be depressing, but Peru manages to produce the best examples of these two sea-freight-friendly varieties. Kent will take over completely in time and will get better and better as the season progresses.
Ivory Gaya (aka Sweet Snowball or Matice) and Piel de Sapo are the most interesting melons on sale. M&S are selling Limelon which has an unusual acid tanginess which is rarely associated with melons. There isn’t much flavour of lime or lemon and samples with low sugars levels are disappointing, though they would be quite something if good sweetness balanced the acids.
It is difficult to pick up a poor orange in February. Navels, Navelates and Lane-Lates are at their best as eating oranges, only surpassed by Tarocco, the primary blood orange of Sicily (other, lesser, blood oranges are Moro and Sanguinelli). For copious and tasty juicing, most stores are selling Salustiana, a ‘blond’ orange from Spain, and for marmalade, the Seville orange season is in full flow: so much better when homemade.
PEACH & NECTARINE Update:
Peaches and nectarines from South Africa should have good eating quality, though the cheaper, smaller fruit is often disappointing: ripe and ready to eat options of larger fruit are more reliable.
Rocha and Conference are pretty reliably in all stores and are both good pears that can be eaten hard or soft. More satisfying though, is Comice (or Sweet Sensation, the blushed version) which is a sumptuous, soft and juicy pear and still on sale during February in some stores (e.g. Sainsbury’s, Waitrose). Otherwise, Asda, Lidl and Waitrose will continue with Italy’s favourite pear, Abaté Fétèl: a lovely pear to be eaten crisp or soft, and Migo, is available in Sainsburys.
Possibly, by the end of February, the first new season Williams’ Bon Chrétien from South Africa will arrive: a sweet, fragrant pear to eaten soft.
With a bit of stretch to the season, Spanish persimmon, Rojo Brilliante, continues on sale in February. Avoid fruit with pale orange or yellow skins. These will be replaced during the month by the flatter-shaped Triumph (or Sharonfruit) from Israel, which is also a lovely fruit.
February is good for South African plums, as mid-season fruit and some improved varieties are dominant: Ruby Sun and Flavorking are good examples. Others to look out for are Plumred VI, Midnight Gold and BlackRed as the most tasty. The main ‘standard’ option in early February is Sapphire, which can be very good after proper ripening and softening, as long as it was harvested at the right time (you can’t tell until it’s too late, so have to trust your retailer).
M&S tries hard to offer some different plums and presently have Sweet Pixie 4, a red gage, and Talio Giant, a soft European-type plum. The former has been a little insipid, but should improve in February.
Good quality raspberries are on sale in all stores from South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, Portugal and Spain. Driscoll Maravilla, Driscoll Yasmin and Adelita seem to be particularly reliable varieties from these sources.
Late varieties Bela Bela (in M&S) and Queen (in Waitrose, Morrisons, Asda) are very satisfying as they have a good depth of flavour: lovely fruit, easy to peel and sweet, though quite unlike a standard satsuma. Queen is the least like a standard satsuma and tends to have quite a tough membrane (endocarp) to the segments.
Crunchy strawberries from Egypt, Morocco and Spain are the choice in February. The Spanish fruit will gradually become more dominant and while none are exciting as a choice for fresh eating, there will be more of the new varieties (e.g. Driscoll Marquis) which stand a chance of some flavour.
©Good Fruit Guide 2021. Recommendations on fruit varieties and types with the very best taste are personal to the editor of Good Fruit Guide, and do not attempt to be exhaustive or supported by verifiable consumer research. The highlighting of fruit with the very best taste in the opinion of the editor is not intended as a judgement on the taste of varieties and types of fruit not mentioned.