The best fresh fruit on sale in March.
The daffodils are out and buds are swelling on trees, so the end of winter, along with the end of lockdown, beckons enticingly. The irrepressible march of the seasons gives March an appropriate name and an ebullience that I suspect we will all feel more acutely this year, more so than any that most of us can remember. New blueberries and pears, and even, towards the end of the month, some flavoursome new home-grown strawberries will add to the excellent citrus and grapes that carry on from February. Mangoes from Peru also improve in quality and we will see the first slow change-over of apples with early Gala from the southern hemisphere. There is no shortage of choice in what many see as the most difficult month of the year for fresh fruit.
European apples are still excellent quality, as is the choice. Braeburn, Cox, Gala, Jazz, Pink Lady, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious are unchanged, though the first South African Gala of the fresh season may appear towards the end of the month.
The individual preferences of varieties of each retailer continues to add some interest: M&S (Envy, Smitten, Egremont Russet, Rocket, Amelia); Waitrose (Envy, Smitten, Crimson Crisp, Opal); Tesco (Rubens, Kanzi, Magic Star); 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.
Apricots from South Africa are pretty much at the end of the season except for an ad hoc selection of late varieties.
Hass from Columbia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Spain and Israel dominate stocks in supermarkets for most of March, with new east African, South African and Peruvian fruit possibly becoming available towards the end of the month. With the South African season, the green-skinned Fuerte should be on sale which makes for a change in texture and lightness of flavour.
Tupi and Ark45 from Mexico and Guatemala make up the main choice during a difficult month for blackberries, though the Moroccan season will gradually get going. With the Moroccan season, supply of the sweet, large-fruited variety, Driscoll Victoria, may start again.
To my mind, there is nothing worse than soft blueberries. I always, therefore, start avoiding them from the southern hemisphere as March progresses, as quality problems and short shelf-life become more and more pronounced. You may be lucky to still find some decent Chilean Legacy and Liberty (how much do you trust your retailer?), but with fresh Moroccan and Spanish fruit becoming available, why take the risk? The Spanish season tends to start with Snowchaser which can be quite tart, but once the Moroccan fruit starts to flow, there are plenty of lovely new varieties on sale, such as Kirra, Mayra and Eureka, to name but a few.
Cherries continue to be available from Chile and Argentina, sometimes, South Africa, but can be of mixed quality as supermarkets rely on late varieties, long storage and mopping-up old stocks from their suppliers. Late varieties such as Sweetheart and Sentennial are your best bet, while others don’t quite match the succulent quality of a good cherry.
Evita, Parisian and Ronde de Bordeaux are excellent from South Africa. 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). Toro Sentado from Peru, also a good variety, is the choice of some supermarkets.
For most of March, South African grapes are the main choice, with the flavoursome Brazilian Vitoria and Peruvian Cotton Candy also on sale. As South African stocks get less reliable, usually towards the end of March, retailers start selling Indian and Chilean grapes as well, so expect some changes to taste profiles, particularly with green varieties.
Red grapes: There are lots of different red seedless varieties from South Africa, the best being Timco and Sweet Celebration for their combination of texture and sweetness. Ideally, try to buy the pink Sweet Celebration, as the darker versions, though sweet, can be quite soft, which defeats the object of the variety. Ralli is another decent red variety that will become available, while the ‘flavour’ grape, Candy Hearts, is often available from Peru. A new arrival is Muscat Beauty grown in South Africa: a sublime variety, delicate and sweet (perhaps in Waitrose by the end of the month).
Black grapes: Along with Vitoria from Brazil, there are some good black seedless varieties from South Africa. For stand-out flavour, Sable is delicious, reliable and easily available (sometimes sold as Sugrasixteen, though when so named, it may not be the best quality). Midnight Beauty, Sweet Joy and Melody are the main ‘volume’ black grapes, with the latter being particularly good from South Africa. Also look out for Adora Seedless for its plump berries, and Arra 14-1 Mystic Bloom (often called Arra 14), a new, incredibly juicy and sweet variety, though avoid under-coloured berries as they may be rather tasteless.
Green grapes: Seedless stalwarts Thompson and Sugraone (aka Superior), and modern alternatives Timpson and Arra 15 (aka Arra Sweeties) will be most common in retailers. At their best, these are lovely grapes: sweet, slightly tangy and juicy. They can, however, be rather unexceptional, so a good rule of thumb is to look for bolder berries with a nice yellowish straw colour. For the sweeter-toothed, there is the flavoursome Cotton Candy (possibly from Peru, Brazil or South Africa) and the crispy, crunchy sweet new varieties such as Sweet Globe, Sugar Crisp and Autumn Crisp.
GRAPEFRUIT & POMELO Update:
Grapefruit are supplied from Spain, Turkey, Cyprus, USA and Israel. Due to the growing conditions, Israel produces the best red and white grapefruit at this time of year: White Marsh Seedless and Sunrise (aka Star Ruby), with sublime pink grapefruit coming from Florida. Florida Pink is slightly less attractive in appearance than the Mediterranean fruit due to the humid tropical growing conditions, but inside they are sweet, mild and full of juice.
Chinese Pomelo is easily available in most larger stores.
All green Hayward kiwifruit on sale are from Italy or Greece. The sweeter yellow kiwifruit are mostly Dori, Jintao (aka Jingold) or Sungold, also from Italy or Portugal. Of the three, Sungold tends to have the lowest acidic tanginess. Yellow kiwis from South Africa and New Zealand may start appearing at the end of March.
All lemons sold in supermarkets are variety Primofiori from Spain, except organic lemons which are often Feminello from Italy.
Lychee from southern Africa are all but finished in March, though some Red McLean, a late variety, can be found here and there. This isn’t quite as succulent as the Mauritius variety, but still very tasty.
March is essentially all about Orri, Nadorcott and Tangold from Spain and Morocco (and Israel for Orri). These are lovely, deeply flavoured easy-peelers for the late season which will be very satisfying and enjoyable. Tangold is essentially a guaranteed seedless Nadorcott, not that you will find many seeds in Nadorcott. Orri is often sold as a tangerine and has greater firmness than the other two but offers huge sweetness and sensory pleasure. Egyptian Nadorcott may also be available.
New this season is Leanri which is a wonderful alternative if you are lucky enough to find them. Volumes are low (occasionally in M&S and Waitrose as Tangerines), but get them while you can as you will love the juicy, sweet, richly flavoured flesh under the easy-peeling thin skin.
Towards the end of March, other late mandarins, such as Murcott, may start to appear: a very sweet, thin-skinned option, and quite firm.
Kent from Peru is the only mango choice we have at this time of year. Peru manages to produce the best examples of sea-freight-friendly Kent, which improves in March, as the season progresses.
Ataulfo, the favoured mango of Mexico, is also available in some stores (e.g. M&S, Costco, independents). This is a smooth, fragrant mango with high levels of sweetness when at it’s best, though it can suffer somewhat from early harvest to cope with long-distance transportation.
It will not be long before we see the first early Spanish melons, but in the meantime, Galia and Canteloupe will increasingly come from Costa Rica; Honeydew and Watermelon from Costa Rica and Brazil, and Piel de Sapo and Ivory Gaya (aka Sweet Snowball or Matice) continue from Brazil. Eating quality does not change much with country of origin. For guaranteed sweetness, Piel de Sapo and Ivory Gaya are the best bet. Towards the end of March, expect to see some Piel de Sapo from Senegal (particularly in Waitrose).
Navels, Navelates and Lane-Lates are the best of the commonly available eating oranges, mostly from Spain (some from Morocco and Egypt). For an almost perfect orange, look for Tarocco blood orange from Sicily, including the heavily pigmented Ippolito Tarocco. These are soft, juicy, easy to peel and have a luxuriant and unique flavour (lesser blood oranges on sale are Moro, Sanguinello and Sanguinelli). For copious and tasty juicing, most stores are selling Salustiana, a ‘blond’ orange from Spain.
From mid-March, the late season variety, Valencia Late, starts to arrive on shelves. This is a good, versatile orange, though not as fine as the Navel. First arrivals will have a slight acid tang (from Spain, Morocco and Egypt).
PEACH & NECTARINE Update:
Peaches and nectarines from South Africa (possibly some from Chile) are getting into their late season so will start to have a more dense texture. Ripe-and-ready to eat options of larger fruit are more reliable, but the lovely succulence of mid-season varieties will be increasingly hard to come by.
Rocha and Conference are both good pears that can be eaten hard or soft and can reliably be found in most stores in March. Comice (or Sweet Sensation, the blushed version) is a more sumptuous, soft and juicy pear and still on sale in early March, though I have a suspicion that for the long storage since harvest, earlier fruit are used which don’t quite have the best depth of flavour.
Other European pears include Italy’s favourite, Abaté Fétèl, and Migo (in Sainsburys), plus Green Williams, Red Williams, Xenia and Cepa which are also occasionally on sale (particularly in Waitrose and M&S).
During March, the new season Williams’ Bon Chrétien from South Africa will arrive: a sweet and fragrant variety. A very early variety called Sempre may also be seen (crisp, slightly tangy but mild in flavour), as well as Qtee.
Triumph (or Sharonfruit) from Israel is a lovely fruit with more flavour than the Spanish Rojo Brilliante. It should be available in most larger stores into mid-March.
FlavorKing has been the stand-out plum for flavour but will diminish in both quality and availability towards the end of March. Other plums from South Africa reflect the mid-to-late season, which is normally a good time to buy most varieties and get some decent, sweet fruit. Laetitia is a good stalwart of this time, but also look out for African Delight and Ruby Star representing the last of the succulent plums of the season.
As each year goes by, an array of interesting new varieties appear on sale, such as Plumred VI, Plumred VII (Red Phoenix), Midnight Gold and BlackRed. These can be quite confusing to follow, but best just to enjoy the opportunity as you see them and hope that you can trust your retailer to do them justice. Plums are notoriously difficult to get right from the supply side, so the ripe-and-ready options are probably the best for reliability, and it is in these that many of the new varieties will appear.
A sign of the season entering its late stages is when Angelino appears on the shelves, often in late March from South Africa and Chile: a common, firm-fleshed, though rather uninspiring variety.
March brings plentiful good quality raspberries from Morocco, Portugal and Spain.
Queen (often in Waitrose, Morrisons, Asda) is the only satsuma that continues on sale in March. It is a satisfying fruit, easy to peel and sweet, but, although being a natural satsuma hybrid, is not really like a standard satsuma to eat.
There is an outside chance that the first of the new season South African satsumas will appear by the end of March: lovely juicy, light and tangy fruit.
Strawberries in March are essentially from Morocco and Spain. The Spanish fruit will gradually become more dominant and, as the season progresses, more of the improved varieties will become available. While none are particularly exciting for fresh eating, there will be more chance of some flavour. Possibly, the first UK-grown fruit from glasshouses will become available, with the advantage of much shorter delivery times and therefore allowing longer for fruit to mature before harvest.
©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.