The best fresh fruit on sale in July.
As the summer months settle into normality, we pass the equinox and look towards the unfolding of all the pent-up energy of warmth and growth that the high sun brings. July is a month of subtle change as what began in the early summer in southern Europe rolls north with sumptuous results. We see our own fruit being produced locally or at least in our own country, and the same is experienced all across our near neighbours in Europe.
The highlight of July, in my mind, is the cherry season. There is nothing quite like the British cherry season, and there is nothing quite like the quality on offer in our premium stores: such luxury, it is a crime not to take part. The super abundance of soft fruit, which will continue until September, such is the skill of our home producers, is also not to be missed. The vast choice of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, and even tayberries, if you are lucky, is everywhere, and with ever improving varieties and ever improving flavour.
Still to come from the Mediterranean are the best of the stone fruit: peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums, not to mention southern hemisphere citrus and top fruit. Read on for hints and tips on your favourite fruit types:
The selection of apple varieties in July is slightly lower than in winter due to emphasis on the southern hemisphere supply, but quality remains excellent. Other than the standard range (Braeburn, Jazz, Gala, etc), look out for Smitten and Envy from New Zealand (Envy is also grown in South Africa), which are particularly good new varieties.
2020 European harvest apples are still on sale, including some Gala (Sainsbury’s), Cripps Red (Morrisons), Jonagold (Tesco) and Rocket (M&S), and other varieties capable of long-storage, such Magic Star/Kentish Kiss, may also appear.
Fresh Spanish, French and Italian apricots are abundant in July and should continue to be excellent quality, though a lot depends on the skills of retailers and their growers: here’s hoping that they get it right.
Hass avocados are now primarily from Peru with good supply from South Africa as well (also from Colombia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe). Quality is very good with the peak of the season. The green-skin Fuerte is available here and there, most reliably in Waitrose and independent stores: lovely as a lighter alternative.
All fresh blackberries are from UK with the big, sweet Driscoll Victoria being most common. The more tangy traditional varieties, such as Karaka Black and Lochness, are well differentiated on punnets in Sainsbury’s, and often used in the ‘value’ packs in other supermarkets.
Blueberries continue in July to be great quality, with excellent varieties and at good values. We see the first sales of excellent British blueberries, usually of Duke variety, which signals the start of a long summer season. European production shifts to Holland, Italy, Romania and Ukraine, before the start of the Polish season towards the end of the month. As a back-up, some retailers also continue to sell blueberries from Peru.
As with blackberries and raspberries, ‘value’ packs often contain the older varieties, which can have more of an acid tang. Quality should be very good, but it is always worth checking the berries for signs of softness, wrinkling or mould, and resisting the temptation to keep them in the fridge for more than 2-3 days.
British cherries are available in earnest during mid to late July and will dominate sales for the next couple of months. The earliest varieties in retailers are Merchant and Folfer, but others swiftly follow, and choice and quality will be excellent, despite the cool conditions. Prices should also start to reduce as the month progresses, though the stalkless Picota cherry from Jerte Valley in Spain is a wonderful ‘value’ alternative. While the UK fruit builds in volume, the late Spanish cherries are also delicious and well worth the indulgence, as are cherries from Turkey and Greece.
Spanish Colar, a very succulent fig at its best, is the main variety available in July, although some Israeli figs, perhaps Black Mission, are also sold. There are often some Peruvian figs on the market, also Black Mission though often Toro Sentado: these will gradually diminish as the Mediterranean season takes over.
Egypt is firmly in charge of grape supply in July, with additional fruit arriving from Morocco, Brazil, and, towards the latter half of the month, Spain and Italy.
All the grapes are very fresh, but should, by now, be more mature and therefore more nuanced in flavour and sweetness compared to the early harvested fruit.
Red Grapes: Egypt provides plenty of Flame, a standard early, sweet/crisp grape, and follow up with some interesting newer varieties such as Sweet Celebration and Arra 29 (Passion Fire) which have improved texture and/or sweetness. Sales from Spain and Italy tend to start with sweet/firm Ralli and Itum 15 (a new variety), with Magenta and Timco to follow. However, there will be a much wider choice as the month proceeds as delicious flavour-grapes such as Candy Snaps and Strawberry become available.
Black Grapes: Sable, as is often the case, is the primary choice of black grapes from Egypt which grows a good, flavoursome example of the variety. However, increasingly, there are volumes of impressive Melody and Arra 18 to add choice, and the journeyman Midnight Beauty to add volume.
Green Grapes: Most of the varieties of green grape available from Egypt, Morocco, Spain and Italy are fairly similar, being, at best, firm and sweet. Varieties mainly include Prime, Early Sweet, Arra 15, Sugraone and Superior, with the latter, in theory, being the best. Look out though, for Cotton Candy, mainly from Spain, with its candy floss sweetness and flavour, and the new, quite irresistible, crispy varieties such as Sugar Crisp and Sweet Globe.
The green Hayward kiwifruit is primarily from New Zealand and Chile, though some retailers may still have fruit from Italy. Quality will be excellent from the southern hemisphere, and perhaps a bit hit and miss from Italy.
The choice of yellow kiwifruit is mainly the New Zealand, Sungold: a very attractive fruit, with juice, sweetness, a very slight acid tang and a lovely flavour. Jintao from Chile is the alternative which tend to have slightly more acidity.
LOQUAT (MEDLAR) Update:
Delicious loquats from Spain, extremely susceptibility to bruise, may be found in some independent grocery stores: very worth trying for their unique flavour, but pick them yourself to avoid the bruising.
The thick-skinned, slightly knobbly Spanish Verna is gradually giving way to the smoother, more juicy South African Eureka. Also look out for Seedless lemons, which, for the past few years have been sold by M&S during the South African season, but are now becoming more widely available, e.g. in Tesco.
The Mauritius variety of lychee from Mexico continues to be available in most large supermarkets. At best, this is a supremely flavoursome and luscious fruit, but try to avoid punnets with small or mixed sizes as these have less impressive taste.
South Africa now dominates supply of mandarins. Most stores are selling the reliable and tasty mid-season Clemenules (aka Nules) with some Esbal and Marisol also available (minimal discernible difference). More interesting from the point of view of flavour is the delicious Nova, usually sold as a tangerine on account of its slightly tough peel (nick the skin with the point of knife to open-up the peeling). It is very tasty, with great depth of flavour and an attractive texture. New this year in M&S is Page (more accurately Page Tangelo), also marketed as a tangerine and quite difficult to peel, but with fine, juicy flesh and a lovely flavour: get them while you can!
June and July are not the best months for mangoes in supermarkets as the sourcing is quite fragmented across West Africa and the Caribbean, which results in variable quality and regular dissatisfaction for the mango aficionado. Keitt from Puerto Rica and Dominican Republic are probably the best choice, and Palmer from Brazil is fairly reliable.
The better option is to find a cluster of South Asian grocery stores (Ilford, Tooting, Luton, Leicester, etc) and find Indian or Pakistani mangoes to buy by the box (usually about £9-10 per small box of 5-6 mangoes). The most common Indian varieties are largely finished, but tasty north Indian mangoes such as Langra and Dasheri may be available. Most volumes will be Pakistani Chaunsa, possibly some Sindhri still, both of which are wonderfully sweet and alluring (check the box carefully and avoid too much green skin, or excess wrinkling/softening – some wrinkling is good, but the fruit will not keep long).
Failing that, it is possible to order these mangoes on-line (e.g. Red Rickshaw), though delivery costs result in quite high prices.
Melons in July are all from Spain or Italy and quality and choice should be excellent. The most reliably sweet types tend to be Piel de Sapo and Ivory Gaya melon (aka Sweet Snowball in Tesco; Matice in Waitrose and others). Also look out for Gwanipa (aka Sweet Tangy Twist); the various improved honeydew types (e.g. Sweet Orange Delight, Orange Candy, etc); and, for a melon with a tang, Limelon. The larger supermarkets increasingly have one or other of these in addition to the standard types.
One of the best melons, Charantais, becomes available in July from Spain, but the newer varieties are bred for transportation and longer-life and, can be disappointing in both flavour and texture. Perhaps wait to find some from France in August. If you can smell to delicious aroma, you’re in for a chance of success!
Of widely grown oranges, Navels are generally regarded as the finest for eating, while the Valencia Late (along with variants Midknight, Barberina and Delta) is the general all-rounder: tasty, sweet, juicy, but a little ‘raggy’ in texture.
In July, after a gap in supply, South African Navels start to appear, while Valencia Lates from Spain, Morocco and Egypt continue through the month until they themselves are gradually replaced in retailers by the South African version. The South African fruit will always be slightly acidic at first, as the season starts, but gradually improves in eating quality as the acids diminish. The Spanish Valencia Late is the opposite as acids have significantly reduced into the late season which emphasises the sweetness of the fruit, though flattens the flavour: it’s a great juicing orange at this stage.
PEACH & NECTARINE Update:
July continues to be a wonderful time for Spanish peaches and nectarines as the production moves north. Flat peaches are also abundantly available, and their prices are reducing in most retailers: perfect for lunch boxes and as alternatives to sweets.
Eating quality will only improve as we move into August.
In most supermarkets, the range of pears begins to reduce in July as stocks of the less common varieties are depleted. In many stores there will only be a choice of Conference from Holland and UK (from the 2020 harvest), or Packham’s Triumph from South Africa: both are good pear varieties, though.
With luck, you may find Waitrose and M&S stocking Forelle and Green Williams (Williams’ Bon Chrétien), and possibly Abaté Fétèl, all from South Africa or Argentina. Taylor’s Gold from New Zealand may also be found. All these varieties have excellent eating quality attributes: crisp for Forelle, soft and juicy for Williams and Taylor’s Gold, while Abaté Fétèl can be eaten crisp or soft.
South African Triumph persimmons are to be found in most supermarkets throughout July. This is an intensely sweet and flavoursome fruit and can be eaten when soft or hard, but are most enjoyable when almost turning to jelly.
Probably the most flavour-packed and vibrant fruit that can be found in supermarkets (usually Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s), Physalis is grown in Columbia and is wonderful on its own, accompanying cheese, mixed with other berries, or as an addition to desserts.
July is a month of plenty for all stone fruit and plums are no exception. Stores are full of plums from Spain and they are generally quite cheap, particularly in punnets to ripen at home. They should, on the whole, be good to eat, but it is important to ripen and soften them properly in the fruit bowl. Plums from Israel may also be found on sale, often as premium choices of improved varieties. For reliability, it is often worth buying the ‘ripe and ready’ options, as these plums have been selected for maturity.
All the Spanish plums are the familiar ‘Japanese’ types of which there are numerous varieties at this stage of the season. Some to note include the impressive Black Splendor; reliably tasty Metis Oxy Solar; red fleshed Crimson Globe, among others.
Towards the end of July, the UK season will start with early varieties such as Opal, Katinka and Juna. British plums are ‘European’ types, being oval in shape, generally purple in colour and with soft, juicy, sweet flesh: very different from the Iberian fruit, and an abundance of joy to anticipate.
Quality is wonderful, prices are good and choice is widespread, with all raspberries coming from UK farms and most being of new varieties which have been bred for sweetness or firmness, or both. Variety names such as Malling Bella, Driscoll Maravilla, Diamond Jubilee, Berry Gem and Berry Jewel will be most visible, plus Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference raspberry, Tulameen: a lovely balanced variety, slightly soft, but with great depth of flavour.
If you like the more tangy traditional varieties such as Glen Ample and Glen Lyon, by looking at the punnet labels you may find them on the shelves, or try the supermarket ‘value’ packs which tend to contain the cheaper, older varieties. When in good condition, these can be lovely with a better flavour definition than the new types, though often quite acidic.
Satsumas usually continue through-out July from South Africa and Peru. Peruvian Owari will be most common and still retains excellent eating quality, while South African Mihowase will gradually diminish, possibly being replaced by late varieties such as Bela Bela. For the satsuma fan, there is no reason to stop buying!
Second only to cherries, the classic British summer is defined by an abundance of strawberries which continue to be great quality throughout July and August. There are so many varieties potentially on sale that it can be very confusing for shoppers. Primarily, look for good quality: deep colour, even sizes and clear of bruising. But if you see some of the latest varieties such as Malling Centenary and the Driscoll range of varieties (Lusa, Elizabeth, Katrina, Solari), as well as Magnum, Ania, Sweet Eve and Eve’s Delight, try them. They may not be perfect, but there is a chance of greater sweetness and 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.