The emphasis on fruit in February is still about oranges, mandarins, grapes and avocados, as in January, but with subtle and interesting differences. Oranges and mandarins from the Mediterranean improve in depth of flavour and balance of acid and sweetness; South Africa becomes the main source of grapes, now in their mid-to-late season and of excellent quality; while Israel and Spain consolidate their avocado season with mature, tasty fruit.
There are important changes underway elsewhere as some seasons diminish and others begin. Most notable is the beginning of the northern hemisphere blueberry season, while drawing to a close are persimmons, premium pears, and lychee.
Below is more detail of what to expect of your favourite fruit types.
In My Fruit Bowl, I Would Have:
- Oranges: Tarocco from Sicily; Navels from Spain and Egypt
- Mandarins: Leanri from Spain; Nadorcott/Tangold from Morocco and Spain
- Grapes from South Africa
- Blueberries from Morocco and Spain
- Raspberries from Morocco and Portugal
- Apples: Envy, Smitten, Daliclass, Rubens etc from UK and Europe
- Avocado: Fuerte and Pinkerton from Spain and Israel
- Mango: Shelley from Peru
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 retailers. In the meantime, quality of UK and European apples continues to be excellent, as is the choice. The usual standard range is in all stores (Braeburn, Cox, Gala, Jazz, Pink Lady, Egremont Russet, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, etc), while each retailer’s own selection of varieties adds some real interest.
These additional varieties often appear in the late winter/early spring period as stored volumes of mainstream varieties are depleted. Among them are a wide range, usually new or relatively new, or varieties produced in lower volumes: such as Envy, Smitten, Daliclass, Rubens, Rocket, Amelia, Opal, Cameo, Honeycrisp and Kanzi, among others. These are well worth trying as they offer something quite different from the standard range.
A good tip is to check the labels of the retailers’ generic packs for the variety inside, examples being the ‘value’ packs, ‘premium’ packs or packs such as ‘British Apples’ or ‘Seasonal Apples’ at Tesco. These often contain some surprises, as recently, a new variety called RegalYou from France appeared in a Tesco Rosedene pack: really delicious!
Apricots from South Africa continue into February and should be enjoyable, 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) and are a very pleasant alternative to the slightly nutty Hass. Large Israeli Gem are also on sale.
Morocco and South Africa are 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 and Peru. There is still some decent fruit available but softness and wrinkling often affects these late stocks: it all depends on the diligence at quality control of your chosen retailer, and some are better than others!
If you can’t abide soft blueberries, now is the time to look out for the new Moroccan and Spanish fruit: a fresher, firmer choice, perhaps slightly tangy to begin, but so much more enjoyable.
Lovely cherries continue to be available from Chile and Argentina.
Fresh figs on sale in early February tend to be Autumn Honey from Israel, but supplies gradually switch to Brazil and Peru with Black Mission and Toro Sentado, and, as the month progresses, Evita, Tangier and Ronde de Bordeaux 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).
Choice of variety of grapes becomes more complex in February as the South African/Namibian season consolidates and Chile/Peru/Brazil supplies diminish. There are, in particular, numerous red and white grape 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 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, Ralli and newcomer, Arra Passion Fire.
Black grapes: Vitoria from Brazil 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 mainstream varieties such as Thompson Seedless, 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 the excellent crisp, plump varieties, Ivory, Sweet Globe and Sugar Crisp.
GRAPEFRUIT & POMELO Update:
Due to its growing conditions, Israel produces the best red and white grapefruit at this time of year: White Marsh Seedless, Sunrise (aka Star Ruby) and Rio Red. For pink grapefruit, the sublime Florida Pink, will appeal to anyone: sweet, mild and full of juice.
Chinese Pomelo is easily available in most larger stores, but varieties from Thailand and Vietnam are a better bet for flavour, if you can find them in independent stores (though somewhat more expensive).
Easier to peel than a pomelo is Alizza Fruit, a pomelo x mandarin cross, which is quite unique in juiciness and flavour: stocked by M&S from Spain.
All green Hayward kiwifruit on sale are from Italy. The sweeter yellow kiwifruit are either Dori, Jintao or Sungold also from Italy. Yellow kiwifruit tend to be easier to soften at home which helps bring out the sweetness. Hayward, on the other hand, often take a long time to give any hint of softness, so can be very tart if you run out of patience. Green kiwis sold in ripe n’ ready to eat packs are less likely to have this problem, while particularly cheap fruit can be affected by under-maturity which, due to being harvested too early, never ripen properly.
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 and can often be quite good value – keep an eye on prices in Lidl and Aldi.
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. These are replaced by Nadorcott and Tangold which are lovely, deeply flavoured easy-peelers for the late season, still with some acid tanginess at this stage, but very satisfying all the same.
There are several other mandarins that may appear on shelves, sometimes marketed as tangerines, which are excellent, often extraordinary. Many of these are hybrids of true mandarins, which bring out the best of their parentage. Orri is the easiest to find as the month progresses: a firm and satisfyingly complex fruit from Spain and Israel. Then there are the Sicilian mandarins such as Tacle, Manadred and Mandalate which have Tarocco blood orange as a parent bringing such a distinctive flavour and texture. Also, a delicious new variety, thin skinned, dense and juicy and deeply flavoured, is Leanri which is becoming more commonly available as volumes grow.
Kent and Keitt from Peru are the main choice of mangoes at this time of year. Peru manages to produce the best examples of these two sea-freight-friendly varieties, with Kent taking over completely in time and getting better and better as the season progresses. Brazilian Palmer is also quite common in many supermarkets, though we rarely get the best of this mango due to the way it is shipped and handled.
Premium mango varieties are a rarity in February, though the plump, fleshy, thin-skinned Israeli variety, Shelley, is now being grown in Peru and South Africa, so could start to appear on our shelves. Also, the sublime Ataulfo continues in February, but is either from the tail-end of the Brazilian or early fruit from the new Mexican season (often in Costco).
Brazilian Ivory Gaya (aka Sweet Snowball or Matice) and Piel de Sapo are the most interesting melons on sale: all from Brazil. However, new versions of the other types (Galia, Honeydew, Cantaloupe) mean more reliable sweetness, even if at the expense of harder texture. Honduras and Costa Rica become important sources of melons in February.
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, look out for Salustiana, a ‘blond’ orange from Spain or Valencia Lates from Egypt, and for marmalade, the Seville orange season is in full flow: so much better when home-made.
PEACH & NECTARINE Update:
Peaches and nectarines from South Africa should have very 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, though the late stored versions are often less sweet than earlier in the season. A full russet pear, Dazzling Gold, has been on sale in Morrisons for some time: an interesting alternative, though not as tasty as Comice. The Morrisons batch has often been disappointing, perhaps because it was harvested for long-term storage, which can compromise taste.
By mid-February, the first new season Williams’ Bon Chrétien from South Africa will arrive: a delicate, sweet, fragrant pear to eaten soft.
With a bit of stretch to the season, persimmons continue on sale in February. Avoid fruit with pale orange or yellow skins. Those on sale are generally the flatter-shaped Triumph (or Sharonfruit) from Israel or Spain, rather than the more elongated Rojo Brilliante, but 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 such as Sweet Pixie 4, a red gage, and European-type varieties from South Africa.
Great quality raspberries, sweet and tangy, are on sale in all stores from Morocco, Portugal and Spain. The best variety is BerryWorld Gem, but Driscoll Yasmin and Adelita seem to be a particularly reliable varieties from these sources at present.
Late varieties Bela Bela and Queen 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 but is still very enjoyable.
Strawberries from Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Spain are the only 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 2024. 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.