Counting The Days: We seem to be constantly counting the days at the moment. First, it was Brexit; now it’s the General Election, and Christmas soon after; then it will be Brexit again – possibly! Just take your mind off the manic nature of present life with some beautiful fruit, just coming to perfection at the right time for our celebrations, whatever they may be.
FOR MY FRUITBOWL, I WOULD BUY:
- Lychee: New season from South Africa and Madagascar;
- Mandarins: Clemenule clementines from Spain;
- Apples: British Tentation and Envy; US Empire;
- Pears: Beautiful Comice and Sweet Sensation;
- Persimmon: Spanish Rojo Brilliante;
- Grapefruit: Florida Pink from USA;
- Grapes: Sable, Sweet Globe and Sweet Celebration.
Lychee: One of the most tasty fruit available, the new lychee season is underway from southern Africa and Madagascar. Best to buy them loose in Lidl: select your own for £5.99/kg. Otherwise, M&S is the cheapest of the main supermarkets at an equivalent to £8.75/kg. Hopefully, prices will come down for this perfect fruit for the Christmas table.
Mandarins: Clemenule is an excellent variety of clementine and will be on shelves in all stores all the way through to Christmas. These still have a slight tang but will get sweeter as Christmas approaches. Also, don’t forget Clemenvilla, tough to peel, sold as a tangerine, but wonderfully rich and satisfying.
Apples: The switch of ’52 week’ varieties to European production is pretty much complete in supermarkets with Pink Lady coming in from France and Italy, though some southern hemisphere stocks still linger. Just starting in M&S and Waitrose are British Tentation and Envy, both wonderful varieties. Also look out for Empire from USA, now in Tesco: a lovely combination of sweetness, flavour (from McIntosh) and crisp texture.
Pears: Let them soften in the fruit bowl and I guarantee that you will find Comice to be the best tasting pear on the market. Get big ones, peel and slice, and eat with a fork: beautiful (from UK and Holland). Sweet Sensation (in Sainsbury’s) is the same – a blushed Comice.
Otherwise, there is a good choice of pears at the moment: Waitrose is the best with up to 7 different varieties, followed by M&S and Sainsbury’s. Finding Concorde is still quite a challenge, though: Tesco, Waitrose and M&S are the best bet. For guaranteed availability, all stores sell Portuguese Rocha, which is always worth buying when choice is limited. In Asda and Lidl, look out for Italy’s favourite pear: Abaté Fétèl.
Persimmons: We are in the peak of the season for Spanish persimmons and they are tasty, sweet and great value. Mostly, the variety on sale is Rojo Brilliante, but Asda also sell the flat Sharonfruit, which is perhaps easier to eat as a whole fruit. For the best flavour, let them soften and deepen in colour in the fruit bowl.
Satsumas: Satsuma Owari is from both Spain and Turkey and should be available in most stores. The tanginess often seems slightly enhanced in the Turkish version, but the juicy sweetness can be found in both.
Grapes: In the grape world, harvesting is advanced in Peru and Brazil; Chile, South Africa and Namibia are underway; and India has just started. Our current supplies are dominated by Brazil and Peru, but the first South African green grapes, Prime (a decent early variety) are in Tesco. Chilean and Indian grapes tend to fill the post-Christmas market and the gap before the next northern hemisphere grapes (Mexico/Egypt). You will also find tail-end of season European red grapes, Allison, Crimson and Scarlotta, being sold in value and standard packs: not particularly appetising.
Particularly interesting varieties from Peru and Brazil are the black seedless Sable and Vitoria, as usual, but also the very sweet Sweet Enchantment. Of green grapes, Sweet Globe and Sugar Crisp have great texture, and Cotton Candy has great flavour (though I’ve found them to be occasionally astringent from Brazil). A favourite of mine, red seedless Sweet Celebration, is also starting (seen mainly in Morrisons), but that status is under challenge from Candy Hearts and Candy Dreams, now appearing in M&S and Waitrose: good choices!
Grapefruit: Lovely, sublime Florida Pink grapefruit from the USA are now arriving in stores (seen in Sainsburys and Tesco, so far).
Figs: Main supermarkets are generally selling the tasty Toro Sentado from Peru, though M&S and Morrisons also have Israeli Brown Turkey.
Blueberries: Blueberries are great quality at the moment with excellent fruit from South Africa and Peru. Your guide to quality is generally on price, particularly as most supermarkets have a clear hierarchy on the shelves. The premium brands should be particularly sweet or flavoursome berries with good texture, usually of a new variety; the ‘value’ packs will either be low in sweetness, high in tanginess, soft, or small; while at this stage of the season, the standard pack fruit should be very acceptable. Just be aware of what you are likely to get!
Mangoes: Brazilian Keitt and Palmer have been quite good over the last few weeks and are still available in many stores. However, Brazilian Kent is now dominating shelf space: so far my experience of them has been uninspiring. I noticed that Waitrose and Asda are selling Peruvian Edward as an alternative: they at least have an aroma which hopefully indicates some flavour when they are ripe.
Kiwis: All supermarkets sell the green kiwi, Hayward, from either Italy or Greece. Let these ripen and soften in your fruit bowl and they provide a lovely, flavoursome, sweet and tangy option and are great for snacking. Of yellow kiwis, Sungold, currently from Italy, is the most common and has a distinctly sweeter and more fragrant taste compared to Hayward. There are other yellow varieties on sale, not easy to find, except occasionally in Waitrose: look out for Soreli or Dori, which are generally more tangy than Sungold.
Oranges Spanish Navelinas are well underway and in all stores. As an early variety it has a slight tang which will diminish as we near Christmas, but eating quality is generally excellent. For even better eating quality, look-out for Fukumoto Navel in Waitrose. Asda have started selling Salustiana oranges: an easy-peeling ‘blond’ variety with very good juice levels. M&S, Tesco and many independent markets are still selling the tail-end of the South African Valencia Lates which are still good, but will lack acids by now.
Avocados: Hass avocado is now mainly from Chile and Columbia, occasionally from Mexico and Dominican Republic. Spanish Fuerte (seen in Waitrose) and Israeli Ettinger (independent stores), both green-skinned and with lighter taste than Hass, are also an option.
Peaches & Nectarines: Peaches and nectarines are full of flavour from South Africa and Zimbabwe, but are often still significantly tangy. Hopefully this will change as we get towards New Year.
Cherries: Chilean cherries have largely taken over from South Africa: expensive, but tasty (Asda is cheapest at £10/kg, otherwise expect to pay £15/kg or more).
Plums: Angelino and September Yummy from Italy are the last of the European-grown plums, both now stored to provide late sales, and neither particularly exciting. Light at the end of the tunnel is coming in the form of new season plums from South Africa: Flavorosa and Suplum41 have been spotted. Expect these to be very different from the Italian fruit as they are early varieties which will be light, fragrant and tangy.
Apricots: South African apricots have been in shops for a couple of weeks now and seem to be delivering a good eating quality.
Blackberries: British blackberries are virtually finished, though Driscoll Victoria has been spotted in M&S still. Otherwise, the sweet, large-berried Driscoll Elvira from Portugal is in Tesco and Waitrose, while other stores sell the more traditionally flavoured Tupi and Ark45 from central America.
Raspberries: Most raspberries are now from Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Quality is good, but shelf-life of the fruit may not be as strong as in the summer. Some Driscoll Maravilla, an improved variety, is coming in from South Africa (seen in Morrisons).
Strawberries: Elsanta, not normally renowned for flavour, is probably the best bet for strawberries, if you want some succulence and an outside chance of sweetness (glasshouse-grown in UK and Belgium). The alternative is now mainly from Egypt, Spain and Morocco: probably quite crunchy.
©Good Fruit Guide 2019. 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.