Christmas Treats: A festival of celebration deserves the best tasting fruit available, and there is a fantastic choice, if you know where to look! From luxuries like lychee, to great quality favourites such as clementines, and essential flavour-packed ingredients, we are privileged that it is all there to experience in this wonderful country of ours.
Happy Christmas from the Good Fruit Guide.
FOR CHRISTMAS, I HAVE BOUGHT:
- Lychee: Delicious from South Africa and Madagascar;
- Cherries: Luxurious from Chile;
- Mandarins: Clemenule clementines from Spain;
- Oranges: Navelina & Fukumoto from Spain;
- Apples: British Rubens and Envy; US Empire;
- Pears: Beautiful Comice & sweet, crisp Rocha;
- Grapes: Flavoursome Peruvian black & red grapes, plus Sweet Globe;
- Melons: Matice (Sweet Snowball) from Brazil;
- Blueberries: New varieties from South Africa;
- Figs: Autumn Honey from Israel.
Lychee: For flavour, lychee are without doubt the best fruit available for the Christmas table. The season is in full-flow from Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa (and too-far-away Australia) and they should be top of the shopping list: get plenty as they are so delicious. Find them in most large stores, plus Lidl and some green grocers. Lidl is best as you can buy them loose (pick your own) for £5.99/kg – get there early to select the big ones. Otherwise, pre-packed lychee are cheapest in Tesco (£8/kg equivalent) and M&S (£8.75/kg), with all other supermarkets at about £10/kg for pretty much the same product.
Cherries: Another treat for the Christmas table must be cherries. Now, most are from Chile, varieties such as Lapins and Royal Dawn, but they are tasty, especially if you avoid the ‘value’ packs. Expect to pay £10/kg equivalent for the larger packs, +£15/kg for smaller packs. M&S have the sublime Rainier cherry, also from Chile.
Mandarins: Without a bowl of sweet clementines, Christmas just isn’t the same. These are exclusively a variety called Clemenule (or Nule) from Spain and Morocco: a lovely, soft and tasty easy-peeler which should be in great shape and attractive to all ages. They are sold in a variety of packs and qualities, including nets, boxes, trays and, in some stores, loose. They also come with or without leaves, which probably doesn’t make a difference to eating quality, but may be slightly more fresh off the tree. I always look for those with smooth, thin skins, bright colour and an absence of rub marks.
Also, don’t forget Clemenvilla, tough to peel, sold as a tangerine, but wonderfully rich and satisfying, often with a slight tangy acidity.
Oranges: The Spanish Navelina is the main orange available, which looks fabulous and tastes great as well. It is coming to the end of its season, so should be beautifully mellow and sweet, with earlier acidity diminished. For a finer eating quality, look-out for Fukumoto Navel in Waitrose. If you want some good juicing oranges, Salustiana is just the ticket: an easy-peeling ‘blond’ variety full of juice (Asda and Tesco).
Apples: If you regularly buy one of the ’52 week’ varieties, Christmas is a great chance to try something different. A traditional option is a full red apple such as Red Delicious, but there are many better options, whether full red or bi-coloured. I will be serving Rubens (Lidl, Tesco), Smitten (M&S, Morrisons, Waitrose) and Empire (Tesco from USA, Waitrose from UK), which are all quite crisp apples and which always tempt to eat another one (US Empire will probably have a better texture due to the cooler growing conditions in the eastern states).
Pears: They might be a bit messy to eat, but seated around the Christmas table is the ideal time to enjoy a good Comice: one of the best tasting pears on the market. For ease and taste combined, I like the Portuguese favourite pear: Rocha, which is always sweet and can be eaten crisp or soft.
Grapes: It is a fundamental rule that you must have good grapes to munch with your cheese or devour along with the festive TV offering. Fortunately, the choice of grapes is nicely tuned for some excellent options, mostly from Peru, but also Brazil, and, increasingly, Namibia and South Africa. My suggestions are:
- Black grapes:
- Red grapes:
- Green grapes:
- For flavour: Cotton Candy (look for straw-coloured berries)
- For texture and sweetness: Sweet Globe; Sugar Crisp
Melons: If you want some good sweet succulence as the basis of a fruit salad, try the reliably sweet and unusual-looking Matise (aka Sweet Snowball) from Brazil (in Tesco and Waitrose).
Blueberries: Of all the berries available at Christmas, blueberries are the best for flavour and value. Mostly, they are from South Africa and Peru and quality is generally very good. The newer varieties which have more sweetness tend to come from South Africa, so look at the label to see what you are buying. Varieties such as Arana, Dazzle, Twilight and anything beginning with Oz, will give you a better chance of sweet satisfaction. If you prefer a greater sharpness to your blueberries, the Peruvian varieties may be the ones to select.
Figs: Figs are another luxury worth bringing to the Christmas table and are lovely with cheese or just to eat whole. The main supermarkets are generally selling Autumn Honey from Israel: a light, sweet fig with a nice juiciness (if properly mature). The tasty Toro Sentado from Peru is also in some stores.
Persimmons: Spanish persimmons continue with great quality, taste and value (generally 3 for £1). Mostly, the variety on sale is Rojo Brilliante. Quite often you can find them with a deep orange colour and signs of softening: this is when they are at their best for flavour being slightly jelly-like, sticky and wonderful.
P-P-P: If you are looking for some really different flavours for desserts or fruit salads, look no further than the three tropical P’s! Papaya, passionfruit and Physalis, all offering unique and distinct tastes (Physalis is usually in independent stores, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, occasionally in Morrisons).
Satsumas: Satsumas Owari and Bela Bela are available in most stores from Spain and Turkey. The tanginess often seems slightly enhanced in the Turkish version, but the juicy sweetness can be found from both origins.
Grapefruit: Sublime Florida Pink grapefruit from the USA are the best variety available and are sold in most main supermarkets (not discounters).
Mangoes: Brazilian Kent, Keitt and Palmer are the only mangoes in most stores: reasonable, but not exciting. Waitrose and Asda are selling Peruvian Edward as an alternative, which has more flavour, if the maturity is correct.
Avocados: Hass avocado is now mainly from Chile, Columbia, Mexico and Dominican Republic, but early Spanish and Israeli Hass will start to become available. These will be significantly lighter of oil due to the early season. Spanish Fuerte is on sale in Waitrose, the only supermarket where this green-skinned variety is reliably on sale.
Peaches & Nectarines: Peaches and nectarines continue from South Africa with varieties gradually changing to the more mid-season types. Sweetness should improve as a consequence.
Plums: The South African season has finally begun. Varieties such as African Rose, Black Splendor, Suplum41 and Ruby Sun will be utterly different to old season Italian Angelino. The new fruit is light with a slightly tangy acidity, but should be juicy and sweet when properly ripened.
Apricots: South African apricots are widely available and have good eating quality.
Blackberries: The large-berried Driscoll Victoria has been spotted in M&S from South Africa, otherwise all blackberries are from Central America: these are the more traditionally flavoured Tupi and Ark45.
Raspberries: Most raspberries are now from Spain, Portugal and Morocco.
Strawberries: Egyptian strawberries dominate in supermarkets. The varieties tend to be quite hard and crispy, with limited sweetness. However, Rio Red seems to be a slight improvement, so may be worth a try if you can find it.
©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.