Flavoursome Fruit This Week – wk 35’19, September

Announcing Autumn:  As we basked in the beautiful heat of late August, the fruits of autumn were stirring with the first new season apples and signs of wild blackberries ripening here and there.  The late summer harvest of figs and plums also filled the shelves with abundance bringing fresh new tastes to replace the bounty of early summer. Along with wonderful grapes and pears, there is much to cherish as the seasons change.

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  • Plums: Victoria and Reeves;
  • Greengages: Late varieties from France, Portugal & Spain;
  • Apples: Early local varieties, freshly harvested Gala;
  • Grapes: Huge choice from Spain and Italy;
  • Kiwiberry: Natural sweets;
  • Mandarins: Orri from South Africa and Peru;
  • Lychee: Mauritius from Israel;
  • Peaches: Flat peaches on promotion.

Plums:  All supermarkets are selling British plums, mainly Victoria and Reeves, as we reach the peak of the season.  These are deliciously soft, sweet and succulent, but will not last long, so catch them while you can.  Several supermarkets sell large packs if you want to make jam, such as Tesco (£2/1kg – Victoria) and Waitrose (£4/1kg – Reeves).

Good plum varieties, Japanese-types, at good prices are also coming from Spain and Portugal, which should perform well at this stage of the season: just give them some time to soften in the fruit bowl.

Greengages:  While the main varieties have pretty much finished, it is still worth buying greengages whenever you can.  Supermarkets have them from Portugal, Spain & France, and you may also find UK-grown fruit in the independent sector: eat these honey-rich delights while you have a chance.

Apples:  Discovery, the first new season variety handled by supermarkets, is still available in many stores, but needs eating quickly to saviour its best attributes.  Worcester is also starting to appear, as will other early varieties such as D’Estivale.  However, to enjoy the distinctly fresh flavour of early season varieties, it is best to visit local farmers markets or farm stores where a much wider choice will often be available.

Royal Gala is a popular though unexceptional variety, and at this early stage of season from southern Europe, there is some danger of over-maturity as growers clear the fruit that is unsuitable for long-term storage.  However, at the right texture, fresh off the tree, it is worth seeking-out for the perfumed flavour that later gets lost in refrigeration.

Grapes:  With Spanish and Italian grapes are at their peak, and Greek grapes are just starting, you can’t really go wrong with any of the huge choice available.  Provided your retailer has done a good job on quality, you should at least get fresh, sweet berries with decent texture.

However, for anyone interested in making sense of all the varieties to find the best, what do you do?  I always place grapes into three categories: good flavour; good texture and sweetness; and decent texture and sweetness.  Here is my guide to some varieties on sale now:

Kiwiberry:  The kiwiberry is about the size of a grape, looks like a kiwi inside, but with a smooth, edible skin: the ideal sweet and healthy snack. Find them in most mainstream supermarkets (grown in UK, variety Geneva).

Mandarins:  Nadorcott and the very similar Tangold (Tango) mandarins are the main choice (from South Africa and Peru) and are wonderful varieties: sweet, juicy and deep in flavour.  However, there is some very good Orri in many stores, often now filling the ‘Tangerine’ pack: a delicious mandarin from wherever it is grown.  Also on sale are a couple of new late-season varieties from South Africa which are very promising: Valley Gold (widely available) and Vinola (seen in Asda).

Lychee:  Despite its low profile on the supermarket shelf, lychee, currently from Israel (variety Mauritius) is hard to beat as the tastiest and most flavoursome fruit available: treat yourself!

Figs:  Anyone with a fig tree in the garden will have plenty of sweet, succulent fruit after our perfect summer.  It is also time for the main fig season of the year in retailers: that of Turkey with the Black Bursa fig.  This is a wonderful fig and should come in large volumes at good prices for the next few weeks: the main chance for everyone to indulge themselves, though quality is key.

So far, I have seen many of these figs looking distinctly under-ripe with areas of light purple, even green colouration: these will be disappointing. The best Bursa are a fully coloured dark purple, almost black, with a velvety soft feel. Obviously, those in punnets cannot be tested for softness, so buy them loose wherever possible, or pick out punnets with the best coloured fruit. M&S are good at Bursa figs and have the best quality. Click here for guidance on how to buy Bursa figs.

Cherries:  The British season is coming towards the end, but some tasty fruit from storage is still on sale.  It is not quite as fresh and appealing as the beautiful fruit from earlier in the season and, in some supermarkets, has been supplemented by US and Canadian supplies to eek-out the season.

Mangoes:  Most supermarkets are focused on late season Senegalese Kent which is actually pretty good as it matures nicely. However, the focus over the next few weeks will be on Israeli and Spanish mangoes. Currently, Kasturi, Kent and Noa from Israel are the main choice available, unless you can find Maya (possibly in Tesco, if it’s labelled properly) which is the finest variety on sale, though ending soon.  Brazilian Palmer is also starting to appear in more stores and is a good option if you are seeking flavour as well as sweetness.

Pears:  Forelle and Packham’s Triumph are the last of the southern hemisphere pears on sale as their season ends.  The new European season is fully underway with Conference, mostly from Belgium, Green Williams’ from Italy and Rocha from Portugal. The tasty blushed pear, QTee, has also started in Sainsbury’s (from Belgium).

Blackberries & Raspberries:  Wonderful quality continues from British growers in all stores.  

Peaches & Nectarines:  While peaches and nectarines are still succulent from Spain and Italy, there is a subtle change in texture as we enter the latter stages of the season. The varieties used at this stage have been on the trees for a long time and have a more dense flesh, which will become more pronounced as we enter early autumn.

Flat peaches are still available at crazy prices (e.g 45p/pk from Tesco) and should be enjoyed while they last.

Blueberries:  Poland is the main source of blueberries at the moment, but there are still plentiful supplies from British growers. Quality is very good, but it is worth checking for softness if you have stored the fruit for a few days in the fridge.

Melons:  The Spanish season continues with good quality and prices. For something a little different, you will find ‘improved’ varieties in M&S, Morrisons, Waitrose and Tesco such as Sugar Baby, Sweet Tangy Twist/Gwanipa, Sweet Snowball/Matice, or Orange Candy/Sunkiss (which look like Honeydew).

Oranges:  The best eating oranges are excellent quality Navellates from South Africa. Valencia Lates or variants such as Midknight and Delta are now mostly from South Africa, though some Spanish fruit are still on sale as a cheaper option.

Strawberries:  Strawberries are still widely available at good prices from UK growers.  Quality is good and the fruit is excellent for fruit salads and desserts, but finding real sweetness and flavour continues to be a challenge.

©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.