The Nights Close In: Sitting in front of the TV on these darkening evenings, battling rising anxiety about the election, I reach for crisp and crunchy Brazilian grapes which seem to suit my nervous demeanour. Switch off the news, marvel at the contestants on Masterchef, I relax with smooth and sweet new season Spanish clementines. Whatever your mood, there is a wonderful fruit available, from British apples to invigorate the day, sublime pears to sooth you digestion, or perfect persimmons to bring exotic flavour to your taste buds. Read on for many wonderful options!
FOR MY FRUITBOWL, I WOULD BUY:
- Mandarins: New season clementines from Spain;
- Apples: British and European Braeburn and Jazz;
- Pears: Beautiful Comice and Concorde;
- Persimmon: Spanish Rojo Brilliante;
- Satsumas: Main season Spanish Owari;
- Grapes: Brazilian Sable, Sweet Globe and Cotton Candy;
- Figs: Autumn Honey from Israel.
Mandarins: The beautiful sweetness of Spanish clementines is with us once more, particularly as the early varieties of October are past and the mainstream Clemenules is in many stores. Another lovely variety, Clemenpons, is also available and illustrates the quality of these fruit that we can expect until Christmas. Clemenules (or ‘Nules’) will gradually take over as the main variety to finish off the year.
Contrast the Spanish fruit with South African and Peruvian mandarins (Nadorcott, Orri and Murcott), still on many shelves, and you will see the difference between end-of-season and fresh new season: the latter being preferable unless pure sweetness is your thing!
Apples: We had the switch of most ’52 week’ varieties to European production with Braeburn at the end of October. Now we have the first UK-grown Jazz appearing in stores, which may well taste fresher than the New Zealand version still on most shelves. Either way, Jazz is a fantastic variety, very crisp!
The three relatively new varieties vying for attention, Rubens, Smitten and Zari, seem to be settling into a reliable selling pattern: Rubens in Tesco; Smitten in M&S, Morrisons and Waitrose; and Zari in Sainsburys. One or the other have also popped up in the discounters, so keep your eyes open. Asda’s preferred unique variety is Honeycrisp, grown in France: a sweet, open-crisp apple of US origin.
If you are looking for apples with more of a tang to balance the sweetness, there is, of course, majestic Cox in every store, plus Early Windsor or Red Windsor as an option here and there. An interesting variation is Kissabel, a new pink-fleshed variety with a good acid balance and crisp texture (M&S, Waitrose, Independent stores).
Pears: My favourite pear, Concorde, is not the easiest to find in supermarkets, though I tend to drift towards Waitrose where they seem to take the variety most seriously (nice new packaging). It’s a shame that there isn’t more effort made. Otherwise, I’ll pick up Comice, Rocha or Abaté Fétèl as great alternatives (though Comice needs to be soft to eat).
Persimmons: Rojo Brilliante persimmons from Spain will now be on sale until February. This is an excellent fruit, particularly if you can find the better coloured examples and are patient enough to let them soften and darken in the fruit bowl (may take a number of days, even a week). If they don’t soften, it means the fruit was harvested a little earlier than is ideal. The firm fruit is still worthy of any fruit bowl, being sweet and enjoyable, but without the depth of flavour that is possible in the best examples.
Satsumas: Satsuma Owari from Spain is taking over from the early Okitsu and will stay on shelves until Christmas. If you have been buying satsumas regularly, you may notice a slight increase in tanginess with the first Owari, but that will soon pass in the next week or so.
Grapes: Unless you can find Arra 32 (Mystic Dream), a black grape from Greece (seen in Tesco), look for those from Brazil and Peru from where we get the best and freshest examples as the European season tails-off. Particularly interesting varieties are the black seedless Sable and Vitoria, as usual, and green seedless Sweet Globe and Sugar Crisp. Just starting from Brazil is the red seedless Sweet Celebration, normally an excellent variety, very sweet (seen in Waitrose).
Blueberries: Most blueberries are now from South Africa and Peru. Looking at the range of varieties on sale, it is obvious that there is quite a change from last year: most are relatively new varieties, many of which were sold in premium packs in the past. This should bode well for flavour, sweetness and texture and give consumers greater confidence in the quality of the southern hemisphere fruit (though we are still dependent on good quality management by supermarkets!). New varieties, not seen before, are Dazzle, Splash and Masena; while the oldest variety observed this week is Biloxi, for a long time the staple variety from Peru.
Mangoes: Israeli mangoes are finished in supermarkets, and you will struggle to find Spanish Osteen (still available in Waitrose, Costco and occasional independent outlet). So the choice is essentially Brazilian Keitt or Palmer. My preference is for the latter as it usually has some flavour as well as sweetness. Lidl continue to sell Ataulfo (aka Honey Mango) from either Mexico or Brazil: a wonderful variety, but it may have been sea-freighted which will reduce the potential for the flavour to emerge: pity.
Melons: With all melons now from Brazil, Matise (aka Sweet Snowball) and Piel de Sapo are probably the most reliably sweet and tasty types.
Peaches & Nectarines: Spanish peaches and nectarines have vanished from supermarkets, so everything on sale will be from South Africa and Zimbabwe. These are relatively pricey but light, soft and slightly tangy once they have ripened.
Cherries: South African cherries available in many larger stores. These are expensive, but are tasty and satisfying.
Kiwis: Regular consumers of green Hayward kiwis may have noticed a slight change in eating quality, namely some acidity after recently being so sweet. This is because stocks of New Zealand and Chilean fruit are dwindling to be replaced by those from Italy, Greece or Portugal. Yellow kiwis, Sungold and Soreli, have been from Italy for the past 2-3 weeks as southern hemisphere stocks of these varieties run-out earlier.
Oranges: Valencia Lates and variants Midknight and Delta are now the predominant oranges in stores, all from South Africa. The very first Spanish Navelinas are starting to appear but will have some early-season tanginess in comparison to the sweetness of the South African fruit.
Avocados: Hass avocado is now mainly from Chile, occasionally from Mexico and Dominican Republic. The first signs of the up and coming European season are appearing with a difference in variety choice and therefore eating quality: Spanish Fuerte (seen in Waitrose) and Israeli Ettinger (independent stores), both green-skinned and with lighter taste than Hass.
Blackberries: British large-berried blackberries Driscoll Victoria continue in most stores. Other options are the more traditional varieties with some tanginess such as Lochness and Loch Tay.
Raspberries: British raspberries are still on sale here and there, particularly in Sainsburys, though most 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.
Strawberries: Its early November, and the majority of strawberries are still from UK and Holland, all from glasshouse production. The fruit is from a relatively restricted range of varieties, mostly Malling Centenary and Elsanta. The former, being a new variety, has a better chance of sweetness, though none will blow your socks off.
Plums: Angelino plums from Spain, Italy and Portugal are the main choice in all stores. They are good value and sweet, though flesh is quite dense. Main supermarkets also have an option of improved varieties that have better sweetness and texture: try September Yummy or Sunset Sky if you see them. Whether improved or not, none of these fruit will have the succulence of main-season plums.
©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.