1. Short and sweet
There’s nothing quite like the first British-grown strawberry of the year. Sweet and fragrant, it marks the beginning of a fruitful few months for British produce. The season that begins with strawberries in June ends just a few months later when the last apples fall.
We grow thousands of varieties of fruit in the UK. You could eat a different variety of British apple every day for six years and you still wouldn’t have tasted them all.
But are you really making the most of what is available? How can you make fruit taste its best? And is it possible to prolong the shelf life of British fruit?
2. What a difference variety makes
The variety of fruit that you choose, and how it is grown, can make a huge difference to the taste, colour and texture of your dish.
The flavour of strawberries varies substantially. Raymond Blanc's favourite strawberry is the perfumed Gariguette, which is best eaten as it comes. However, the more common supermarket variety Elsanta keeps well but isn’t as flavoursome, so is better suited to puréeing or using in desserts such as sorbet, summer pudding and trifle.
While the Bramley is known as 'the' cooking apple, there are other good cooking varieties. The Bramley is renowned for its sourness and for the way it collapses down when cooked, which means it is well suited to stewing. By contrast, a Cox is sweeter and holds its shape better when cooked, so is well suited to a tart. Russet and Discovery apples also hold their shape well.
Early season ‘forced’ rhubarb, which is grown in darkness and traditionally harvested by candlelight, has a vibrant pink colour, delicate flavour and more sweetness than later season outdoor rhubarb. Forced rhubarb is good for poaching as it keeps its vibrant pink colour, while later varieties stew well, making them ideal for crumble.
Have you tried golden raspberries? The Allgold variety is sweeter than the standard raspberry and produces fruit later into the autumn.
3. A balancing act
These ratios show the approximate sweet-and-sour balance of some of our favourite fruits. The sugar and acid content of fruit varies according to factors including ripeness and variety; as a fruit ripens, its starch and acid levels decrease and its sugars increase. However, these figures provide a useful guide and when you know how sweet a fruit is you can work out how much sugar to add when cooking, or whether it might benefit from a squeeze of lemon juice.
4. A bittersweet symphony
Do you know how to match flavours to fruit? Why does dark chocolate work so perfectly with cherries and should we try seasoning fruit with salt? Click on the foods below to find out.
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5. Fruit in the kitchen
Most fruit is delicious eaten raw in its whole form, but cooking or puréeing it can introduce a new dimension. The way that you prepare fruit will also have an impact on its nutritional value.
Poaching involves cooking fruit in liquid over a low simmer, usually for 10-20 minutes. It is best suited to firm fruits such as pears or plums, as they tend to hold their shape when cooked this way. You can vary the flavour and colour of the dish by your choice of poaching liquid, for instance choose between red, dry white and sweet white wine for poaching pears.
Cooking fruit in a saucepan with a little water softens it, enabling you to turn it into a purée, compôte or crumble or pie filling. Stewing fruit slowly softens the skin, making it easy to eat, so you can benefit from its dietary fibre. You may need to add a little sugar or other sweetener to fruit when you stew it. Stewing fruit for a long time will destroy some of its nutrients.
Cooking fruit in the oven helps to caramelise the sugars and maximise flavour. Try baking apples, rhubarb and even strawberries for a delicious pudding.
Juicing and pulverising
Pulverising raw fruit works well with fruits that have a high water content and can mean that the whole fruit, including the fibre-laden skin, is consumed. The result can be drunk as a smoothie or used instead of a cooked purée. Juicing is more refined and done by crushing the fruit and then separating the juice from the fibrous cells in the skin and flesh, which usually means sacrificing fibre. The juice can be drunk or used as poaching liquor or for stewing fruit.
6. Eat straight away or ripen after picking?
When and how fruits ripen varies. What should you buy ripe and what will ripen at home in the fruit bowl?