Continental shoppers expect and get luscious, robust, low-priced varieties, says Joanna Blythman

A summer trip abroad reminds me of the awfulness of the stone fruits we import from Europe. I reckon Britain must be a standing joke amongst fruit growers and wholesalers. "Ola Pepe, got any duff nectarines? No problem, send them to the UK."

Cruising the shelves of French supermarket chains such as Casino, Leclerc, Super U and Coccinelle last week, I saw a super-abundance of luscious specimens: fleshy orange apricots, fragrant, soft-fleshed white peaches and meaty yellow nectarines. You find the same, sometimes superior, quality in market stalls, even at the local Spar.

The difference? Consumers in mainland Europe expect stone fruit that has been harvested when mature and at a size that is more flesh than stone so it will ripen properly. What do we get in the UK ? Hopelessly under-sized specimens picked too early, "green and backward" as they are known in the trade. Among them the pathetic midget offerings in netted plastic containers represent the dross, but the more expensive, slightly larger sort that retail individually at venally high prices are only marginally better.

UK supermarket chains and fruit wholesalers brag (admittedly rather unconvincingly) about their ability to bring ultra-fresh produce from Africa in a couple of days, but what a pig's ear they make of European fruit. If we are going to clock up food miles trucking peaches from Seville or apricots from the Rhône valley - and there is an argument for bringing in those crops we can't grow in the UK, at least help justify those food miles by delivering fruit that has more than a cat in hell's chance of tasting ripe and luscious.

Our produce buyers should get to grips with basil, too. All we see in the UK is the flaccid Israeli sort, occasionally masquerading as Palestinian under its sneaky 'Left Bank' label, the sort that rapidly degenerates into slime.

Throughout the Continent, consumers rightly expect generous, posy-sized bunches of noticeably more robust, peppery and pungent varieties. In 30ºC heat, I kept a bunch in water at room temperature for almost a week. It cost just £1.30, stood up to regular harvesting and even flowered. We don't get this standard here because our jobsworth produce buyers and smug chains, despite being fixated with their global reach, are clueless when it comes to sourcing the good stuff from Europe.

Joanna Blythman is a food journalist and author of Bad Food Britain.