I love mangoes.
This time of year, I’m extra-chummy with friends who have mango trees. They bring me grocery bags groaning with the weight of the ripening fruit, eager to get rid of them because they just can’t eat them fast enough.
I cut those mangoes up and serve them with grilled chicken, or throw them in salads along with almonds and dried cranberries, or mix them into Greek yogurt for a snack. Mango chutney is a given, and, because I’d heard people raving about it, I recently wrangled a cherished family recipe from Arthur Guilford, the retired regional chancellor of USF Sarasota-Manatee. (You can have it, too, right here.)
I’m serious enough about mangoes that a few years ago my husband and I made a pilgrimage to the now 25-year-old International Mango Festival at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables. It was exhilarating to spend that July weekend with thousands of people who shared my passion. The year we went, the theme was “Mangoes of India”; India was the birthplace of mangoes 5,000 years ago. We tasted some of the 2,000 varieties of mangoes from all over the world. (Four hundred of those varieties grow in Florida.) We also sampled an amazing array of sweet and savory dishes that featured the deep-orange fruit, from spicy ceviches to mango cream puffs. Miami’s star chefs gave cooking demonstrations, and there was even a Dr. Mango who answered questions about issues with people’s trees.
Will Wright, chairman of the Tropical Fruit Society of Sarasota and a nurseryman who grows mango trees for sale, is another kindred spirit. The society’s July meeting each year is devoted to a blind taste-test of 10 different mango varieties; everybody writes down what they think they’re eating, and much surprise and good humor ensue.
I’ve never been able to adequately describe the unique taste of a mango, but Wright did it for me: “It’s like a peach and a passion fruit went behind the bleachers,” he said, “and nine months later the little surprise was a mango.”
This month, when I’m mourning that mangoes are going out of season, I collect all I can and dice and freeze them.
That may be the only thing I share with the late American artist Robert Rauschenberg, who sent friends packages of frozen mangoes he picked from the many trees at his compound on Captiva Island as Christmas gifts. I’m not that noble; I keep mine for my husband’s frozen mango daiquiri recipe. (Hint: He throws a bit of fresh mint into the blender.)
And when all the mangoes are gone, I may console myself with something Wright told me. “If you planned it perfectly,” he said, “you could plant enough varieties of mangoes in your Florida yard that you’d have ripe mangoes for six months of every year.” Our yard is small and I’m not much of a gardener, so of course, I would never do something that crazy.
Or would I?