July 5, 2020

Mango Medley

Pickering mangoes
Fruit & Spice Park is one of my favorite places to visit. It may be unique in all the world. It is located about 30 miles south of Miami, in tropical Redland, Florida. When you visit, you can see how various fruit and nut trees grow. The Park will introduce you to edibles you've never heard of. You can see just how big a particular tree gets at maturity. Most notably, you can taste whatever fallen fruit you find on the ground. If you are not sure what a particular fruit is, the Park staff at the Welcome Center will help you identify it. 

Nam Doc Mai mangoes
If you are wondering about all the different kinds of mangoes that are maturing right now, you can wander around the Park and see for yourself. But even more thrilling, you can taste any mangoes that have fallen off the trees. In fact, you are encouraged to do so. Just don't pick from the trees directly. Happily, you are not limited to mangoes. Fruit & Spice Park has more than 500 types of fruit, herbs, spices, and nuts. Only a subset is ripe on any given day, but there's always something tasty. 

Three years ago, I made a repeat pilgrimage to Fruit & Spice Park. For the first time, I visited in July during mango season. Since the Park grows 180 varieties of mango, I had the opportunity to taste many luscious mangoes, all luscious in their own way. Thanks to Haroun and Muaaz for including me in this mango adventure. Mango flavors are rich and complex. One mango might be super sweet with melony/citrus overtones. Another might have a creamy, coconut flavor. Some have fiber that gets stuck between your teeth, while others are fiber free. There are tart varieties and spicy varieties. With such a range of flavor, my taste buds did not tire of mangoes. Our self-guided, mango tasting tour at Fruit & Spice Park only ended when we were so full that we waddled back to the car.

Here are some insider tips for visiting Fruit & Spice Park -
  • Go in a small group. You can all share one piece of fruit and compare impressions. When you divide a single piece of fruit, you leave tummy room to taste more fruit.
  • Bring a pocket knife of some sort, some water, and a towel. You will need these to cut open the fruit, wash your hands, and dry your knife.
  • A plastic bag comes in handy for collecting seeds and/or pits. 
  • Consider arriving with an empty stomach.
  • If you go during mango season, you may want to brush up on mango peeling techniques. Who knew there were so many ways to peel a mango? 
How To Peel A Mango
Hedgehog style
The scoop

Banana style

While you're in the area, consider visiting the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden just south of Miami. Fairchild is home to acres and acres of gardens, a museum, a butterfly house, a laboratory, a conservation research facility, a mango festival, and lots more.

They didn't let us taste here.
Across many cultures, mangoes are considered one of the finest tasting fruits around. They grow in tropical and subtropical lowlands throughout the world. If you are fortunate enough to live where you can grow a mango tree and you decide to plant one, you will eventually have lots and lots of mangoes - way more than you and your family can eat. A mango tree may grow very large. Either you will dedicate a lot of space to it or you will dedicate some time to keeping it smaller than it wants to be. Even though you won't need to spend much time fertilizing and watering a mango tree, you will spend time harvesting and/or pruning it. So, it behooves you to pick a variety that you find tasty. I highly recommend going on a mango tasting tour. You might be able to do this at a farmer's market. If your neighbors grow mangoes, you might be able to do this by visiting your neighbors. Or you might consider a trip to Fruit & Spice Park in July. If not this July, perhaps next July. 

Mangoes have a way of creating community. If you are so inclined, you can harness that magic. You may find neighbors willing to share their mangoes with you. If you decide to grow a mango tree, you will have the opportunity to share mangoes with many people in your daily sphere of influence and activity. In fact, if you have trouble making friends, grow a mango tree. I was very excited at the prospect of hosting a mango-tasting party this year, now that I grow several varieties. Unfortunately, the party was preempted by that irksome, uninvited pandemic guest. My sweetheart has planted mango trees on one side of our property, along the sidewalk. I have no way of knowing whether those passing by have taken any mangoes home with them, but if they have, we may be practicing anonymous community - a bit of an oxymoron. 
Group effort to freeze mangoes - peeler, scooper, and pit boss in action

Even beyond your own home, a mango tree can connect people. I am drawn to guerilla gardening, which involves planting on parcels of unused public space. Three years ago, I planted a mango tree in one such spot and surrounded it with some stakes to make it look official. Without any irrigation, it has grown slowly. Once or twice a year, I go over and trim any grasses or vines that have overgrown the little tree. I will keep it pruned to a manageable size, so that people can reach the fruit. After all, who goes for a walk with a long-poled fruit picker? It is located near a large intersection with sidewalks, and it is my hope that once the tree starts bearing fruit, people will gather there to collect mangoes. Wouldn't that be awesome! If your temple or church is important to you, consider planting a mango tree there. That may be an appropriate setting for a large mango tree, as it can probably feed a small congregation after services or prayers. Just be sure someone is assigned to harvest any unpicked fruit. Or better yet, let people who are food insecure come and pick anything that goes unharvested.
Mango tree in bloom

Just about any able-bodied adult can connect with mangoes here in Sarasota, whether they have a yard or not. Transition Sarasota is starting up some fruit gleaning opportunities in town. Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops, in this case fruit that a homeowner will not be picking. Homeowners with fruit trees register with Transition Sarasota; a trained volunteer team comes to pick the fruit; and the fruit is donated to a local food bank. Everybody benefits. Preventing fruit from dropping and rotting on the ground reduces yardwork, food waste, and the neighborhood rodent population. A portion of the harvest is provided to the tree owner.  But most of the fruit goes to those who are having difficulty obtaining wholesome food. Volunteers make these connections possible.

Since moving back to Florida twenty years ago, we have taken summer vacations to get away from the heat for a few weeks. This invariably interrupts mango season. Florida's summer fruit includes the sublime mango, the glorious lychee, and the heavenly fig. We have never been willing to leave for so long that we would miss these fruits entirely. On the other hand, we have never fully experienced a complete mango season for all the cultivars we now grow. That is, until we found ourselves grounded by the pandemic. From this summer's first-hand experience, I can say that it is no hardship to enjoy a medley of mangoes at breakfast, lunch, and dinner for weeks on end. We have also discovered that our dog does not like mangoes. Go figure. 

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