Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hurray for Mangoes

Yum, ripe mangoes from Mana Foods. 

Ah, mango season, the most delicious time of the year. I am deliriously happy with mangoes - mango smoothies, mango cobbler, mango bread, and mangoes eaten without any fanfare, the juice running down my chin. Mangoes lurk around every street corner and piles of them land on the roadside, like mango road kill.  Sometimes I’ll see eaten-out mango pits along the side of the road, which means a mango tree is nearby. Just look up.  

Mango road kill... Hint, there is a mango tree nearby. 

I dream of mango chutneys, mango jams, mango pies, and dehydrating mangoes for later on in the year. The Paia Mantokuji Bon Dance, usually in July, sells delicious mango pie. 

Mango season has started in earnest, and can even go through the late fall, like October and November, or even December depending on where the mangoes are growing. Friends from Ulupalakua have a tree that fruits in late October. I’ve even picked mangoes in Kihei in early December!  But the peak of mango season is right now. If you don’t have a mango tree, and I don’t either, go to the farmer’s market or Mana Foods, or walk around your neighborhood and look for mango fruits by the side of the road. If you go to the grocery store, make sure the mangoes are local. Some of the Maui supermarkets will import mangoes from Mexico or Costa Rica and they taste like crap, and they aren’t fragrant at all!  A good mango will exude a luscious fruity smell.

Mango picking in Kihei last December.  

My favorite! Free mangoes! Woohoo! Mahalo!
What do mangoes taste like?
Hard to describe, like a peach but more tropical. Maybe a peach with overtones of other fruits. Some mangoes have the same flavor throughout the bite, and others, I swear, have undertones that remind me of cherries or plums. Others remind me of pink bubble gum.  Mangoes can have some complexity. Some mangoes are delicious right up to the underside of the skin, and others are bitter as you approach the skin.

How to use mangoes?
Anything you can do with a peach, you can do with a mango. So any recipe that calls for peaches can be substituted with mangoes. Which is fantastic, because I love peaches and they taste horrible in Hawaii. By the time they are shipped here, they taste like cardboard. They never fully ripen and the flesh is mealy. I have had a few exceptional peaches from Mana Foods, but those are exceptions, not the rule.

The scent of ripe mangoes is intoxicating. Sweet and fruity. Coming home to our jungalow if we’ve been out all day is like being greeted by the mango welcoming committee. One bowl full of ripe mangoes generates a scent so strong and fragrant, it careens across the front door like a wave breaking on the shore. It will knock you out.

A way to ripen mangoes on the tree, and minimize fruit fly damage. 

Mangoes ripen very quickly. A ripe mango usually has three or more colors – red, orange, yellow, green. It will be soft to touch, but not squishy. Mangoes left together in a bowl will ripen more quickly than mangoes put in the fridge or kept apart. Picked green mangoes don’t ripen, but they can still be good in a mango curry or chutney, or in a local delicacy, pickled mangoes. 

Wild Bill's pickled mangoes at the Makawao Farmer's Market.
Wild Bill is a cat, but he doesn't like mangoes; that's why he sends them to the farmer's market. 

When I have too many mangoes, which hardly ever happens, I’ll give them away, freeze batches of mangoes, or dehydrate them.

Speckled wild mangoes.
The dark dots and speckles look bad or weird,
but inside they are just fine.
And some wild mangoes have a richer, deeper flavor than hybrids. 

Tips on gathering roadside mangoes
Feel free to pick mangoes off the ground that are on the road, but if you have want mangoes that have fallen in someone’s front yard, then knock on the door and ask permission to take any mangoes first. Most people say yes. Fallen roadside mangoes are often wild, small mangoes that can be utterly delicious and stringy, or hybrids with smooth, nonstringy flesh. 

Stalking roadside mangoes... see the chewed up mango pits?
You bet there's a tree above. 
There are some lovely wild mangoes along Baldwin Avenue a few miles uphill of Paia.  If you’re gathering mangoes in the wild or on the roadside, be careful about cars whizzing by.  The technical term I think is "gleaning," gathering what would otherwise be wasted. Also, you may encounter some really soft mangoes. They could be okay, and just a bit overripe, or they could have fruit flies!  Fruit flies love to lay eggs in mangoes and other soft fruits. Their larvae look like short little worms, and they can jump, at least an inch high. The fruit will have little wriggling white maggots and bruises with darkened flesh or whitish knotty streaks. If you can cut around the section with fruit flies, then you can salvage the edible, unblemished parts of the mango. If it makes you feel more sanitary, cook those mangoes. DH says fruit flies are extra protein. Um not yum. I’ll take infested mangoes and freeze them before chucking them into the compost. I don’t want to breed fruit flies in my compost pile, and freezing kills fruit fly maggots and eggs. 

Wild mangoes from Hana by Ono Farms at the Maui Fair last year. 
Allergy tips
There are some people who are sadly allergic to mangoes, actually about a 1/3 of the world’s population from what I’ve heard. I used to be terribly allergic to them, and would break out into hives around my mouth. These days, though, I have no problem touching the skin or the sap, thank goodness. I don’t know if it’s because my diet is healthier now as an adult, less processed and refined foods, and less dairy, maybe it was only a childhood allergy, but whatever the cause, I’m delighted to indulge in mango madness.  If you are currently allergic to mangoes, a friend mentioned she tried a variety that was pretty bland and tasteless, but could eat it without any rash. But what’s the point? You could try cooking mangoes and seeing if you still have a reaction. Another friend is allergic to the mango sap only, so her husband gets to cut up all her mangoes. Nice system!  Or you could try making changes in your diet – cutting out dairy or other common allergens, easing up on processed foods, and then seeing if you still react to mangoes.

Pirie mangoes at the Maui (County) Fair held in September. 

Anyhow, I have to go cut up some mangoes!  They are calling my name.


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