By Daniel Rath
Ahh, mango season ... The sight and smell of the ripe succulent fruits bring back sweet memories. (Well, maybe not as many memories as other people, as I am technically still a child, but sweet memories nonetheless). On this particular afternoon I was just back from visiting a neighbor's tree while he was taking his afternoon siesta...
Full from three juicy mangoes I was lounging around trying to figure out what to do next when it hit me. I knew my Norwegian cousins could buy mangoes in the supermarket but how could they know what "mango season" really entailed? Did they know the dangers of eating mangoes? Could they understand eating mangoes one after the other until you couldn't move? Although it is summer vacation and writing papers was the farthest thing from my mind, I figured that writing to them about "mango season" might hold me over until I was ready for another mango.
For those of you who don't know, a mango is a fruit only grown in the tropical areas of the world and from my point of view - the most delicious fruit in the Caribbean. The taste is hard to describe, but the closest thing I've heard is that of a Japanese persimmon. Mangoes vary in shape from a slipper to horse's eye with almost as many different names. Julie, Slipper, Sugar, Thundershock, Number Eleven and Bellyful, Blue, Judgewig and Apple mangoes are just a few types commonly seen in Belize.
Mango blossoms are small pink flowers covering the trees beginning in January. They transform into tiny green mangoes around May then slowly fill out and acquire a reddish tint in readiness for the rain showers in June that put the ripening touch to a mango. By that time the colors range from blue to red to yellow and when cut there is a flat white seed in the middle surrounded by firm, juicy, yellow flesh. The more common varieties like the Common and 'Hairy' mango are delicious but filled with fibers that get stuck between your teeth, while the bigger mangoes that are special grafted varieties and the ones they export, have very few if any fibers. All unripe mangoes are 'green' and then you are supposed to be careful how you eat them, as the seed (flux) inside is soft, and if eaten can give the person a massive bellyache. Mangos go through 4 stages, 'green', 'turn', 'ripe' and 'overripe'. 'Turn' mangoes are mangos that are half-ripe have firm flesh that is slightly sweet and can be eaten with no problem. Overripe mangos are usually squishy to the touch, ooze juice when bitten and are best used for mango juice.
Aside from just biting off the end, peeling off the skin and biting into the fruit with juice running down your chin and arms, mangoes can be enjoyed in many forms including: jams, preserves, pies, cakes, juice and ice cream. A great condiment for curry dishes is mango chutney while mango salsa is a tasty topping for grilled fish. A street side favorite packaged in small plastic bags is sliced and peeled green mango which is eaten with salt, black pepper, lime and habanero hot sauce.
But mango season isn't all about eating mangoes, it's about how you get the mangoes as well so I thought I'd see if there had been any changes over the past few generations. Since my grandmother used to live in Belize City around the time before Belize got its independence she was the perfect candidate -- Did I mention that she has mango trees in her yard? -- so I picked up a box of chocolates and rode over to her house on my bike. She was willing to answer my questions over a snack of chocolate dipped mangoes (sounds weird but tastes delicious).
According to my grandmother, mango season in the past is slightly different from mango season today. Unlike the large mango plantations around the country today, in those days one well-known family owned the only grafted mangoes. The most common types of mangoes grown in and around Belize City were Blue, Turpentine and Common mangoes and if you didn't have a tree in your yard your brother and his friends would go off and climb the trees to get these prizes (the girls were kept close to home). She remembers the boys getting up early to go to the farm for mangoes. Once there one of the boys would stay on the ground picking up the fallen mangoes with an eye out for the owner while the others would be up in the tree gathering mangoes. If the owner was sighted, the lookout would yell and they would all run off with mangoes hidden in their shirts. Of course, sometimes they would be greedy and they wouldn't see the owner's arrival. This would resulting in a whipping for the whole group probably by the owner and then again by their parents when they were informed about the activity.
The other choice was to buy mangoes from the mango vendors. In her opinion the juiciest and ripest mangoes came from Gales Point on the Manatee Lagoon. Every mango season, residents from the Manatee Lagoon would paddle their loaded canoes up to Belize City. The canoes would usually be loaded down so full that they would be close to sinking. Once they got to town they would set up shop at the market or street side. They stacked all their mangoes in groups of 4 called 'piles'. Their stock was usually sold out in about a day at about 5 cents for a pile.
Apparently there are also dangers associated with eating mangos. I learnt that the secret to eating green mangoes and not getting sick was to cut open the mango and throw away the flux before eating it. There is also the small unfortunate percentage of the population that is allergic to mangoes. The allergic reaction may cause blisters, a rash, itching, burning, and swelling. If the allergy is acute, the mere touch of a person who has been handling mangoes can set off a reaction. Then, it is fairly common for someone to eat so many mangoes that they end up with diarrhea but she said that's because, 'too much of one thing is good for nothing".
While a lot of the boys took mangoes without permission, she thought that the commandment 'thou shall not steal' was enforced much more strictly than it is today and although today she was irritated by the boys who steal mangoes from her tree she remembered what it was like when she was young so she didn't think things had changed that much. Unless of course, you counted that the same 'pile' of 4 now sold for a dollar.
On that note I took my leave, pedaling home at full speed to gather my younger brother and his friends. "Get the guys together", I said, "We are going to go get some mangoes". We ran down the street to a gigantic mango tree belonging to the shopkeeper at the corner. We quickly scaled the tree, leaving my brother to act as a lookout. One bite of the ripe, juicy mango made me feel as if I was in heaven. Suddenly we heard a shout. My brother, having gotten bored on the ground, had climbed up the tree for his share. The shopkeeper had snuck up on us unawares and was standing under the tree with a rather large stick in his hand. I leapt from the branch where I was, landed hard on the ground and ran off, not looking behind for fear of what I would see. Panting on our doorstep I glimpsed the shopkeeper waving his stick at us as the gang sped home at full speed and empty-handed.
Oh well, you have to have quick reflexes to steal mangoes and not get caught.
Disclaimer - (my editor made me put this in) - The shopkeeper wouldn't actually have hit us and we did go apologize to him.
Images Courtesy of:
Tony Rath Photography