Here at the height of summer, Floridians are made aware of the mysticism and beauty of the mango. Little wonder since the mango is so delicious and satisfying.
The beautiful, towering tree from which it comes is highly regarded as a shade tree; thick with shining, leathery leaves, it affords shade to the weary and fruit to the hungry.
Little wonder it is believed the mango originated in the Himalayas, in the land James Hilton called Shangri-la.
Mangoes also have religious significance, for while Eve was offered an apple, Buddha was presented with a mango grove so he could repose in the shade of this magnificent tree.
The mango also has unique healing qualities, and parts of the mango tree are used for folk medicinal purpose in some cultures. Also used in cosmetics and medicine are the fruit, seed, seed kernel, leaves, bark and sap.
The people of Latin America eat mangos as people in the United States do apples and consider the healthy fruit a dietary staple.
India considers the mango its national fruit and a divine food. Indians use mangos in magic and rituals, in riddles and proverbs, in medicine, in religion. Their summer mango festivals are cause for celebration throughout the continent.
Mango trees are an important part of the rituals at Indian weddings and during ancient times the sages prescribed the planting of the mango for the salvation of souls. The mango plays a role in Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Animism of the tribal people of India.
The mango tree — Mangifera indica, genus Manifera — was first grown in Asia in 2000 B.C. Because the mango seed is too large to be dispersed by water or wind, it was left to Persian traders to transport the fruit to the Middle East.
The fruit was introduced to Africa in the 16th century and to Brazil aboard Portuguese ships in the 1700s. In 1860, mangoes were brought to Florida.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced a grafted variety from India called the "Mulgoba" in the U.S. Capt. John J. Haden of Coconut Grove planted and cultivated the first mangoes in 1902. This variety was named "Haden" while the popular Tommy Atkins mango was planted in Broward County in 1922.
To choose a ripe mango, go by scent and feel rather than the look of the fruit. The stem end should give off a pleasing aroma and the skin yield to gentle pressure.
Avoid fruit that smells sour or has no smell, or fruit with skin that feels somewhat loose or has soft or black spots. Color varies according to the variety is not necessarily an indication of ripeness.
Ripen the fruit at room temperature, and if you want to hasten the process, place in a closed bag with a banana. Although they do not do well under refrigeration, mangoes do freeze well. Savvy Neapolitans keep a stash of the fruit for year-round enjoyment.
Mangoes are an acquired taste. They are rich and exotic and are a tasty source of vitamins A and C and, to a lesser extent, vitamin B6, as well as minerals, potassium and copper, with little sodium but lots of fiber. A half-pound of mango pulp contains about 130 calories.
This recipe for mango chutney has been published numerous times over the years. Yet, each year, if I do not include it I am chastised. So here it is … again!
1 pound peeled mangoes, cut into small pieces*
1 pint vinegar for ½ pint grapefruit juice and ½ pint vinegar (I use plain white vinegar and canned grapefruit juice)
½ pound currants
½ pound raisins (use 1 pound raisins if currants are not available)
¼ pound blanched almonds
¾ pound brown sugar
3 ounces ginger root, minced fine
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoons white mustard seed
½ cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped sweet peppers
1 ounce chilies or hot peppers
1 Combine sugar, vinegar (or grapefruit juice) and bring to a boil.
2 Add the spices, chopped vegetables, mangos, nuts, raisins, currants and salt and bring to a rolling boil.
3 Boil for 30 minutes, stirring almost continuously to keep from burning.
4 Pack while at boiling point in sterilized jars and seal. Process in hot water bath.
Mangoes that are beginning to color are best. I use some green mangoes and some that are beginning to ripen. Do not use fully ripe mangos.