If you like mangoes, it's time to start looking around. Throughout most of the year, mangoes are just another fruit one buys at the supermarket, but in May, June and July – the peak of mango season – the bountiful fruit is in every market in every Miami neighborhood. You'll know why if you've ever seen a mango tree.
History of the Mango
A mango tree is a large tree, and in a good year, one mango tree will yield many more fruits than a single family can use. That is good news for the rest of us, if we can find someone who is trafficking in mangoes. If you work in a large office, it's quite likely that a coworker or two will bring in enough mangoes for everyone during the peak of the mango season.
People in the Midwest may be burdened with an overabundant harvest of tomatoes or zucchini, but in South Florida our overabundant fruit of summer is the mango.
Mangoes aren't the only exotic fruit that that can be free for the taking. Lychees, starfruit, passion fruit, papaya, guava and avocadoes also are bountiful at certain times of years, starting in summer. You'll find the odd banana tree, too. Much of what is now Miami's Upper East Side used to be pineapple plantations, though you'll find few backyard pineapple crops today.
Citrus, once bountiful, is now rarer, since the state cut down most backyard orange, grapefruit, Key lime and lemon trees back between 1995 and 2006, destroying 16.5 million trees in an ill-fated (and unsuccessful) attempt to eradicate citrus canker, which damages trees and disfigures fruit. South Floridians weren't allowed to plant citrus trees again until 2006, and their numbers are much smaller and the fruits much fewer than they were a few decades ago.
Mango Season Etiquette
If you're not lucky enough to have a mango tree, make friends with your neighbors. Few families can use an entire bountiful harvest, and ripe mangoes have to be picked up every day to avoid a smelly mess. (Rats, raccoons, birds and other wildlife love mangoes.) That means most mango tree owners are happy to share with neighbors, especially neighbors who help pick them up. Mango trees grow tall enough that the fruit can only be reached with a ladder or mango-picking stick, which means some homeowners just wait for the fruits to fall and hope they won't break.
It is not OK to help yourself to fruit from a tree or a yard reachable from the street. Owners of fruit tree are used to having strangers knock on the door and ask for permission to pick a few fruits during mango season, which is the polite thing to do.
Not so the mango. This looks to be a bountiful year for the fruit, which can be eaten raw, baked into pastries, cooked with shrimp, fish or chicken or otherwise used in any way that you would use a peach. There are more than 2,000 varieties of mangoes, and most of the ones grown in Florida backyards during mango season are good to eat.
How to Cut a Mango
Mangoes can be tricky to peel and cut, since they have a large, irregular-shaped pit, so you might be wondering, "How do you cut a mango?" I just use a vegetable peeler and a knife. You can easily feel the pit with your hands and then cut around it. Be ready to catch the juice, because mangoes are very juicy and therefore very messy. Open a ripe mango, and you'll understand the old saying, "the best place to cut up a mango is in the bathtub." If you'd like more precise cutting instructions, check out this video on how to cut a mango from Martha Stewart.
Some people are allergic to mangoes. Others can eat the fruit but break out in a rash if they touch the skin or the sap, which contains the chemical urushiol, also found in poison oak and poison ivy. If you're allergic to poison ivy, you might want to think twice before peeling a mango because you could have the same itchy reaction to mango sap.
I have been working for years to develop the optimum mango bread recipe (and I don't have it yet). Luckily, there are many ways to eat mangos. I have eaten mango with shrimp, mango pie, mango cobbler, mango smoothies, mango salsa and, of course, just plain old mango with cottage cheese, yogurt or other fruit. Mango daiquiris are also popular.
If you're lucky enough to be gifted with a bountiful harvest this mango season, you can get inspiration and mango recipe ideas from a number of sources. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, which has dozens of species of mangoes on its grounds, has an annual mango festival in July, which includes mango tastings, culinary demonstrations, workshops and mango trees for sale.
Jen Karetnick, a Miami author who has 14 mango trees on her one-acre urban property (she shares the fruit with local chefs, neighbor and friends), wrote the book "Mango," which includes recipes from Miami chefs, including the group known as the "Mango Gang." Chefs Norman Van Aken, Mark Militello, Douglas Rodriguez and Allen Susser created what was dubbed the "New World Cuisine," a fusion of American, Latin, Caribbean, Asian and African flavors. Those dishes included plenty of inventive mango recipes.
To us, mangoes are a Florida delicacy, but mangoes grow in tropical and subtropical regions all over the world, meaning you can find recipes for all types of international dishes from India's mango lassi to Thai sticky rice with mango.
Want to get started cooking with mangoes? Here are links to some mango recipes:
- Mango salsa, mango chutney and more from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
- Mango margaritas, mango salad, mango cake and more, from the Food Network
- Mango lassi, mango blueberry muffins and mango sauces for fish from All Recipes
- Mango recipes and stories from Indian-born cookbook author and writer Monica Bhide