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Explore South Florida's global love affair with mangoes

CORAL GABLES

Noris Ledesma is amused.

The curator of tropical fruit at Fair­child Tropical Botanic Garden is explaining the difference between how people in her native Colombia eat mangoes and the meticulous way they are peeled and consumed in the United States.

You get your knives and your napkins, she told a packed house at a presentation at the 22nd annual International Mango Festival in July at Fairchild, and you carefully cut the fruit off center to miss the thin elliptical pit, score the halves, then flip them inside out and scrape out the cubes of fruit.

"By the time Richard has explained how to cut a mango, I've eaten five," she said, referring to Dr. Richard Campbell, Fairchild's director of research and one of the world's foremost experts on mangoes, of which there are about 650 varieties. For those of you who thought a mango is a mango is a mango, that might be news.

In Colombia, Ledesma explained, the small, thin-skinned Azucar mango is popped into the mouth whole, worked with the tongue from side to side, the fruit sucked out and skin eaten too. All that's left to discard is the woody pit.

"We get messy up to our ears when we eat mangoes," she said.

The mango is called the "Queen of Fruits" and is beloved in tropical countries from India to Thailand, Brazil to Mexico and in the many Caribbean islands. It's also a coveted treat in European cities, such as London and Paris, where immigrants from warm-weather climates have settled. Each country has its own mangoes, grown there because of the specific location, climate and terrain. The word terroir is often used to describe the conditions in which wine grapes are grown, but it could also be used for mangoes.

Colombians favor the Vallenato and Azucar mangoes. In Thailand, they prize the Nam Doc Mai. In Haiti, it's the Madame Francis, and in Trinidad, the Julie. Indians love their Alphonso and Mallika mangoes, among others. Indians are especially adept at using mangoes in many ways — which makes sense, given that the fruit was born in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Many varieties of mangoes are grown in Fairchild's groves, grafted onto the Florida-hearty Turpentine mango rootstock. At the International Mango Festival, the love for the fruit is evident. People crowd the market to check out — and buy — more than a dozen varieties, with names such as Edward, Champagne, Lippens and Ruby. Mango medics are on hand to answer questions from amateur growers. Hundreds of small trees are for sale, representing varieties you see at fruit stands and markets in South Florida but rarely in the grocery store.

Various food vendors are using the fruit in their offerings, and for the first time, I try Thai Coconut Sticky Rice With Mango and am hooked. They call it a dessert, but I might consider it for breakfast too. It should be served at room temperature, allowing the flavors to blossom. The sweet coconut rice is a wonderful balance with the slightly tart, silky mango. The vendor is using perfectly ripe Nam Doc Mai mangoes. I vow to try making it as soon as a I get home. (See accompanying recipe.)

"South Florida is a special place for mangoes," Campbell says, because the climate is perfect for growing and also because its international community brings attention to the mangoes of their homelands. In South Florida, they know their mangoes.

Familiar mangoes

The Tampa Bay area isn't bad for mango growing, but the occasional freeze north of the bay itself can kill a tree. Pine Island in Lee County is a hot spot for mangoes, and that's where the Cogshall was born. The Cogshall is the No. 1 specialty mango imported into Paris, Campbell said.

Tommy Atkins mangoes, mostly grown in Mexico, dominate the commercial market, and that's usually what we see in grocery stores now, though occasionally you'll notice the yellow-skinned Champagne. Campbell, who calls himself a mango snob, said the Tommy Atkins is "not a bad mango, but it's not a particularly good mango." Easy to say for someone who has his pick of the world's most delicious varieties. His favorite is Edward, a cultivar that originated in South Florida and is named after Edward Simmonds, who was with the U.S.Department of Agriculture in Miami in the 1930s.

The Tommy Atkins is named after Thomas H. Atkins of Broward County, on whose property the variety was first grown in the early 1920s. Its parentage is the Haden mango, and that's often the giant mango-laden tree you'll see this time of year in people's yards.

But while the Tommy Atkins might not have the silkiness of other varieties and certainly has more fiber, it has become a top commercial mango because of its robust production and long shelf life. Tommy Atkins makes up about 80 percent of the mangoes sold in U.S. grocery stores.

On the road

Driving back to the bay area from the festival, we take a detour through the Redland agriculture region of Dade County. Our destination is Robert Is Here (19200 SW 344th St., Homestead; robertishere.com), the tropical food stand that draws tourists and locals for its wide variety of fruit and, even more tasty, its milkshakes. Yes, there are mango shakes, but we opted for one mamey sapote, another tropical fruit, and the more mundane but equally delicious coconut.

There are piles and piles of mangoes, and I load up on more, knowing there are about 40 in the car already. I want some beautiful red Kents, and then I spy some called Pickering and another tagged Valencia Pride. I grab some of each.

Just before getting ready to leave, I spy mounds of Keitts, a mango that's bigger than a kitten. The 2 ½-pound behemoth set me back $7, at $2.50 a pound, and I have yet to cut it because it's still not ripe. (Mangoes are among the few fruits that actually sweeten after they are picked.)

Many people at Robert Is Here cradle the mangoes close to their noses and breathe deep. For mango lovers, that aroma is intoxicating. I can attest to that. On the drive home, across the Tamiami Trail and up Interstate 75, my bounty of mangoes in the back seatemitted a heavenly smell.

I begin to imagine mango bread laced with macadamia nuts, mango cookies made with dried fruit (I bought some of that too) and that lovely Thai Coconut Sticky Rice With Mango. That I will tackle first.

Well, after I cut up the ripening fruit and store it in freezer bags marked with type and date.

I also follow Noris Ledesma's lead just a little and get messy, eating juicy mangoes over the sink. It's that time of year.

Contact Janet K. Keeler at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586. Follow @roadeats.

>>EASY

Mango Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups sugar

4 eggs

¼ cup macadamia nuts, chopped

¼ cup almonds, chopped

¾ cup vegetable oil

2 cups ripe mango, cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan.

In a large electric mixing bowl, blend flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt at medium speed for a minute. Add sugar, eggs, macadamia nuts, almonds and oil. Gently fold in mango.

Pour ingredients into loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 1 loaf.

Source: Alanskitchen.com

>>MODERATE

Thai Coconut Sticky Rice With Mango

(Kha Niao Man)

1 ½ cups Thai sticky rice (see note)

2 cans (13 ounces each) unsweetened coconut milk

¼ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

2 mangoes, peeled and sliced

6 sprigs mint

In a large bowl, combine the rice and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Soak for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain.

Inside a wok, place a bamboo steamer and line the steamer with parchment paper. Add enough water to come up just below the bottom steamer rack, 1 to 1 ½ inches. (Alternative method: Use a pot with steamer insert and lid, and line the insert with several layers of cheesecloth so the rice doesn't fall through holes. Put several inches of water into the bottom pan.) Bring the water to a boil. Add the rice to the bottom steamer rack, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and steam until rice is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. (It will take more like 30 to 35 minutes if you use the double-boiler steamer insert.) Remove from the heat and transfer the rice to a bowl.

Open the cans of coconut milk and skim the thick cream from the top into a small saucepan. If the cans are refrigerated for a few hours first, it will be easier to skim off the cream. (Reserve the leftover coconut milk for another recipe.) Add the sugar and salt to the coconut cream and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Pour over the rice, mix well, cover and set aside until liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

Serve at room temperature with mango slices. Garnish with mint sprigs. The finished dish can be kept, covered, at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours. Don't refrigerate or the rice will harden.

Note: If you can't find Thai sticky rice, use long-grain.

Serves 4.

Source: Emeril Lagasse

>>MODERATE

Mango Hawaiian Cookies

¼ cup orange juice

½ cup chopped dried mango

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup shortening

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

½ cup white sugar

2 eggs

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts

¾ cup flaked coconut

½ cup chopped dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Simmer orange juice and mango in a small pan over medium-low heat for 8 minutes. Set aside. Beat the butter, shortening, brown sugar and white sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, then mix in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Mix the flour mixture into the butter mixture until just incorporated. Fold in the macadamia nuts, coconut, cranberries and mango-orange juice mixture, mixing just enough to evenly combine. Drop spoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets.

Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool in on sheets for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a rack.

Makes 3 dozen.

Source: Allrecipes.com

>>EASY

Mango Ice Pops

For more summer pop ice treats made with sweetened

condensed milk, see Page 5E.

3 medium-sized mangoes

1 cup whole milk

½ cup heavy cream

¼ cup sweetened condensed milk

Peel and chop the mangoes and add to blender with the rest of the ingredients. You can make a smooth paste or a chunky one depending on your taste. Put them in ice pop molds and freeze overnight.

To unmold, run under cold water until the sticks loosen.

Makes 8.

Source: Food52.com

>>EASY

Gingered Mango Chicken

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

teaspoon ground thyme

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 lemon, juiced

½ cup orange juice

½ cup mango nectar

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 large mango, peeled and diced in ½-inch pieces

Cooked rice, for serving (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Place chicken breast halves in the skillet, and cook 5 to 10 minutes on each side, until no longer pink and juices run clear. Season both sides with thyme, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat the lemon juice in the skillet over medium heat, and scrape up browned bits. Mix in orange juice, mango nectar, ginger and cinnamon. Over high heat, cook and continuously stir 4 to 5 minutes, until thickened. Add mango pieces and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon over the cooked chicken breast halves to serve. The chicken and sauce could be served over rice.

Serves 4.

Source: Adapted from Allrecipes.com

.Fast Facts

Visit mango trees

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is at 10901 Old Cutler Road in Coral Gables. For more information, call

(305) 667-1651 or go to fairchildgarden.org. Dates for the 2015 International Mango Festival haven't been announced, but the annual event is usually the second weekend in July.

Explore South Florida's global love affair with mangoes 07/28/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 28, 2014 5:26pm]

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