This post is dedicated to one of my favorite fruit, mangoes. The mango tree is topical at the moment, not only because mango season is just coming to an end here but also because recently there was much publicity in Dominica about a 150 year old mango tree which was cut down in Roseau on the site of the historic Jean Rhys house. I was present when the last chainsaw cut ripped through the thick trunk and the tree came crashing to the ground. As the deep roots were wrenched out of the earth, the streets of Roseau shook. I stood watching this process and shed a silent tear for the loss of age old roots. What’s in a tree?...some would say. I stayed to watch it carved up into little pieces and some beautiful slabs, no doubt to be sold off to furniture makers. I even rescued a wedge as a memento, maybe one day it will be transformed into a piece of artwork.
The mango is seen as a symbol of good luck, prosperity, eroticism, fertility and knowledge in some cultures. In some parts of India mango leaves are strung up over the front doors of homes. The tree itself is considered a connection to “love,” known as the “king” of all fruits and written about in many poems and literature.
This fleshy fruit, eaten ripe or used green for pickles, salads and chutneys is said to be one of the most widely cultivated fruits of the tropical world with over 500 varieties. Rich in antioxidants, the mango is known for its amazing nutritional value and health benefits.This juicy ripe fruit is a rich source of Vitamins A, B, B6, C, D and essential minerals such as copper, potassium and magnesium. It has antiviral, anti parasitic and antiseptic properties. The stem, bark, leaves, roots and fruit can be used for different purposes. The skin of the fruit is firm and leathery ranging in colour from green, deep yellow, yellowish-red to apricot with a crimson blush on one cheek. Inside is a hairy central seed covered with a juicy aromatic pulp. The texture and amount of hair varies depending on the variety.
Mango is a tree of the cashew family found in tropical and sub tropical Asia, Africa, Americas and West Indies. Trees have a deep tap root and flowers grow in white clusters, growing into fruit which hang in bunches. Leaves are a purplish colour when young and dark green, shiny and elongated when mature. This fruit grows in abundance and of real economic importance in the local economy of some Caribbean villages. In Dominica I have been amazed to see as many as five mango varieties grafted onto one single tree, each section bearing a different variety.
How did mangoes get to the Caribbean?
Mangoes are not native to the Caribbean. They have become so much a part of our culture it is easy to assume they have always been here. There are records of trees being planted in Barbados in 1742. British plantation owner Joseph Senhouse in his journal dated 1772 relating to his estate in Castle Bruce, Dominica mentions mangoes as one of the fruits he saw on the island on his visit. Fossil evidence traces the mango tree back to India and Bangladesh over 25 million years ago. They are believed to have been introduced to China and Malaysia around 4th century B.C. and then to East Africa by Persians and to West Africa and Brazil by the Portuguese, who then introduced them to the West Indies.
o season our grafted mango tree (known by some as Julie mango) has gifted in abundance, allowing us to share with many family and friends for almost two months. It is so good to be able to share produce. In Dominica sharing what the land provides is very much part of Island Culture. These mangoes are sweat, firm and milky in texture, perfect for cutting into cubes for a fresh fruit salad. In order to avoid the fruit being contaminated by the fruit fly, I have been vigilant in picking up any fallen fruit to avoid rot under the tree. Mango picking is a game of patience often in competetion with birds who now exactly when the fruit are ripening. Watching patiently as bunches of fruit grow to maturity until ready to be plucked, leaving some for the birds of course.
It has been a mission this year to re live childhood memories and taste as many mango varieties as possible. Growing up on the island we had the whole of St. Aroment as our playground before the houses were built. There were mango tree of all kinds, along with guavas, limes and the occasional mangosteen tree. Each mango had a different aroma, texture and flavour. These are just a few varieties common to Dominica. Grafted mango or mango Julie, mango licka, mango belly full, mango barbe, mango long, mango woz, mango cherie, mango Bitter skin ……..
How many mangoes can you name?
I am saddened to see how much fruit goes to waste on this island these days. Mango trees laden with fruit which fall and are left to rot. Have our taste and ways of living changed so much that we prefer to fill shopping baskets with boxed juices full of sugar, artificial flavours and preservatives? It always makes me smile when I see someone sit by the roadside and bite into a fresh fruit.
I was so grateful this year to be given some mango barbe. My favorite. A long thin mango and a rare treat. The smell evoked memories of a wild and free childhood growing up in the St. Aroment area of Dominica before it became a residential area it is today. To re-live the experience through the unique aroma, peel back the skin and bite into the flesh and pull up the juice with my teeth along its long hairy fibers. There is a ritualistic order of mango eating......relaxed, in peace and alone. Picking fibers stuck between the teeth afterwards is part of that ritual. To truly enjoy a good mango I believe is one of the simple pleasures of life. As a child, I remember after pealing the fruit, I would then rub the fleshy part all over my face, letting it dry like a face mask before washing it off. I would suck the last drop of juice from fibrous seed, wash the seed carefully, style the hair. This was a common childhood past time in the 70's and dolls heads would be made, decorated with madras head dress, neck wear and used to decorate the tops of pencils. Here in Dominica we do not utilize mangos to their full potential when they are in season and in surplus. They have many uses in other countries especially in Eastern medicine.
This season I have been creatively experimenting and researching ways of preserving and using mangoes. I made: Mango chutney, mango jam, mango cheesecake, mango upside down cake, mango and ginger juice and mango leather. My favorite and most successful have been mango leather which is quite addictive, especially with a dash of cayenne.
Mango Leather recipe
4 very ripe mangos pealed and seeded
Pulp flesh in blender and sieve when blended
Add spices as required, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg.
Place in pan and boil for ten minutes stirring constantly
Line flat baking tray with grease proof paper and oil lightly
Pour mixture and spread out evenly approx. 5 mm thick
Place trays in hot sun to dry for 3 days
Peel off and cut into thin strips
Mango Leaf Tea
A tea can be made by boiling the leaves in water for five minutes. Leaves are also known to be used in powdered form and mixed with hot water as a tea to treat diabetes, hypertension, coughs, respiratory problems, voice loss, and earache
* It is important to note as with all herbal medicines to do additional research as individual health conditions need to be considered and consult your doctor if you are on prescribed medication.
Timber - The tree also produces good quality timber
Skincare - Butter from the seed.
Textile Dye - As part of my research into natural plant dyes for textiles, I am interested in the tannin content of this tree. I have done some simple experiments by boiling mango leaves which I feel are quite successful.
Successful Dye Experiment using a boil and sun print technique
During this challenging time since the onset of Covid 19 and all its implications, we can hopefully spend some time to take a deep breath and admire the spectacles which are gifted to us by nature.