Summer in Cayman is a time for savouring mangoes.
For some Caymanians that means time to turn down the pot – no cooking.
Before Hurricane Ivan in 2004 nearly wiped out this succulent fruit, Cayman had plenty of mangoes.
Everyone had mangoes. Ripe mangos were used to feed the children, to feed the cows and chickens, in competitions, to make jam, chutney, drinks, hot sauces, cookies, bread and salsa. Even the unripe (green) fruit was prized. Younger and older Caymanians eat tart green mangoes sprinkled with salt and black pepper or coated with vinegar.
Known as the sweetest of Cayman’s tropical fruits, the mango is probably the best loved fruit for Caymanians.
Not only is it loved for its juicy, pulpy texture in its natural state, but for the jam that is made from this charming fruit.
One must try this sweet sticky substance with piping hot homemade bread right out of the oven – an unforgettable taste.
Mangoes are full of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. High in fibre, the fruit is low in calories.
Mango, like papaya, contains an enzyme that is good for marinating and tenderizing meat.
While juicy and very tasty, ripe mangoes are also very sloppy and difficult to eat.
Labelled as the most enticing of tropical fruits, it’s no wonder some people perform acrobatic manoeuvres to acquire the succulent treats.
I once saw a friend spend an hour in a tree waiting for a huge cow to take its leave so he could climb down from the mango tree. Another mowed down a grass field trying to escape a flock of angry bees he had disturbed while hunting for mangoes. One man, leaning over a barbwire fence to pick the enticing fruit, was caught up by the seat of his pants and hung upside down before he received help.
Cows also loves mangoes so be careful when you scale that fence – a cow might be taking a nap under its favourite tree.
Mosquitoes and cowticks can also be a problem, so wear long sleeved shirts and pants so you will not get bitten, scratched, tom prickled or scorched with maiden plum.
Also, never use a metal pole near utility poles when picking mangoes; you could get electrocuted.
Swimming with mangoes
During summer holidays mango eating and mango activities were a pastime for children.
Because mangoes tend to have a lot of sticky, pulpy juice, youngsters would take them to the beach. When they arrived they would give their friends a handful of mangoes and throw them in the sea.
The mangoes were then retrieved by diving for them. Not only did the mangoes have a salty, sweet taste, the water washed the hands and face.
Another way of eating the mango without the mess is take it in the palms of the hands and rubbing it until soft. Bite a tiny hole in the bottom and suck out the juice.
One recommendation is wear an old T-shirt when consuming or even better do what Caymanian youngsters do – get in the sea.
Many different varieties of mangoes can be found on the island. There is Carrie, Dot, East Indian, Edward, Glen, Haden Julie, Keitt, Kent Lemon Meringue, Nam Doc, Zill and local long or round mangoes.
Mango varieties vary dramatically in size and individual fruits can weigh from six ounces to more than two pounds.
Mango expert Richard Campbell from Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Miami, says when planting a mango tree there is no reason to be high tech – just dig a hole; the poorer the soil the happier the tree will be.
While it is nice to have tall trees with lots of fruit, growing smaller trees has its advantages. Small mango trees are less susceptible to hurricanes and are hardier.
Cayman’s mangoes are slowly rebounding after many of the trees were damaged during Ivan.
Selecting a ripe mango
The best way to select a ripe mango is to smell and feel it. It should smell pleasantly fragrant and yield slightly to gentle pressure.
Mangoes are best eaten in their natural state. Somehow they seem to lose their flavour if they are refrigerated.
To cut up a mango, slice off the cheeks on either side of the seed. The slices and seeds can be soaked in vinegar overnight for a snack.
Cayman Mango Jam
20 local round or long overripe mangoes
1lb of brown or white sugar
Jam bottles for storing
Peel the skin off the mangos. Place mangoes in a large skillet with water and boil until soft.
Remove skillet from stove and place mangoes in a large sieve. Mash mangoes until all the pulp is removed from the seeds. Discard the seeds.
Place the pulpy moisture back on the stove, add sugar and lime and boil until the mixture thickens.
Pour into bottles and store.