NOTHING IS perfect. The mangoes, promised over the weekend by my Florida grandmother-in-law, have arrived. Becky said that they would be green, and that I could ripen them one by one until they have turned yellow. But here they are, all 10 of them, looking like giant speckled lopsided yellow eggs. Some are even overripe. Two are bruised. Only one of them has the feel of unready firmness. I have to act fast. I consult several books.
One says slice in half and eat with a spoon. And that's all it says. Well and good, but that would be 20 halves, and there are only two of us. And each of the mangoes is mammoth. I weigh what looks like the biggest one: It's 1 1/2 pounds.
Becky mentioned mango chutney. I consult another book. There's a mango and papaya chutney, but I decide not to compound the problem by having to buy papayas -- this recipe calls for eight of them.
I consult the encyclopedia, which is a little self-righteous telling me that mangoes are a major food source for many thousands in the tropics. Adventurous as well: They say the pit is edible, if cooked.
When I split open the first mango, I realize I have never opened one before. If does not split nicely, like an avocado does. I have to cut away the pulp as I might from a cling peach. Nor is the seed round. It is shield-shaped, or like a tongue. I think I'll pass on cooking the pits. Once my brother-in-law cooked daffodil bulbs. . .
I taste a slice of the beautiful orange fruit, with a squeeze of fresh lime.
Wonderful, but almost smoky, as if it were a peach that had hung over a wood fire burning slowly somewhere in the tropics.
We are having liver and onions tonight. I wonder if a little accompainiment of mango would go well. I concoct the following, and it does: SPICED MANGO (2 servings) 1 mango, skinned and sliced 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 1/4 cup sugar (or less) 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 1/4 cup lemon juice
Mix all ingredients in a saucepan. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, depending upon the ripeness of the mangoes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl, and chill.
The next morning, nine mangoes are still sitting in their wrapped newspaper on the kitchen counter. Usually we have a blender drink for breakfast. I wonder if mango would conform. . . MANGO-BANANA BREAKFAST DRINK (2 large servings) 1 mango, skinned and sliced 1 banana, sliced 1 cup yogurt 1 cup skim milk 1/2 cup granola (optional)
Place mango, banana, yogurt and milk into a blender and blend until it becomes the consistency of a thick milkshake. I sprinkle the granola in afterward and eat it with a spoon.
In the evening I make a pie. MANGO AND PEACH PIE (8 servings) For double crust: 2 cups of flour sifted 1 teaspoon salt 2/3 cup margarine or butter, or combination 5 tablespoons ice water
For filling: 1 mango, skinned and sliced 2 peaches, skinned and sliced 1/2 cup sugar (or less) 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground ginger squeeze of fresh lime 2 tablespoons minute tapioca
To make the crust, sift the flour with the salt into a bowl. Cut in the shortening. Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix. Gather into a ball. Refrigerate for one hour.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide in half. Roll out one half and line a 9-inch pie pan. Prick holes in the bottom and sides and refrigerate while you make the filling.
To make the filling, mix all ingreidents but the tapioca in a bowl. Spoon into the lined pie pan. Sprinkle with the tapioca. Roll out the other half of the crust and cover the top. Prick steam holes. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes.
We taste the pie the following morning. The verdict is to make another pie immediately.
That's four mangoes down, six to go. Then a friend, who heard about the mango glut, tells me that a Cuban woman he met on his trip to Florida told him how to eat a mango: "Just bite into it and peel the skin back with your teeth." Paul is awarded one mango for most quotable comment from a friend.
Five mangoes left. Epilouge: PRESERVED MANGO 3 cups sugar 3/4 cup water 2 cups apple cider vinegar 1 tablespoon whole cloves 1 teaspoon whole allspice 4 cinnamon sticks 2 pounds mangoes skinned, pitted, sliced
Put sugar, water, vinegar and spices into a saucepan, cover and boil for 5 minutes. Put the mangoes into a larger pot. Pour the cooked liquid over the mangoes and bring to a boil. Skim the foam. Simmer 5 minutes. Transfer into sterilized jars, with new cinnamon sticks, if your prefer. Seal and store. And: A Trinidadian friend gives me a recipe for a dish using an unripe mango. I adapt it to suit my purposes, and it turns out to be the best use yet for my steadily softening mangoes. I serve my two remaining pieces of the fruit cooked this way, with very spicy pinto beans and steamed rice: CURRIED MANGO AND SAUCE (4 servings) 2 tablespoons shortening 2 onions, thickly sliced 2 mangoes, skinned and sliced 1 tablespoon curry (or to taste) 1 tablespoon honey (or to taste) 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste) 1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water (optional)
Melt the shortening in a frying pan. Add the sliced onions and cook until wilted. Add the slices of mango and cook, stirring constantly, until the pieces are coated.Add the curry, honey, salt and enough water to cover the mangoes. Simmer for 15 minutes, adding more water if necessary. At 15 minutes, adding more water if necessary. At this point, the sauce will be thin. If you prefer a thicker sauce, just before serving, add a paste made of cornstarch and water. Stir and cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.
(And if by chance an unripe mango is the only one available to you -- lucky thing -- boil it in its skin until soft, then proceed with the above recipe.)