Managing a mango orchard is a lot like being a mom. Sometimes you’re more than proud at what you’ve produced, but most often the work involved makes you want to give it all away to the first person who finds it even vaguely enchanting.
At Mango House, a rebuilt mango picker’s cottage, I have 14 trees, of 8 different varieties, that produce (in a good season) up to 400 pieces of harvestable fruit per day. And that doesn’t include the rotten mangoes that fall from the trees during the night or the ones attacked by bugs, birds and various rodents, which need to be cleaned up and bagged on a daily basis to prevent the yard from stinking like a subtropical winery.
On the up side, I’m now practically an expert in cooking with mangoes. And I don’t just mean the mango breads, puddings and pies you’d expect. Pasta with mangoes? Check. Mangoes and meat? You betcha. Or my current favorite: Frozen mango sangría, or “Mangría,” which I make with Malbec, the signature red wine from Argentina. I cut and freeze my multitude of mangoes when they’re ripe, so I can enjoy this at any time of the year, not just during season, when I’m likely too frustrated and overworked to really appreciate it.
Here are the most important things you should know when approaching and cooking with mangoes:
How to tell when a mango is ripe:
Mangoes come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some are green; others are yellow. The kind you usually see in the supermarkets, which tend to be imported from Central America, have a rosy cast. Whatever the exterior color, ripe mangoes have a pleasant aroma and are firm but slightly yielding to the touch; interior hues range from pale yellow to deep orange and are easily sliced with a knife (extremely fibrous fruit should be used for smoothies or discarded). If you buy an under-ripe mango, wrap it in a paper bag and let it sit on the counter for a day or two. You can add an apple or banana to the bag to release gases that speed the ripening process.
How to cut a mango:
Mangoes have two flat planes and two sharp ones, which follow the shape of the pit. Stand a mango on one point and, with a very sharp knife, slice down one flat plane as close to the pit as possible. This will yield a “cheek” of fruit. Crosshatch the interior and bend back the skin, and the fruit will pop out neatly. Repeat with the other flat plane. Then slice down the two sharp planes and skin them for extra wedges.
Mangoes freeze well, for up to a year, though they can be watery when defrosted and are best suited for drinks and dessert recipes. You can also dehydrate them. If you don’t have a dehydrator, slice them very thinly and lay them on cookie sheets. Then pop then into a 150F oven for 24 hours. It’s time-consuming, but the sweet, chewy results are worth it. Store in airtight containers for best results.
By Jen Karetnick, a food writer in Miami Shores, Fla.