I don’t think I’d ever had a mango until I was in my thirties and visited my parents in Florida. Bright yellow mangos, amber rum, rosy red cranberry juice and a turquoise Hamilton Beach blender created the cocktail de jour of the senior set and it only took an evening for me to decide that getting older was getting better.
I’ve sunk my teeth into a lot of mangos since. In salads, salsas, sorbets and smoothies, in martinis, mimosas, milkshakes and margaritas. And over those years, I’ve eaten a lot of different mangos.
In days of old, in Toronto, the place I have most often called home, the only mango I used to find, not just in the supermarkets, but in those holes in the walls, those not so super markets, those fruit and veg shops in ethnic neighborhoods, went by the handle Tommy Atkins. They sounded much more like a relief pitcher than a mango. They were red and green, tough and stringy, and nothing like those yellow grenades of goodness that my parents had introduced me to.
I finally found my parent’s golden grenades one night when I was out seeking a similarly-colored curry. I was in the Toronto hood called Little India and piled high in front of at almost every store were these wooden crates with mangos that were the right size, the right shape (they must have the slightly crooked neck) and the right color. They were called Alphonso mangos and they showed up there, side by side with the sari shops, every year around that time (May and June) but for not too much longer after.
Then, a few years later they were here, there and everywhere and around as early as April and as late as September. Then, they were called Champagne mangos, a brand name owned by a shipper from Florida. Then, the National Mango Board renamed them honey mangos. But that never seemed to catch on. Then, ten maybe fifteen years ago, they were given a new name, a Mexican name, Ataulfo mangos. In my “worth quoting” spiral ring notebook, I saved the perfect description of them, written back in those days by a Toronto food writer called Corey Mintz: “Their flavor resembles the love child of peach, banana, pineapple and butter.” Does it ever!
How these bright yellow, tastiest mangos ever, got their Mexican name is a bit puzzling. This type of mango probably originated in India, or possibly in the Philippines. They are the national fruit of both countries. So who was Ataulfo? And how did these mangos ever earn something called a denomination of origin?
She who knows everything, Siri, led me to www.specialtyproduce.com and there I discovered: “The Ataulfo mango was the result of cross-pollination by several varieties (including an Indian variety) in the southern Soconusco region of Mexico, in the state of Chiapas, on the border of Guatamala. They were named for grower Ataulfo Morales Gordillo.”
And that denomination of origin? Well it’s a term a group of European people who care, called the World Intellectual Property Organization, uses to protect the cultural heritage of certain products. Now I can understand Parmesan, Stilton and Manchego cheeses. And I get Champagne, Rioja and Tequila. But a Mexican denimination for hybridized mangos that originated in Asia? Hmmmmmmm? But who cares? I love this fruit and I kinda love that my adopted home gets credit for it.
A few of the grandkids were coming over to Grammie and Grampie’s last weekend. And if I took a vote for their favorite fruit, I would get a lot of hands up for mangos.
Choosing ripe Ataulfo mangos is a little different than choosing other mangos or, for that matter, choosing a lot of other fruits. Color means next to nothing. Almost every Ataulfo you see will be that sunshine yellow and, with the careful way they’re packed, it’s rare you’ll see a bruise. Other food writers will tell you to select Ataulfos based on their intoxicating, sugary smell. I will tell you that even to a man with a supersized schnoz, they all smell the same.
What I look for in a ready-to-eat Ataulfo are creases. Because the best mangos are like the best men, they have a few wrinkles.
When I got home I turned the Ataulfos over to Don Day’s Wife and asked her if she thought I should suggest a way mangos should be peeled and cut. She said, “I don’t know if one way’s any better than any other, just get rid of any of those little black spots…they’re never too deep…and slice away.”
“But how about that last little bit of flesh that’s almost impossible to get off the pit”, I asked.
“Absolutely no problem”, she replied. “I just eat it.”
“And what are you going to do with the mango, you’ve cut up”, I asked.
“I’ll be making a mango salsa for the grandkids. You know how much they love it. And it’ll go great with the pork belly.”
“Would you like to share the recipe”, I asked, as I handed her my iPad.
Grammie’s Mango Salsa
4-5 ripe but firm mangos, peeled and diced
4 spring onions, chopped – use both the white and green
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
1 medium can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 sweet red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)
(optional) 1 cup of roasted corn niblets
Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate for at least an hour to combine flavours.
Now I’ll add two words of warning about this mango salsa: Corn chips. If there are any in your cupboard and the salsa is placed on the counter, it will be gone before it ever gets a chance to make it on to the plates for your main dish.