Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mango Land

“Nope. Worm-infested” pronounces my nine year-old host brother, Kairo. I sigh, defeated and drop the yellowed mango to the ground. I have not yet mastered the art of picking out mangos. “Here, just wait. I’ll find a good one!” he exclaims, and before I can say anything to stop him, Kairo has scurried up the mango tree in our backyard and is balancing his 70-pound frame (which he sustains with a balanced diet of tortillas, cheese, potato chips and sugared-down juice) on a slim branch, reaching out for a mango that he has deemed worthy of my consumption. The mangos that he can’t rustle down with a long stick that he has saved over the years for this very purpose must be grabbed by hand, and he is the only one in the family eager enough to take on this task. I have given him the nickname of “The Mango Hunter.”

My daily intake of Vitamin A has increased probably five-fold in the past few weeks, due my host family’s enormous mango tree. The fruit is just coming into season, marking the beginning of the six month-long rainy season here. Every morning we wake up to a patio littered with ripe mangos which have fallen during the night.
Kairo was my informal mango professor as we watched the mangos ripen, giving me all the Nicaraguan tips. He explained that the bright yellow color of some mangos that fall indicated that they are not ripe, but have been infested by worms and are inedible. Kairo also explained to me how you can tell if a mango is ripe: just look for part of the mango to be a rosy-yellowish-burgundy tint. The ones in that receive the most direct sunlight ripen faster. I can tell he enjoyed sharing this information with me, realizing that he knew more about it than I did. Hunting mangos is one of his favorite hobbies and this is his favorite time of the year. He east about nine mangos a day and can often be bribed with mangos, ex. “Kairo, go take a shower. If you don’t, you can’t have any mangos today!” his mother will threaten. Although he guards these precious fruits close, he is also limitlessly generous, and if he even hears a hint come out of my mouth about desiring a mango, he’s up in the tree fetching down three for me.
Right now, the markets are full of ripe fruits: watermelon, pineapple, coconut, grapes, melon and countless others that do not have English translations because they simply don’t exist in the north. Fruits that I used to eat daily, like apples, are a luxury down here, but I have found worthy replacements.
Although mangos may be more expensive in the states, I’m going to post a few mango recipes my host family has shared with me, so if you’re feeling exotic, give them a try.
Mango “Fresco” (Pulp-laden juice which you can make from just about any fruit or vegetable: melon, watermelon, pineapple, beet and lemon, carrot, orange…)
1. Slice up 3-4 ripe mangos and add one and a half cups of water and bring to rolling boil on stove for a few minutes, lower heat and let simmer for five-ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Put entire contents into blender, adding a couple more cups of water, and blend until smooth.
3. Add more water or sugar to taste. Serve chilled.
Mango Jam
Equal quantities of mashed fruit and sugar.
Juice from one lemon
1.Combine fruit, lemon juice and sugar and boil. Immediately lower heat and simmer slowly for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2.Boil glass jelly containers and lids for five minutes.
3.Pour liquid into glass containers while hot and secure lids immediately.

You can also dehydrate mango slices, make a mango cobbler, or put it on ice cream… Also the Nicaraguans like to eat mango slices (and pretty much any fruit) with salt and sometimes with chili powder. Green mangos can also be sliced and eaten alone or with salt.
I hope you’ll try one of these ways of eating mango, if you close your eyes, maybe you can imagine being here in Nicaragua, eating it beneath the tree it came from. Just don’t overdo it as Kairo did the other day…you’ll be in the bathroom for a while suffering the consequences.

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