Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - To truly enjoy a mango, you must eat it whole, with your hands, tearing the skin off with your teeth and sinking into the firm yellow flesh. When perfectly ripe, the juice will fill your mouth and run down your arms! The experience is truly delicious. It can transport you into dreams of tropical paradise unless of course, you are already there! I love mango season which, here in Puerto Vallarta, starts around March and continues well into late summer.
Mango trees can grow to 130 feet tall and produce between 300 to 3000 mangoes a year depending on the variety and age of the tree. The trees are long-lived, as some specimens still fruit after 300 years, so I was excited to visit a friend's mango farm to pick as many as we could carry back in our car.
This was an old orchard north of Vallarta about an hour and invisible from the highway as the town had grown around it over the years. We met Antonio on the highway and followed him down a dirt road to eventually arrive at the small family orchard.
Several skinny guys were already squeezed in the trees picking away. We were positioned on the ground to catch the mangoes and gather them into sacks. Long sleeves and pants are necessary to protect the skin from the "mango rash." Sounds like a local dance! The juice from the stems as they are picked from the tree is very irritating.
Mangoes originated over 5,000 years ago in the region which extends from eastern India and southern China across Southeast Asia. Cultivation of mangoes moved westward with the spice trade.
The Portuguese, who landed in Calcutta in 1498, were the first to establish a mango trade along with the Spanish conquistadors who brought mangoes to Mexico in the 1500s. Later, around 1775, the ships which traveled the western spice route from the Philippines to Acapulco, brought luscious mangoes which became known as the Manila Mango, one of the most popular mangoes in Mexico today.
Because different varieties ripen at different times in different regions, the Mexican mango season begins in March and goes until September. First to arrive is the very popular Honey Manilas from the coastal areas of Chiapas. They are sweet with a soft texture and few fibers.
Similar to the Manila is the larger Ataulfo, a soft and creamy mango with firm pulp and also my most favorite. The Ataulfo mango bears the name of its creator Don Ataulfo Morales Gordillo, a producer from Chiapas who in 1963 experimented with graftings of his mango trees. In 2003 the "Designation of Origin" was granted to this delicious national product. Average weight = 350 grams (almost a pound). The annual production of Ataulfo mangoes from Chiapas alone is around 175,000 tons.
Moving north into the summer, the larger and more reddish mangoes appear. These are the Hadens and Tommy Atkins from the states of Guerrero, Michoacan, Jalisco, Nayarit, and Sinaloa. In the mid to late summer, come the Kent and Keitt varieties also from Sinaloa.
So, what do you do with one hundred mangoes that will all ripen in the span of a few days? Make mango salsa! Or peel, cut from the pit, and freeze to be used later for jam, baking, cereal topping, and more. Head to the beach and buy a mango "flower" on a stick from the local vendors. If you are really adventurous, try one with the works... salt, chili powder, and lime juice. Mmmmmm!
Sandra Cesca has lived in Puerto Vallarta for 12 years. She is a cultural tour guide with her own small business: Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours. She is also a cultural photographer and writer whose work can be found on Your Cultural Insider and Sandra Cesca Photography. Contact her: sandra.learn.vallarta(at)gmail.com.
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