Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Last Mango

My mango tree produced a crop this year. It is now seven years old, and about 12 feet tall, naturally rounded in the way that trees will grow if there are no other trees close by. Because it is on a hill, it leans a few degrees southward. The crop might have been bigger except that on a particularly dry and windy day in April, several lime-sized fruit were blown off the tree. But many still held on to become the cricket ball sized fruit in maturity, and just as hard as a cork ball.

Stone mangoes on the tree 
This tree that I call Stone, I've heard others call Buxton Spice. I've looked for images on line, and while it does bear resemblance to the shape of Buxton Spice, there are some differences. There's no spicy taste or aftertaste, just a bright sweet flavour. It is firm fleshed and ripens from the inside out, so while the outside may still be firm and tart, around the seed is orange and sweet.

This year, I noticed what I thought was a jep nest - they turned out to be black sugar wasps - growing on the tree. It appeared around the same time that the mangoes were "full" and starting to ripen. Through the season, at least one mango at a time would be abuzz with these black wasps following it to the ground to finish the fully ripened fruit. They always know - before us - when the mango is ready. It is a neat arrangement not to have rotting mango lying under the tree. The bees or wasps didn't bother me, and I was allowed to pick enough fruit every day to keep me happy.

Wasp nest in the heart of the tree
Now that the "season" is over, the wasps are gone.

Inside the Stone mango
I seem to remember that the other Stone tree on the farm had other patrons to keep the ground free of rotting mangoes too. July 1990 was a particularly fruitful season - lucky for us curfewed on the farm - but Valoroso (ex racehorse) was also with us. We would hear the mangoes fall, then the swift thud of hooves as Val cantered over. He would stand under the tree chewing, his big horsey teeth in a kind of smirk. Then he would spit the seed out. If we wanted to collect mangoes, we would have to pick them off the tree, or search around for those that the horse didn't particularly want - he chose the ripest and sweetest.

But Stone wasn't the only mango on the farm. Thirty years before, we met the Zabico tree there. It was a pale jade fruit that was crisp yellow inside when ripe. It was about the size of a pommerac, with a slightly elongated shape. It was a very tall tree at the end of the row of pommerac trees that marked the boundary of the big hatchery. We didn't like it very much - its flavour we thought watery, a bit too subtle. But the Zabico was my mother's favourite; she found pleasure in whatever the delicate aroma and taste reminded her of.

We all loved the Rose - another tall (oh, easily fifty feet) tree - and the windfall of hundreds of mangoes in season. We didn't know what to do with all of them. Some went to the pigs. Others were allowed to germinate for rootstock to graft Julies or other hybrids onto. But children adore Rose: a crunchy chow with garlic, pungent shadon beni and a stinging pepper. And whose mouth doesn't water for the aroma and taste of curried mango just picked from the tree? My own introduction to Rose was as a child - maybe four or five - on a bird catching trip with my father in Wallerfield. The traps were set with laglee, while the caged picoplat sang his heart out. It was while waiting for the untamed birds to come that the wild Rose tree would be raided. The memory of that stolen secret mango Rose chow shared among a carload of bird-catchers was the standard against which every other chow would be measured.

Inside the wall on the farm was the Starch tree. People walking along the road knew about this tree before we ever did. Mowing the lawn, we would clear the stones that littered the ground nearby. All the mangoes on the side nearest the road were picked first. Sometimes, it felt like a battle to get our own Starch mangoes. Only late in life - as an adult with two children - I discovered Starch, with its chemical smell - turpentiney and invading the house - and under the skin, tangy creamy sweetness. One Starch can never be enough, but if it was all, you could suck flavour out of the same stringy seed for hours.

The king of mangoes on the farm was Graham. There were three or four trees planted in a row near the house. Their canopy kept the area underneath cool and damp; and a great bachac nest thrived there for years; nothing would persuade these ants to leave. How they must have loved those mango leaves. Nothing prevented the Grahams from growing to whatever the full size and bounty might be. Some were the size of a hefty barbadine. Many were grapefruit size. We gave these away by the box load. I had a friend who ate them bruised, over-ripe or bird-pecked. Those were the most delicious to her. The year my mother passed away - 1998 -  gave us a bumper Graham crop. Some days, it sounded like it was raining footballs. Boop! Boop! Bo-dup! That year, a passion fruit vine had found its way above the Graham canopy to bask in sunshine. Underneath, you couldn't step without mashing mango or passion fruit. When the fruit was fresh, you could taste the essence of passion fruit in those Grahams. It was the year I learned to make mango sorbet, freezing litres of mango puree.

And Julie. Ah Julie - the inhabitant of every Woodbrook yard, together with the breadfruit and West Indian cherry trees. It seems that Woodbrook Julie mangoes bear all year round. Even in December, my uncle would offer a mango to any special visitor. The Julies on the farm in Santa Cruz ripened with a green skin. You had to know by feel and smell (especially!) when the Julie was ready to eat. But certainly the best Julie tree was the one planted by my godmother in her garden in Diego Martin in the fifties. By the time I made its acquaintance, it was a 50-year old, alone in its spot in the yard, soaking up sunshine and delivering fruit that would turn yellow rose and orange-gold, like a sunset. This was mango to feed gods - the skin tissue-thin, the aroma heady, and the flesh firm but pliant, sweet as my godmother's famous "sweet han'", running with nectar. No wonder the vagrant woman would jump the five foot fence, risk the barking dog rushing at her, for a mango or two.

Other mangoes that were abundant didn't interest us. We would pass basins of dou-douce on the road to Toco - apricot size fruit that you would roll to soften and then suck through a tiny hole in the skin. La Brea Gal - a near cousin of Starch - on the way to Point Fortin. Cutlass - shaped like a blade - is still an exotic, without a distinctive flavour.

And now, it's mid August. The wasps have left their nest - I don't know where to. The last mangoes high at the top of the tree have fallen to their nibbles. There's just one left, sitting on my counter. I turn it around at least three times a day. I notice the paling of the green with the hint of yellow emerging. I sniff at the skin like a dog, but Stone has very little smell. Others are eyeing it too. So I have to gauge when it is ripe enough for me, before someone else decides it's ripe enough for him. I know the flavour may be less than those at the prime, the plump fruit bursting like a midday sun, seeping sweet juice. But I will slice it and savour it. I will close my eyes and suck the seed dry. Another eleven months must pass before we enjoy another.

And so, if I call you the mango of my life, know that it is with affection and wonderful associations, and love that grows, ripens and is enjoyed in its season.

Stone mango = sweet sunshine! Plant your favourite mango tree today!

3 comments:

  1. Hi, I loved reading your article. There is not enough such as this on the internet about Caribbean mangoes. I. I not sure if your blog is still but the mango you call Stone, is that the known name for the mango or did you and your family call it that? I see that you reference boxspice as well. I recently had a mango that the owner said was boxspice and I found it tasted like Julie.... looking forward to your reply Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Boxspice is a variation of the name Buxton Spice. Our tree may have been a Buxton Spice or Calabash, or perhaps a cross of these two. There was probably more budding and grafting 40 years ago. We called our mango Stone because even when they fell to the ground, they did not bruise or burst open.

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    2. The mangoes in this blog are Buxton Spice. We called them stone. The name has been variously changed to boxspice, box-and-spice etc, but it is Buxton Spice.

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