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Fairchild’s Mango Festival features mangoes of Jamaica

Dr. Noris Ledesma, Fairchild’s curator of tropical fruit, holds a basket of mangos at the 2013 mango festival.
© 2013 George Leposky

The mangoes of Jamaica take center stage this year at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s 23rd annual International Mango Festival on Saturday and Sunday, July 11th and 12th, 2015.

Each year, mangoes from a different country where this pan-tropical fruit grows are featured at the festival.

 Jamaica’s mangoes are a worthy choice for such attention because “it is part of their culture, and they take it for granted,” says Noris Ledesma, Ph.D., Fairchild’s curator of tropical fruit.

“In Jamaica, mangoes are consumed mainly as fresh fruit. A 10-year-old child picks a mango fruit on his way to school for a snack. Every backyard has at least one mango tree; of course, it’s their favorite mango! Many urban and suburban households produce significant amounts of mangos because it is traditional to plant fruit trees around the home, and mangoes are one of the most popular options.

“Mangoes are eaten fresh but are also used for cooking as a paste, for juice, and to make jellies or smoothies. The green or immature fruits are excellent for cooking in a sauce or curry.

“In the last decade, there has been an increased use of mangos as ingredients in cooking and in refrigerated products (ice cream, shakes, and smoothies), in cosmetics, canning, bottling, jelly, and candy.”

Writing the book

Ledesma is intimately familiar with the mangos of Jamaica. 

Two years ago she wrote the chapter on Jamaican mangos for a mango encyclopedia. “Mangos tell the history of Jamaica from the time when ‘the king of fruit’ was introduced to the island,” she says.

One vignette from that history especially captured her fancy. 

“French sailors were navigating to the Caribbean, escaping from British enemies,” she recounts.

 “They grew mango trees in containers on the ship’s deck. They got caught by the British, who transferred the trees to their ship. Only one of 11 mango trees survived. The British ship raised sails for Jamaica, where the ‘Number 11’ mango was planted. It continues to grow to this day. The French were entrusted to Davy Jones’ locker.”

Varieties of mango trees popular in Jamaica, which will be on sale at the festival, include:

-- Julie, with juicy saffron yellow flesh, no fiber, and the strong flavor of cloves and tropical spice with a caramel and pineapple sweetness. Some argue it has the finest flavor in the world, Ledesma says.

-- East Indian, with deep orange flesh that is firm and juicy, coarse fiber throughout, and a rich, spicy flavor with aromas of vanilla and peach. This is the most popular fruit on the island.

-- Bombay, with soft, juicy orange flesh, little fiber, and a flavor rich in aspects of spiced fruit and peach with a powerful floral aroma.

-- Blackie, with considerable fiber and a rich, sweet, spicy flavor like sugar cane.

Among other varieties of mangos grown on the island are Stringy, Kidney, and Sweetie Com Brush Mi.

Jamaica mango quest

If you’re going to Jamaica and want to find mangos, Ledesma advises that 90 percent of the fruit grows in the island’s dry south and southwest regions: Saint Elizabeth, Yallahs, Mandeville, Kingston, Saint Thomas, Clarendon Parishes, and Hodges.

 However, she says, mangoes also can be found throughout the entire island, especially in the northern mountainous areas at elevations above 300 meters (984 feet) along roads, in backyards, and on abandoned farms.

“Jamaica can produce mangos almost year-round. Mango production peaks during April to June in most parishes, except in St. Thomas. Several cultivars, i.e. Julie, Bombay, and East Indian, have their highest production in the parishes of Kingston, St. Andrew, and St. Thomas.

“There are around 500 hectares in production in Jamaica. Most of the commercial mango orchards are five hectares (12.35 acres), although there are many smaller farms throughout the island.”

Although the West Indian fruit fly has severely limited the mango export trade from Jamaica and other Caribbean nations, Jamaica does export a modest quantity of fresh mangoes to Europe, Bermuda, Canada, and the U.S. (including south Florida), but you have to look for them in specialty markets.

Festival highlights

At the Fairchild mango festival, Ledesma and Richard J. Campbell, Ph.D., Fairchild’s director of horticulture and senior curator of tropical fruit, are among the speakers who will discuss various aspects of mango cultivation and care in Jamaica and throughout the world.

Other highlights of the festival schedule include

-- Cooking demonstrations featuring mango dishes prepared by celebrated local chefs.

-- Hands-on seed dissection for children.

-- A pruning workshop.

-- A Saturday morning sampling of mango dishes from some of Miami’s top chefs.

-- Tasting of multiple varieties of mangos.

-- The annual Sunday mango brunch that raises funds for the garden’s Tropical Fruit Program and Fairchild Farm.

-- Yoga classes for adults and children.

-- An international fruit market with multiple varieties of mangos for sale.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is located at 10901 Old Cutler Road in Coral Gables.

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