Certain foods just have a complete and very distinct aura that makes them exceptionally unique, I think. For me, one of the most interesting has to be the mango.
During my elementary school years, we lived in Kingston, Jamaica. The company house was up on top of Stony Hill, at the very end of a street. I’m still pretty enamored of our address: it was Willow Manor, Willow Run, Kingston, Jamaica. That’s probably the best address I’ll ever claim! It’s an interesting remnant of the sugar plantation homes, halls and manors on the island.
Our house had a massive, terraced yard with all sorts of interesting things growing in it, and it occupied me for hours on end. From using giant leaves of the banana trees as “placemats” for my food service to the lychee, grapefruit, breadfruit (blech) and even rubber trees, there was no shortage of intriguing flora to climb and explore.
We also had a mango tree, and I learned quickly that mango trees are magnets for Jamaicans. I cannot even begin to count the number of times during those years that I saw local men use a machete to (riskily, it appeared to me!) peel a mango. Then, the most vivid part: I’d see them gnawing a mango beyond the core, sticky juice running down their chin and hands, normally with a big, goofy, ear to ear grin.
If you’ve ever tried to peel a mango, you know that it is one of the more difficult fruits to handle, and it can often seem like the skimpy amount of fruit obtained isn’t worth the effort and peril of trying to maneuver a sticky, slippery fruit juxtapositioned against a knife.
Maybe I simply didn’t tackle that many mangos early in my cooking career and marriage, or maybe time has dulled my memory of it. However, in recent years when I have pulled our built-in cutting board out in the tiny kitchen of The Good House, I’ve had a predictable thought process. I cut and peel them with the largest, most freshly-sharpened (per A Cutting Confession) and most machete-like knife in my arsenal. I slice every last remnant of “meat” away from the core until it seems that there is nothing worthwhile left at the center of the fruit.
And then, guiltily, with an ear for the whereabouts of my family, I lift the remaining mango core to my mouth and chew every last remaining bit of fruit from the core. It seems like my teeth are divinely created for mango consumption.
I do it all with the (unavoidable) mango juice running down my chin and arms.
And then, something crazy happens: it is physically impossible for me to prevent a giant, goofy, ear to ear grin from spreading across my face.
I think that joyous nation may be onto something. Irie, indeed.
1941 postcard of man with mango tree, available for sale by a private seller on ebay: