One of the benefits of living in Thailand is the availability of exotic fresh fruit. You can buy it from street vendors; friends will drop off bags of lychees, dragon fruit, or even the smelly durian, depending on the season. If you have a house with any yard at all, you will probably have some sort of fruit tree growing there. In my yard, there happens to be three mango trees, and this year, they are absolutely full of fruit.
I never knew anything about mangoes before moving to Thailand, except they are sweet and make good smoothies, if they’re ripe. The Thais seem to prefer to eat them when they’re green, and a little sour. They’re cut into slices, and dipped into chili salt. I have to admit, they’re a nice, refreshing snack when consumed in this manner. Once they’re soft and ripe, and the flesh has become a deep yellow color, people start using them for fruit shakes, smoothies, and the popular Thai dessert, “mango sticky rice”. This is a decadent combination of mango chunks, sticky rice, and coconut milk, topped with crunchy, fried and salted mung beans. Everyone should try this at least once in their lives.
Before, I can give any of my mangoes away, or turn them into one sweet treat or another, I have to begin harvesting them. Luckily, mangoes don’t all ripen at once, so I’ll be able to pick some, and leave some for later.
The way to determine if a mango has reached maturity, and is ready to pick was a mystery to me when I first arrived in Thailand, but I’ve come to learn the ins-and-outs. You don’t have to wait until the mango is soft and ripe. I’ve learned this is actually a bad idea, because flying insects are attracted to the juices and once they start poking their proboscises into the flesh, the fruit is ruined in a short amount of time. Birds like to get in on the action as well. I’ve noticed some people wrapping their near-ripe mangoes in newspaper to prevent this from happening.
The fruit can be picked while it is still firm. It will start developing a “blush”, which is a fuchsia color that spreads across the fruit. Also, when the fruit is still too green, there is a nipple-like protrusion at the bottom of the fruit, opposite the stem. As the mango ripens, this starts to round off. Also, at the stem end, the “shoulder” of the mango starts to fill in, which results in stem being attached at the top of the plant, inside a slight dimple. In other words, the mango gets pleasantly plump, as if it’s the mango’s first year of college, and it gains the freshman 15.
Once your mango is plump, blushing, but still a little firm (sounds like someone I knew once); it’s time to pluck it from the tree. This is also a little trickier than one would think, because the sap can actually burn the skin of the mango (and the picker). It even has a fairly strong chemical smell. When you pluck a mango from its stem, a little sap actually squirts out of the top of the fruit. One has to ensure the stem end of the fruit is pointed away from the picker, and preferably at an angle to prevent the sap from leaking onto the mango. Once picked, it’s a good idea to store the fruit with the stem end pointing at a downward angle to prevent the sap from leaking all over the skin. Eventually, the sap will dry up, and this stops being a problem.
After a few days, to a week, depending on how far along the mango was when it was picked, it will ripen enough for all the sweet concoctions you can imagine. I’ve seen it used in ice-cream, dehydrated, frozen, turned into fruit roll-ups, used in drinks, and just peeled and eaten as nature intended. However you prepare your mango, it’s hard to go wrong with this delicious fruit.
So, there you have it. Now you’re prepared for mango-harvesting season! Have a sweet Spring!