Saturday, I spent the morning and early afternoon at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden for the 17th Annual International Mango Festival. The heat was insidious and the crowds made me feel slightly misanthropic, but I enjoyed my day. Fortunately, several events took place indoors. One of these events was the Mangos of the World Display (above and below). Three hundred varieties of mangos from Fairchild’s collection were carefully selected, labeled and displayed.
Most of these mangos were sold on Sunday at the Mango Auction.
At the Mango Taste Test, I got to sample ten of Fairchild’s top varieties. Tropical Fruit Curators Dr. Richard J. Campbell and Noris Ledesma carefully select the mangos for tasting, display and sale at the fair. One of my favorites was the Indian Himsagar (above), which tasted slightly floral. I could imagine it being delicious in a curry dish.
My top favorite was the Fairchild Emerald, a variety developed at the Garden. It was juicy, tart and tangy. That’s a mango I would love to sink my teeth into. Another favorite was the Florida Osteen.
The Indian Alphonso, also known as “The King of Mangos,” was rightly featured at the tasting. The Alphonso arrived in the United States in 2007, after a twenty year ban on the import of Indian mangos. This change was somehow tied to a nuclear deal between the United States and India. Dr. Campbell says there are still some quality issues, but that this has been an exciting new addition to the American mango market.
Fairchild uses the results of the Mango Tasting to help them determine which cultivars they should devote their attention to in their research and development.
This way they can work on varieties that are favored by the public. Dr. Campbell told me he felt the Myatrynat mango (pictured above) would take the day.
At the International Fruit Market, I purchased a Haitian banana mango for a dollar. I’m still waiting a day or two for mine to ripen. These are imported, as evidenced by the boxes.
Unfortunately, I did not see any Fairchild Emeralds for sale here.
Hani Khouri of Redland Mediterranean Organics was selling his tabouleh, hommos, and goat cheese ice cream. His kids were there to help. I bought a half a pound of fresh goat milk cheese for four dollars. It’s firmer than the goat cheese you find at the grocery store. I enjoy mine in a Venezuelan arepa. Perhaps this is because the salty cheese has a satisfying grainy texture similar to that of the arepa.
I tasted all of the sauces sold by Chef Allen Susser, including the intriguing mango ketchup. I bought a jar of punchy mango cocktail sauce for five bucks. These are some of the products that Chef Allen staff say they make with the wheelbarrows of mangos people haul in to the restaurant. Chef Allen told me that in this early mango season they got about 3,500 pounds of mangos. I’m a little confused by the “Manufactured by Gold Pure Food Products, Hempstead NY” label on my sauce, but I figure they don’t have the space at the restaurant to mass produce the sauces for retail sale. I’m curious whether they send the mangos to New York or if they just use them for in house purposes.
I saw a lot of people enjoying these sugar, ginger, coconut and/or tamarind waters and smoothies. They definitely had the right idea for a sweltering afternoon such as this.
Another great idea: moving the cooking demonstrations indoors. I’ve been to a couple of festivals at Fairchild before and the demos are usually outside under a tent. These chefs can certainly take the heat, but thankfully Fairchild held the demonstrations in the lovely, air-conditioned visitor center ballroom. The kitchen available at the visitor center heightens the quality of food chefs can prepare at these demos.
Chef Cindy Hutson of Ortanique on the Mile chatted away with the crowd while she prepared West Indian curried crab cakes and mango-papaya salsa. She actually forgot to add a couple of spice ingredients to the crab cakes, but she carried off her dish with aplomb nonetheless. The crab cakes probably were not as spicy as usual, but just as tasty. They were actually more like fritters, which was better for tasting purposes.
Chef Sean Brasel of Meat Market enticed us with duck with a Southwestern rub, a salad of greens and hearts of palm and mango caviar. He also prepared pan-fried mango with a dried, unsweetened coconut crust. The audience got a generous tasting of all of these.
The chef carefully explained (in exact numbers) how he made this exciting mango caviar using sodium alginate and calcium salt (which he told us you can get at Chef Ferran-Adria’s Texturas (online) or Marky’s Caviar (locally- ha ha) if you want to play at home).
I’ll be heading over to Meat Market soon, and I am eager to try more after this preview.
I would definitely recommend that if you choose one Fairchild festival to attend all year, you choose this one. There was plenty to see, taste and do, especially with all of the additional mango activities.