Stately, massive mango trees are the glory of a tropical farm. No other fruit is anticipated with such eagerness; no other fruit tree is so abundant to the point of overwhelming when they bear well. The varieties are as different as apple varieties and each one may have its own loyal devotee.
Grafted mango trees begin to bear from 2 to 3 years from planting and continue for many, many years. As I write, the view through one of the windows of our house is fully dominated by the foliage of a mango tree about 20 yards away; it may be 40 years old and is bearing again this year. It used to bear only a type of mango known locally as “Eleven” or “Black” mango, a small flavorful but extremely hairy mango prized by Belizeans. Some years ago my husband sawed off all the main branches but one, and when young shoots sprouted out, grafted on them a variety called Haden, which we wanted to have on our farm in order to supply graft wood for the nursery. The power of the old tree pushed the young shoots to grow much faster than a young tree grows; so within a year or two we had again a busy, full-sized mango tree now bearing Haden mangoes, with the exception of one branch. That one still bears Black mangoes as a memorial, and to satisfy hungry local visitors.
The main hindrance to mango fruiting is the blight that frequently occurs when the weather is rainy at the time of blooming in the winter. Sometimes they can blossom 2 or 3 times and still blight, or finally set. This year we have a Cambodiana tree that set some normal, early fruit, but then still bloomed near the end of the dry season when blight was not a threat, to set a good crop that in July were 1 inch small green mangoes as the early crop is already ripening.
Mangoes drop from the tree when ripe, and, if the tree is tall, can bruise or smash. Therefore, picking mature but green mangoes from the tree is recommended for most varieties which “after-ripen” well.
Mango consumption begins before the fruit is mature, when green drops are gathered, peeled, sliced and eaten with salt and pepper or vinegar. They can also be cooked as a vegetable, resembling potatoes with a sour flavor. Individuals who are hungry for applesauce can cook, mash and sweeten green mangoes for this purpose. In an ironic twist, one Belizean expatriate has her sister send her canned green mango sauce in the US, to satisfy her longing for tropical apple replacements in the land of apples.
When the fruit is mature, mango consumptions really begins. You will want to eat as many raw as possible. They can, of course, be used in muffins, pies, and cobblers, but they are so good “as is” that we hardly do. They can also be preserved in a number of ways. Either sauce or pieces may be canned with or without sugar; if packing raw, do not fill the jars quite to the neck, as they tend to foam up while cooking, which can hinder sealing. This tendency can be countered by not removing the jars immediately from the boiling water; let them cool off in the canner for half an hour or so first. They can be packed down and canned in their own juice or packed loosely and covered with water and a little sweetener: 1 teaspoon of sugar is enough per quart, as mangoes are already sweet. Mango sauce from ripe mangoes is made by putting raw or cooked mango through any type of food strainer, even as simple as a colander. Mango sauce can be eaten “as is” or diluted with water for a beverage, alone or in combination with other juices or added to smoothies.
Drying mangoes works well, but not outdoors in sunshine; they are too juicy and will ferment and attract many flies before they are dry. Various solar dryers may be used; we use a stovetop dryer based on a double boiler principle. Using this method, mango slices can be dried, but even more commonly we fill up the pan with approximately 1 inch layer of mango sauce and dry it down to the best fruit leather you’ll ever taste. It will dry faster if you stir it occasionally in the juicy stage; when half dried, smooth it well and leave it undisturbed until dry. When leathery, cut into strips, peel it off the pan, roll it up and store it in tight containers.
Mango varieties are very different from each other, more so than many other fruits. For this reason, you will want to be familiar with the more common grafted varieties available. You can grow good mangoes from seed, but like apples, mangoes are not true to type and may yield a very different fruit than the parent three did. It may be nice, but it may also be small and hairy or have other undesirable characteristics. In our neighborhood there are seedling mango trees yielding outstanding fruits that are named and prized by their owners. But if you want to be sure to have good mangoes, you should plant grafted trees. The following is a catalog of mago varieties we appreciate, most of which we carry in our nursery, although not all of them at all times. The following varieties are listed roughly by earliest to latest harvest times:
Glenn: good-sized, smooth and mild tasting mango with a pretty, colorful skin. It tends to get wormy more than some varieties, but Glenn is the earliest mango we know of.
Cambodiana: (our favorite early mango) fairly small, yellow, fibreless mango, delicious raw and prized as one of our best canners. It is also valued as a solid mango that does not bruise as easily as other varieties.
Tommy Atkins: big red mango popular in the market, not the best-tasting or most fibreless but dependable and heavy bearing. When Tommy are abundant, I use a lot for mango leather after straining out the hair.
Julie Dwarf: rather small mango with a uniquely delicious flavor from a truly dwarf tree that does not bear very dependably.
Early Gold: juicy mango with such a tough skin that it can be bitten open, squished up, and sucked out (prized by children). Early Gold is also good for juice and sauce.
Haden: (an old variety well-known by older Belizeans) big and yellow-green, similarly well-liked as Tommy Atkins.
Carrie: not very big, very soft with a special flavor you can’t beat.
Palmer: an oblong, delicious red mango on a vigorous tree that grows tall and bears well.
Kent: a big, tasty and smooth mango, good for canning.
Keitt: green, delicious, huge – weighing from 2 – 6 pounds, late, and a good seller.
Gabb Julie: sweet and tasty when ripe, one of the latest, sometimes even later than Keitt, often bearing quite heavily.