My father used to say said that the only way to eat a mango was in the bath. But manoeuvring his 183 cm, 140 kg frame in and out of the bath in a narrow bathroom was difficult, if not impossible, let alone with a mango in one hand. So he had to find another method. I remember him leaning over the balcony, chest bare with a towel wrapped firmly around his waist, mango juice dripping down his arms and on to the grass below, grinning as he relished mouthful after mouthful.
Mangoes were a treat in Sydney in the the fifties. Their season was short, and like cherries but rarer, they were closely associated with Christmas and holidays. As far as I recall, there was only one species – Kensington Pride, which remains my favourite, its rich, sweet, cloying flavour almost too good to be natural. You feel almost guilty for enjoying it.
Some sixty years later, the season is longer, there are more species to choose from, and we have learned to peel the fruit and slice the cheeks to make eating easier. Though I must confess that after neatly slicing the fruit, for myself or to share, I can’t resist chewing the last of the fruit off the pip, knowing that it will end in mango fibres stuck fast between my teeth.
As we became more sophisticated, and canned mangoes became available, we discovered new things to do with mangoes. In the sixties we made mango mousse, in the seventies it was mango smoothies and in the seventies mango mayonnaise was the height of culinary style. Today we are blasé about mangoes, using them carelessly in salads and desserts, in Thai cooking, and, I learned today, even in fruit cakes and Christmas puddings. And bottled orange and mango juice was readily available before juice bars sprang up everywhere. But tasting the first mango of summer remains an experience to be anticipated and treasured every year.
You have to be careful not to buy them too early. Growers are keen to get them into the markets before they have that rich, ripe taste. So I wait until the price comes down a bit, using that as indicator of readiness. after watching for a couple of weeks, I finally bought my first two mangoes this summer. They both had a tinge of green, one more so than the other so they would ripen sequentially. I have been watching them ripen slowly day by day, sniffing them carefully and pressing them ever so gently to assess their readiness. All part of the ritual of the first mango of summer.
And today was THE day. The first mango was ready. No bath or balcony needed, I peeled and sliced and added it to my muesli, the aroma released as the knife pierced the flesh evoking memories of childhood. (And yes, I did chew the pip.) as I tasted the fruit and felt the juice I my mouth, memories came flooding back. Memories of summer holidays, of Christmas days, of heat and sunburn and sand between the toes. Memories of buying one mango a summer when that was all I could afford. Memories of fruit platters at work Christmas parties where only the first lucky few manged to grab a piece of mango. And memories of family.
There’ll be another mango tomorrow, and on many days between now and the end of summer. But none will taste as good as this morning’s first mango of summer.