Mangolicious: Tropical fruit season in Sarasota County

Mango season is approaching in Sarasota. Here’s what to do with these orbs of heaven falling from the treetops.

Everyone has their ideal food, the one thing they’d choose if forced into a “one food for the rest of your life on a deserted island” situation. For me, there is no question – I’d choose the mango. With its deep golden-orange flesh, the ideal combination of sweet and sour, it’s heaven dropped from the sky…via a tree. As is the case with any food, be it an apple or a shellfish, mangoes are best when eaten at the peak of season and in its naturally grown environment. It ensures its authenticity and flavor and it’s best for the Earth. Luckily, Sarasota abounds with mango trees and as season approaches, the harvest of joy begins. So, what to do with them?

Where, when, and how to pick them

The mango tree has long oval leaves and grows its stone fruit from the ends of its branches. The season peaks around Father’s Day and extends before and after by a few weeks, depending on the year. When the fruit is ready, they will often fall off the tree from some squirrely branch jostling or you may pick them by hand. Long-handled fruit pickers are helpful for those tall branches. You’ll know they’re ready for picking because they don’t give much resistance. If they don’t want to come off yet, give them the space they crave and try again in a day or two.

Heads up – the stem will release a sap when the fruit is picked to which some people are allergic, my husband included, that may give a similar reaction to poison ivy. If you are sensitive, wear gloves and wash the fruit before handling.

Many houses in Sarasota have mango trees on their property, but it’s uncouth to pick them without asking the homeowner for permission.

The Ripe Fruit

A ripe mango will, as mentioned, easily come off the tree with little resistance. You’ll also be able to tell by their skin - as the mango grows, it starts as green and eventually turns red and yellow. It will also transition from being rock hard to slightly soft. This is the sweet spot. At this point, a knife will easily enter the skin, allowing you to access the sweet glory within.

If you pick them early for any reason, I’ve found the best way to ripen them is in a shoebox in the dark for a few days.

The ripe fruit will slice like butter and feature a stunning marigold color. It’ll slide down your throat like an oyster (unless you don’t like oysters, in which case it’s more like gelato). Lighter yellow ones can be deliciously sweet-sour and hold their shape a bit more strongly, which is great for sandwiches. If the mango is stringy, it will work in a smoothie.

Now what?

To eat a mango, you need to simply cut off the outer skin and unearth its goodness within. I use a paring knife, but I’ve witnessed a friend enjoy one at the downtown farmer’s market by peeling it like an orange and going right for it like a caveman. The center has an oval-shaped stone that differs from a peach or nectarine in that it’s harder to avoid - it’s more like an apple core than a peach pit. Hold the mango with the stem upwards and avoid the center the full length. You will be able to easily identify it as the knife will resist. The goodies lie between the outer skin and the pit.

If you Google how to cut a mango, you’ll most likely find images of perfect cubes, ideal for fruit salads and edible presentations ready for Instagram. To achieve this, you’ll hold the mango with the stem end facing upward. Take a knife and cut lengthwise from a half inch or so to the side of where the stem was located (you’re aiming to avoid the pit – if the knife resists, move away from the stem a smidge). With your disc of mango removed, cut through the yummy interior in a tic-tac-toe pattern, not cutting through the outer skin. You should then be able to press on the outside skin to invert the semi-circle of fruit and cut off the Pinterest-perfect squares you have cut.

Now, if this seems complicated, you can do the easier route (which is what I do): Hold the mango in your hand and use a pairing knife to cut off the skin as you would peel an apple for a child. Once you have a naked mango, cut off random chunks until you’re left with just the pit. Pretty? Nope. Heavenly, quick, and easy? You betcha.

How to enjoy it

A fresh, ripe, local fruit? The best thing to do is just eat it and enjoy. But if you’re feeling creative in the culinary realm or your tree yields too many mangoes at once (pretty much the best “problem” to have), there are many options. The flavors of the mango pair well with Asian recipes, Caribbean recipes, warm, cold, fried meals, grilled, raw, sweet, salty, savory, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, drinks…it’s like the bacon of produce – it makes everything better. And the simple perfection of the fruit means little work is needed to make it shine – good thing since you’re on vacation (literally or figuratively).

Straight up: I asked my son his favorite way to eat a mango and he said, “mango with a side of mango and a side of heaven, which is mango.” In short, he’s a purist. Room temperature or cold, they’re perfect as is. A Mexican embellishment of chili powder, lime juice, and salt gives a bonus poolside refreshment.

Save some: We peel, slice, and dehydrate many with our food dehydrator, so we can enjoy them on the go. Or spread chunks on an even layer in the freezer until frozen and store in an airtight container; the preserved morsels will keep for smoothies year-round.

Make a tropical cocktail: Mango margaritas add a little something-something to a classic. Puree the fruit in the blender and add your tequila, triple sec, and lime juice. Serve either on the rocks or add ice to the fruit when you puree it. A touch of spice in your salt rim gives a nice contrasting zing. The fruit puree also works for making mango lemonade for a nonalcoholic treat or in a mango mimosa for a vacation creation perfect for slow mornings!

Salsa time: Dice the mango carefully into small cubes and combine with red onion, red bell pepper, cilantro, and lime juice. If you like it spicy, throw in some jalapenos. Combine and serve over grilled fish (I prefer snapper) or shrimp tacos with grilled tortillas and sliced avocados – it’s a tasty yet light tropical taste sensation.

Sweet tooth: Swap out mango for peaches in your go-to cobbler recipe. Of all the things I make with my mangoes, this is the one that gets my friends rushing over when I announce it’s on the menu. A quicker alternative to save precious mango-eating time is to cook cut mangoes with water and sugar until they’re warm and soft. Serve over ice cream (or pancakes, waffles, croissants, oatmeal, anything in need of some sweet decadence).

No tree?

Pop into one of Sarasota’s farmer’s markets for some locally grown, ripe mangoes (you are also able to obtain any additional recipe ingredients while there). They are often found for sale on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or by kids in lieu of a lemonade stand.