It’s Mango Time

Heroes, In Season, Local Heroes, Summer
on July 1, 2008
Chef Allen Susser

For South Floridians, the madness begins in late June when mangos begin to ripen. At first backyard growers say “hands off” to all but their immediate family. Over the next weeks, they begin to share the harvest with friends. As the bounty increases, they widen the circle to include casual acquaintances. Then suddenly their tree is filled with up to 200 lush, crimson mangos.

“That’s when it’s time to call the chef,” says Allen Susser, owner-chef of Chef Allen’s in Aventura. His offer: cart in a wheelbarrow full of mangos and get dinner for two on the house. Susser is so passionate about mangos that he volunteers to serve as a featured chef at the Mango Brunch, a sell-out event held annually as part of the annual International Mango Festival, scheduled every year in July  at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables.

During the festival, hundreds of people stand in line to taste new mango varieties and then head off for another line where they wait their turn to buy 3-foot mango trees. One year, the festival focused on the Mangos of Africa, where the fruit is a staple in sub-Saharan households. Festival-goers sampled taste the Zebda from Egypt, an emerald green mango with a melon-vanilla flavor and the Nelpetite from South Africa, a smallish orange and amber fruit that boasts a pine nut-apricot flavor, among a dozen other varieties.

Those flavor profiles sound a bit strange to people who’ve tasted only the few varieties found in U.S. grocery stores, where most mangos are imported from Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Guatemala and Haiti and include the Tommy Atkins, Haden, Keitt, Altoufo, Francine and Kent. More than 150 different mango varieties are grown commercially around the world, each slightly different from the other.

What do those lucky enough to have their own mango tree do with their crop? Susser, for one, is never at a loss—he makes the Red Snapper and Mango Ceviche and Mango Fool Parfait.

Once you begin to include sweet, luscious fruit in your cooking, you, too, may become mad for mangos.

—By Candace Floyd, Relish Managing Editor