in post

8 August 2021

Mangoes

I bought some mangoes from the local mini-market yesterday. D. said it's a pity that I hadn't found the Maya variety that we had last time. So I started to think about mangoes, wondering with which traditional variety the Maya variety was associated. I had always assumed that mangoes originated in Southern India, but it turns out that they are believed to have come from either Northwest India or Myanmar. From ancient times, they were valued and introduced all over India and Southeast Asia, and, by the 15th century had reached Africa. Our word "mango" was borrowed by the Portuguese from a Malai word, "mangga", but it is thought that this originally came from Tamil.

Mangoes are fruit belonging to the cashew family and grow on huge trees. In Tiruvannamalai (Tamil Nadu), in the yard of the home where I once stayed, the trees are too high to easily harvest the fruit. However, the monkeys cast them down when they are still unripe. My host, DF said that monkeys are stupid and wasteful - they bite into them, find they are unripe and throw them down. He would collect these fruit cast down monkeys every day, let them ripen on a newspaper and then eat them. But personally, I think the monkeys are not so dumb and probably have a similar idea - they may throw them down in order to harvest them later. But who can say? The mangoes in DF's compound are smaller than the ones we buy here and don't have much flesh on them, but DF would carefully suck each mango stone, wasting nothing. As for me, I never felt like eating mangoes that monkeys have previously bitten into.

According to my reading, most of the mangoes eaten in Europe and North America originated from a variety grown in Tamil Nadu:

Most of the varieties of mangoes available in grocery stores in the United States can trace their lineage to the Haden mango tree, a tree planted by Jack Haden in 1902 in Coral Gables, Florida (Haden itself can be traced back to Malgova which is misspelled Malgoba in US and has its origin in Tamil Nadu, India). List of mango cultivars - Wikipedia.

Nowadays, according to the above cited article, mangoes are grown in many countries, and there are a huge number of varieties. In India alone there are several hundred varieties but, despite the enormous agricultural yield there, the majority are for domestic consumption. At various times Europe and the US have prohibited import from India due to the danger of introducing agricultural pests. Knowing how many of these have originated in India, I don't find that unreasonable. I am thinking not only of the Maladera insanabilis which I mentioned ina recent post, but of the beetles that are currently decimating fig and date trees around the world.

Specifically regarding Israel, I found an interesting and informative article in Haaretz, from 2016. According to it, nine types of mangoes have been developed in Israel, and the country is a very important source of mangoes for the European market.

Mango mania: Israel is an emerging mango superpower - Israel News - Haaretz

The starting point is a cultivar, or strain, called Dolores, from India, and the mother of all the known mango cultivars in the world today.* It’s small and yellow, and curved like a banana. Although he is carrying a knife, Cohen recommends biting into this variety with the peel on. I obey, and from that moment onward my life is divided into Before and After. Where has this mango been all my life? This fruit is earth’s gift to mankind – sensuous, juicy, exotic and marvelously flavorful. How did I miss out on it up until now? It’s not that I’d never eaten a mango before, but somehow I’d overlooked its greatness. I’d paid it no special attention. I was indifferent. But no longer.

Unfortunately, the writer is quite wrong about this "Dolores" variant. I quickly found that she is referring to a kind called “Delores”. Far from it being the mother of all mango cultivars, it is a very recent cultivar, and did not originate in India:

Delores is a Keitt seedling selected by Gary Zill from his breeding project in Boynton Beach, FL (planting # D-24), first fruiting in 2000. ‘Gary’ may have been the pollinating parent. It was released in 2016 and we planted our tree in 2017. We are optimistic the tree can fruit in 2020.
: Delores | Tropical Acres Farms

The writer of the Haaretz article goes on to say:

The mango originated in India, where it is, in effect, the national fruit (see under: chutney), and scholars believe it was cultivated there from as early as the fifth century B.C.E. “But because it’s a Third World tree, hardly any development was done – there was no crossbreeding of different mango varieties to create new and better varieties,” says Cohen. This is why the peels of Indian mangoes lack that familiar, attractive blush. They’re also smaller and have a stronger fragrance and even stronger flavor than the Western varieties we are familiar with.

That patronizing line about it being a third world tree where hardly and development was done, etc. is again completely wrong. It has been painstakingly developed to produce new varieties for several centuries by both the Mughals and Portuguese colonists. The prized alphonso variety was the result of such efforts. It is named after the 16th century governor of Portuguese India.

What is true is that Israel has been very carefully developing the mango too. That Maya variety mentioned earlier is good for local consumption, because it is eaten quickly after being picked. But other varieties have been developed specifically so that they can be picked earlier and survive two or three weeks before going to market.

Camino de Santiago de Compostela

I am thinking about doing this. While the virus is still raging, it seems like a good opportunity for this type of adventure. A few years ago we visited St. Jean Pied du Port. It's a pleasant town in the French Basque country where many routes of the Camino come together, before becoming the Camino Francés and crossing the Pyrenees towards Santiago.