Mangoes arethe stars atthis year's rare fruit festival
By Nan Sterman
August 5, 2007
Eaten any mango fruits recently?
Mangoes are plentiful in the supermarkets now, often available for as little as 35 cents each. That's a bargain for the sweet, slightly tangy, juicy, and slippery fruit that sometimes leaves you feeling as if you've flossed all your teeth simultaneously.
Will mangoes grow in your garden? Yes, say the local chapters of California Rare Fruit Growers. The frost-free and nearly frost-free areas of San Diego are quite good mango growing areas.
How to grow mango � as well as blood orange, citron, guava, pitaya (dragon fruit), and other uncommon fruits � is on the agenda of the California Rare Fruit Growers' Festival of Fruit at Southwestern College Aug. 10-12. (For more on the festival, see Page D11.)
Mango is the theme of this year's festival, but if you don't have the time to attend, here is a primer, starting with a bit of mango history.
Local mango culture dates to 1940 when retired Army Capt. L.L. Bucklew Sr. planted 172 trees on two acres in Encinitas. Bucklew, who first encountered mango fruits in 1901 on his way back from the Spanish American War, was so taken by the "peach of the tropics" that he spent his retirement years testing and selecting the best varieties from Florida, Mexico, Jamaica, Hawaii, India and Guatemala.
By the 1960s, Bucklew had influenced several serious backyard hobby growers such as Paul Thomson in Vista, Jim Neitzel near Lemon Grove and Leo Manual in Rancho Pe�asquitos. Manual, in fact, took cuttings from Bucklew's trees after the captain's death to continue his work. Manual also started Rare Fruit On-line, a monthly newsletter for hobby growers.
Most mango fruits in our markets are imported from Mexico, Neitzel explains. The season starts in spring with the large, green with red-blush Tommy Atkins variety that ships well, but in Neitzel's opinion, doesn't have much flavor.
Smaller, yellow Atalufo (also called Champagne) mangoes come next, sometime between April and May. Their flesh is sweet, delicate and juicy with little fiber. Kent follows in July and August. One of the larger mangoes, Kent ripens with a red blush, rich flavor and little fiber.
Keitt arrives latest in the season, from about August to October. This large, orange blush mango is nearly fiberless.
Neitzel, who has grown many of these varieties in his two plus-acre garden, prefers Thomson, a variety that Paul Thomson selected from several he started from seed. Thomson has medium-sized, flat, yellow fruits that ripen in fall. He also likes Manila, another small, sweet, yellow mango that ripens slightly later than Thomson.
While Mexican-grown mango fruits ripen from summer into early fall, the same varieties grown in San Diego tend to ripen in fall and early winter. Richard Campbell, senior curator of tropical fruit at the Fairchild Botanical Garden in Miami, Fla., and a keynote speaker at the Festival of Fruit, attributes the differences in ripening time to the differences in nighttime temperatures.
Campbell cares for a vast collection of subtropical fruits at Fairchild's Williams Grove Genetic Resource Center and works with backyard and commercial growers to promote new and more flavorful mango varieties
Home growers, says Campbell, have a tremendous advantage over commercial growers in that they can plant their personal favorites � varieties already on the market, those from their country of origin, or some started from seeds. One of Campbell's goals for this week's visit is to talk with folks like Manual and Neitzel in his search for more cold-hardy specimens.
Campbell says that the trend in mangoes is for fruits with stronger, more unique flavors. He describes mangoes as being "complex, like fine wine. My goal is to find or breed fruits that are sweet with layers of aromatics."
Many people gush over Indian mango varieties, and Campbell agrees that they have potential if grown under the right conditions. When grown under adverse conditions, he says, they taste awful.
Earlier this year, President Bush lifted a 17-year ban on mango fruits imported from India. As a result, fruits have started to trickle into the U.S. But there are issues, according to Campbell, involving the effects of the long shipping time on quality and the irradiation required before they are allowed into the country. If those issues can be resolved, he says, we will have access to mangoes with flavors described as "heaven on earth."
Nan Sterman is a freelance writer.
MANGOES FOR ALL SEASONS
California Rare Fruit Growers members Jim Neitzel and Leo Manual recommend the following varieties for San Diego's novice mango lovers:
Earlygold is an early ripening variety with medium to large sized fruits. Earlygold fruits reliably, even near the coast.
Keitt is an early variety with large yellow-flesh, nearly fiber-less fruit. Sometimes picked and sold when the fruit is still green. Mildew resistant and suitable for drier climates.
Kent bears heavily with large, excellent quality fruit on a tree that Neitzel describes as being small and more bush-like. Fruit is red/yellow. Especially good for inland areas.
Manila has small, flat yellow fruits that grow on a smaller tree. Does well along the coast.
Nam Doc Mai has sweet, fiberless fruit, even when picked and eaten green (that is the custom in many Asian countries). This very reliable variety will bloom a second time if the first set of spring flowers fail to set fruit. Mildew resistant.
Thomson is a seedling of Manila. It bears dense, grape-like clusters of fruit that need to be thinned in order for the fruit to size up, though fruits are relatively small and yellow like its parent. This early maturing variety does well in a container. Good for coast.
Villasenor is a dwarf-sized tree with oval, medium sized fruits that are yellow green. Good along the coast and in the foothills.***
Winters (also called 20222) bears medium-sized fruit tht is red-blushed yellow with aromatic flesh. Very reliable annual bearer.
� NAN STERMAN
stanofh 10a Hayward,Ca S.F. bay area
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