Sunday, July 13, 2008

My visit to the Mango Festival

The 16th annual International Mango Festival was held this weekend at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. I went on Sunday so I could attend the 9th annual Mango Brunch which offered dishes from seven local chefs all featuring mangoes. I kind of regret not going to the taste test on Saturday, too, but I didn't realize until I got there the sheer number of different types of mangoes available. I only got to taste a few at the tasting tent and another one at the brunch. The chefs didn't specify what sorts they used in their dishes; I think that would be a good touch they could add--have the chefs come by to try different varieties and create a dish that brings out the best of one they pick. Probably too much extra trouble for everyone involved, though.

That's not to say what they had this year was bad. I was pleased with most of the dishes on offer and, as far as I could tell, a good time was had by all.

Beyond the brunch, the festival consisted of a small ring of food vendors with mango dishes. There were Caribbean, Ethiopian, French crepes along with ice cream, cupcake and smoothie vendors. I would have liked to have tried a meal at one; another reason to go on two days next year.

There were also a couple of sauce and marinade vendors. I'm a sucker for that sort of thing; after going through the tasting I always feel obliged to buy something even if I know I never end up using these things and I'm perfectly capable of making my own sauces. I'm marinating a pork chop in a tamarind molasses ginger sauce as I type. And somehow once I've bought one it's a much lower hurdle to buy a few more that I liked. You probably can't make out the labels in the picture, but those are a hot pepper sauce, a jerk sauce and a curry spice mix from Hey Mon Caribbean Cooking Magic and two hot mango sauces and a tamarind chili sauce from Chef Allen's. I can't recall why one's in a Ball canning jar and the other in a bottle. I'll go into any details when and if I ever actually use them. One of things I want to try this next CSA go-around is stir fries using non-Chinese spice profiles. These should work well for that sort of thing.

Another booth at the festival was from Schnebly Redland's Winery. They claim to be the southernmost winery in the U.S. and they make wine from carambolas, mangoes, lychees and the like completely grapelessly. For seven bucks I got to taste everything they brought (and keep the glass. I didn't have a champagne flute so that was nice). They had three sparkling wines, one sangria-esque wine and a couple dessert wines. The sparkling wines lacked real distinctiveness, I thought; they're not going to be great wines so they should at least try to bring out the unusual fruits they're made out of and go for unique. The dessert wines succeeded more at that, but they could have been fruit syrup with a shot of vodka. Of the lot, The lychee dessert wine the best as the flavors strayed into brandy territory; I liked it, but I certainly didn't thirty-five dollars worth of like it so I didn't buy any.

There was also a mango market with a large amount of four varieties (two of which were the usual supermarket mangoes) and a few of maybe a dozen more varieties. Alongside was a tasting tent with samples of three non-supermarket sorts. There was a banana mango, one I don't recall, and a champagne mango. The banana mango had an interestingly banana-esque elongated shape and color and maybe some banana in the flavor, but that could just have been suggestion. The one I don't recall apparently wasn't interesting enough to make a note of. The champagne mangoes were particularly small and had an intense not-too-sweet flavor and a smooth creamy texture. It had the flavor I'm looking for for mango ice cream, but the mango-smoothie-booth-lady happened to be stocking up nearby and she explained that mangoes with no fiber would completely fall apart during cooking so they wouldn't work. I took her advice and I shopped around when went over to the market. I settled on a Ford mango which I'm told has an interestingly complex flavor and should be firm enough to hold together during the candying process. We'll see once it's ripe.

Finally, there was a mango tree booth selling a couple of varieties specifically bred by the horticulturists at Fairchild to be suitable for Florida gardens: the Angie and the Jean Ellen. (Jean Ellen herself was at the brunch and was presented with a plaque and an armful of her namesake mangos. Most of the crowd there were Fairchild members so they knew who she was and why she deserved a fruit named after her and the outburst of applause was no doubt genuine and heartfelt. I was there as a foodie not a plantie so I just applauded politely.) I was tempted to buy a tree but a) I don't think my landlord would appreciate it and b) I don't know if I'll be living here in when it's ready to give fruit and c) one of my co-workers brought in a bunch of mangos last year and she may well do so again.

Well, that went on a bit long. I'll put the brunch stuff in a separate post.

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