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My Mango Muse

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From the summer of 1999 to the summer of 2001, I traveled to Barbados eight times. The farthest east of all islands in the Caribbean, Barbados was my growing-up classroom in my early 30s. There was plenty of romance, rum and swimming in the sea. But most importantly, there were mangoes.

Before I spent so much time in the Caribbean, my experience with the mango was supermarket-peripheral, out-of-season and without context.

It was the summer of 2000. The sun was starting to fade, so that meant it was nearing 6, which also meant it was cocktail hour at the house of my dear friends Gordon and Dickie Parkinson. They are the parents of Rosemary Parkinson, a cookbook author and food writer to whom I owe my introduction to Barbados.

Gordon, who retired early as an oilman and established himself as a well-known painter, was also a flirt. We were sitting in the kitchen, about to make a batch of rum cocktails, but Gordon turned his attention to fruit instead.

"This is Julie," he said to me, pointing to a hot pink-orange hunk of fruit flesh. "She is the sweetest mango there is," he said. "Go on, taste her." I obeyed, placing the mango on my tongue, letting it sit there for a moment. And then I let it slide down, while trying to savor every honeyed second, not unlike trying to memorize a sexy tune on the radio on a hot summer day.

I sat there in front of this physically unsexy old man, who was, in effect, seducing me with his Julie mango. And I allowed him to continue, handing me slice after slice, as I imagined poetry, watercolors and Caribbean seascapes. We were both quiet, save our slurping, and there was sweat on our lips, nectar staining our cheeks.

Gordon died earlier this year, and I will always have him to thank for introducing me to Julie.

How to Slice a Mango

May means the beginning of mango season in Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean. Keep your eyes peeled for the Day-Glo flesh of your dreams. Hold mango upright, stem end up. Feel pit in center. Place knife to left of pit, slicing the length of the fruit, from top to bottom. Repeat on right side. Now you have two separate mango "cheeks." With knife, score the flesh of each "cheek" in a tic-tac-toe pattern, but without cutting through the skin. Hold the edges of the skin and push the skin from underneath toward you, so that cubes of mango pop up from the inside out. Eat and savor. Best done over a sink, or in a bathtub, with someone you love.

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