Wash yuh pot, tun dem down, mango time

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Wash yuh pot, tun dem down, mango time

Lance
Neita

Thursday, May 21, 2020

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One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has not been able to upend is the mango season. I am eating Julies and East Indian as if they are going out of style. The high-class mangoes have pushed the common mangoes, like the hairy and the number 11, out of the basket. Not seeing much of the Blackie or the Robin, or even the Beefy in the market bankra this year. Not even the vendors on the Mt Rosser road are laying out the traditional and colourful variety spread by the roadside stalls.

So, I don't know where the great variety of mangoes have gone, but I am thankful for my unending supply of Julies purchased by our local vendors like “Miss Bev” and “Bam Bam”, who journey all the way from St Ann to Coronation Market and even further to St Thomas to ensure that we get our weekly rations.

As a boy I enjoyed my mango season. During the holidays we moved around like locusts, knew where the right and ready trees were, estimated each day's haul, and sometimes would collect all the loot in a bag and spread them out under a tree to feast to our heart's content.

No, we weren't stealing, as most of the property owners knew us or our families, and the only report we had to fear was if any boy failed to show manners he would be reported to parents, and that would mean a complete ban on mango walk outings for the rest of the holidays. So here is a toast to “Old George” next door, Mr Mills, Skipper Lawson, the properties at Crawle, and Dr Miller's famous mango orchards at Toll Gate several miles away.

There is something special about mango season and schoolboy fun. I hope the connection hasn't been severed by the stay-at-home restrictions. One little boy trustingly told his Sunday school teacher that the pandemic doesn't mean the end of the world because he knows that Jesus would not come back in the middle of the mango season.

In my youth the mango walks in central Clarendon boasted every variety of mango. We knew where every tree was, and had the ripening day of the choice fruits calculated right down to a tee.

A couple years ago my friend Jerry Thomas, who was then the engineering director at Alpart, asked me if I remembered the mango tree that stood at the entrance to the Four Paths cricket ground on Skipper Lawson's property. The mangoes always led us into temptation, he reminded, because they were so red and huge, but were under the watchful eye of the adults on the cricket team and therefore out of reach of our pubertal hands. Yes, I remembered the tree well, it was Skipper Lawson's prize Hayden mango tree, and, yes, more than 50 years after, a picture of that tree with its rich colours and dangling fruits still walks all over my mind.

In the meantime the debate rages on in my house. Which is the best mango? My wife shares my passion for the Julie, but we will indulge in any of the over 60 named varieties that may come our way. Some names are familiar, some are not. Sweetie, Turpentime, Fine Skin, Blackie, Robin, Nelson, Titi, Bellyful, Keith, Beefie, Sweetie come brush me, Bastard, and Green Skin, are among the most well-known. When you get into Flat mango (which we discovered outside of Port Maria), Kidney, Green Guage, Cow Foot, and Graham, then you are getting into uncharted waters. Not to mention the relatively new Tommy Atkins variety introduced for export, but apparently not doing well on the market. But surely, and the debate continues, the Bombay, which can be sliced like a pear or cupped to hold ice cream or jelly, can stake its claim as the king of desserts. Or if your teeth can manage it, then nothing beats tearing off the skin of the common mango and grinding down through the hard pulp to the seed, which is then scraped to the bone.

The debate went overseas when we learnt that the Guinness World records lists the Philippine Carabao mango as the world's sweetest mango. Further to this bit of heresy, we are told that the Alphonso Mango in India, favoured for its sweetness, richness, and flavour, has been called the king of mangoes. Well, they can keep their mangoes. I am satisfied with our crops, and if ever there is a world festival or competition, my Jamaican Julie, East Indian, and Bombay will be right up there with the best of them. Not to leave out the Blackie or the Robin, which with all its tiny size must rate with the sweetest of them all.

This ode to a good mango season reminds us that mangoes play a useful role in food security needs at this time. The old saying in Jamaica that you can turn down your pot at mango time is as true now as it has been for countless years. The time-honoured folk song, best performed by the Jamaican Folk Singers, comes to mind.

“Mi nuh drink coffee tea mango time

Care how nice it may be mango time

In the heat of the mango crop

When di fruit dem a ripe an drop

Wash yuh pot, tun dem down, mango time.”

Lance Neita is a public relations consultant, historian, and author. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.


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