By Marilyn Chakroff
Summertime in St. Croix is mango season, and the abundance of the season will be celebrated at the 14th Annual Mango Melee and Tropical Fruit Festival at the St. George Village Botanical Garden on Sunday, June 27, from 12 noon until 6:30 pm.
Often described as "the Queen of Tropical Fruit," the mango reigns over the summer season in St. Croix. Nearly everyone can recall the first time they bit into a juicy, delicious mango. No other fruit evokes the warmth, flavors, and fragrant beauty of the tropics so well as the mango. The great interest and enthusiasm for this fruit is apparent in the exciting variety of activities at Mango Melee.
"Mango Melee" is the brainchild of staff from the St. George Village Botanical Garden, the VI Department of Agriculture, and the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station. Fourteen years ago, these three entities came together to find ways to promote the use of the mangoes that saturate the islands yearly. Since then, Mango Melee has become St. Croix's most popular summer festival.
Although all mangoes are the same species, Mangifera indica, at least 80 varieties of mangoes are grown in the Virgin Islands. When ripe, mangoes vary in color from green to yellow to orange to red, with a pink, red, or purple blush. Mangoes may be egg-shaped, pear-shaped, kidney-shaped, round, or oblong. The size of mangoes varies as well, from a few ounces to as much as five pounds! The qualities of mangoes vary with each variety. The flesh can be firm, soft, tender, dry, or juicy. The flavor of mangoes can be described as sweet, rich, aromatic, resinous, bland, or tart. Some mangoes are good for eating, whereas others are better used in cooking.
During mango season, the fruit is so abundant that there is a need to find new ways to enjoy the fruit. Over the years, people have tried many different ways of using mangoes, from mango wine and beer to mango butter, and even mango sushi! The "Mango Dis, Mango Dat" food competition at Mango Melee offers the best recipes for using mangoes by local chefs, both amateur and professional. Mangoes are the main ingredient for entries into Mango Dis, Mango Dat in the categories of Sips (drinks), Salsas (and sauces), Sweets (desserts), and Stuff (items that don't fit into other categories). Entries are judged on presentation, creativity, best use of the fruit, and taste. After judging, samples of the entries are then offered for sale, and they go fast!
One of the main features of the festival is the display of over 80 varieties of mangoes and over 30 other types of tropical fruit - all of which are grown on St. Croix! For those who have never heard of bilimbi or miracle fruit, or have ever wondered what to do with jackfruit, a visit to Mango Melee is a fun and educational experience.
Educational presentations throughout the day will help participants learn about successfully cultivating and using the many local fruits. Visitors can sample different types of fruit juices and different varieties of mangoes to discover their favorites. Perhaps the most popular element of Mango Melee each year is the Mango-Eating Contest. Hundreds of spectators gather on the main lawn to watch two separate competitions: one for adults and one for children. Contestants challenge each to see who can eat ten mangoes in the shortest period of time. Anyone who has ever eaten a fresh, ripe and juicy mango can understand how messy and entertaining this contest really is!
In addition to the displays of local fruit, there are food vendors selling a staggering variety of products made from mangoes and other tropical fruits. Craft vendors, a farmers' market featuring fresh fruit and live fruit trees, as well as fun and educational children's activities and games will also be offered. The Botanical Garden's Nursery and Museum Store will also be open and tours of the 16-acre grounds are offered throughout the day. The event ends with a silent auction of the fresh fruit from the displays, and dancing the Electric Slide.
The 14th Annual Mango Melee and Tropical Fruit Festival is guaranteed to be a full day of fun, learning and sensory experiences for everyone, young and old.
For more information, contact the St. George Village Botanical Garden at 692-2874.