I was 10 years old when I had my first mango. It was on a rare trip with my dad to the island of Grand Cayman — before it became a haven for tourists and money laundering. I thought the sunset-blushed fruit fanned out on my plate was melon. Its intense flavor was a shock. I still remember its silkiness and its vivid, lingering perfume — I wasn’t sure I liked it. But I have grown to adore mangoes.
My mother also figures in my personal mango lore. The mango’s teardrop shape is said to be the inspiration for the Indian paisley pattern, which always reminds me of her. I can see my mother at the top of the Wellfleet dunes in her 1960s style — wearing Jackie O dark glasses and her paisley scarf snugly tied under her chin to protect her fabulous hairdo from the sea wind.
Mother’s Day coincides with peak mango season. Right now, I have a big bowl of them on my kitchen counter — red-and-green Tommy Atkinses and yellow-orange Honeys. Their scent fills the whole room.
The first few I slice and eat standing over the kitchen sink. I suck on the whole pit the way a friend from St. Vincent showed me to do, letting the juice run down my chin.
There are multiple ways to slice the fruit. One is to trim the skin off with a peeler, then run a knife along each side of the large, oval pit to cut off two “cheeks.” Another technique cuts the cheeks off the pit with the skin on. The tip of a knife is used to score a grid-like pattern into the fruit (cutting just down to the skin), then you invert the skin and the flesh presents itself, cut into a diamond pattern and ready to be trimmed or nibbled off the skin. There is also a nifty way to scoop the flesh off the skin with a glass, but for that you need a visual — go to mango.org to check it out.
A little farther into mango season, I can stop eating them straight up for long enough to consider cooking with them.
Mangoes can go in sweet, tart, or spicy directions. Mothers, too. That’s why I like mangoes for Mother’s Day. They make for gifts that sidestep the saccharine sentimentality showered on moms for the occasion. While you’re at it, give her real credit, too, for wiping your tears (and other parts) and being there on your journey to adulthood.
On the tart yet sweet side, there’s mango curd. This tropical riff on classic lemon curd is adapted from Kathy Gunst’s recipe in Rage Baking. It is an indulgent treat spooned on top of Mom’s breakfast-in-bed pancakes or smeared on toast or biscuits during an afternoon visit over tea. She can dip strawberries in it, or cookies, or eat it straight off the spoon.
Spicy moms will thank you for mango salsa, spiced with fresh chilis, lime, and cilantro. It’s perfect on top of tacos or paired with a steak.
Makes about 1¾ cups
2 ripe medium mangos
2 to 3 wide strips lime zest
¼ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup fresh orange or tangerine juice
½ cup sugar
2 slices fresh ginger
3 large egg yolks
1 large egg
½ stick cold unsalted butter, diced
Peel and dice the mangos and puree the fruit with the citrus juices in a blender or food processor until very smooth. Pour the fruit mixture into a medium saucepan with about 2/3 of the sugar, the lime zest, and ginger, and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Take care not to let the mixture boil. Remove from the heat.
Whisk together the egg yolks, egg, and the remaining sugar in a medium bowl. While whisking, slowly pour the warm fruit mixture into the egg mixture. Whisk until fully incorporated, then return to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly until the curd thickens, 6 to 8 minutes. Do not let the curd boil.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time, stirring until each bit melts before adding the next.
Strain the curd through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl, pressing it through with a rubber spatula. Press a piece of waxed paper or reusable wrap directly against the surface of the curd to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until completely chilled, about 2 hours. The curd keeps for about 4 days.
Makes about 1½ cups
1 medium firm-ripe mango
2 Tbsp. finely minced red onion
½ to 1 jalapeño or serrano chili
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from 1 to 2 limes
2 to 3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
Kosher salt to taste
Peel the mango, slice the fruit off the seed, and dice. Mince the red onion fine and soak it in cold water for 5 minutes; drain, then add to diced mango. Seed the chili to temper its heat, if desired, then mince and add to the mango and onion. Stir in the remaining ingredients.