This time of year, we have all sorts of fabulous fruit in season: stone fruit and melons are peaking; cherries are still around, as are berries. While I adore the more common produce, my single favorite fruit usually comes from south of the border: mangoes.
For much of the year, we have the most common Tommy Atkins variety: flavorless, wooden footballs plaguing our supermarkets. Tommys are grown not for their flavor, sweetness or texture, but their ability to withstand weeks-long transport in cargo ships from South America without spoiling. If that's the only mango you've ever eaten, you wouldn't understand why mangoes are revered in India, the birthplace of mangoes where hundreds of different cultivars have been lovingly developed over thousands of years. 20th century American agro-industry undid all that careful hybridization to come up with the craptacular Tommy Atkins. Thanks, assholes!
During the North American summer, the fruit that arrives in the U.S. is mostly grown in Mexico, rather than the South American countries that ship us fruit during our colder months. Closer to us, there are two California farms that grow a limited number of mangoes, but their crop won't be ready until some time in August, after the Mexican crop has peaked.
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Right now is that peak of the Mexican crop. Look for two varieties, both with a powerful, tropical aroma, intense flavor and sweetness: the Kent and Ataulfo mangoes. The Kent is a large, muscular-looking fruit, oval in shape, with the red-orange-yellow-green skin of an exotic parrot. The Ataulfo, a.k.a. the Manila, or sometimes by the brand name Champagne, is a pale yellow, slender, kidney-shaped fruit that's much smaller than the Kent.
Both varieties are available for low prices now in Orange County's Asian, Indian and Vietnamese markets. Mangoes are graded on their size and how many fruit are packed into a 9 pound case, with the bigger fruit costing more.
This week, a case of Kent mangoes at 99 Ranch Market sells for $4.99 for a case of 10 fruit, which is the lowest price I've seen in years for good mangoes. At those prices, buy by the case clearly labeled Kents, and avoid the similar-looking Tommy Atkins.