Mangoes: The True Caribbean Currency

By Nigel Spence
CJ Contributor

FROM MY YEARS as a youth, to the present — an older youth (no comment), one thing has never ceased to amaze me; the power and value of a Mango.

In the Caribbean, mangoes have enterprised and developed into their own form of currency. In fact, many a deal has been sealed, not with a kiss, but with a cardboard box full of juicy, ripe, sweet-smelling mangoes.

This is not a myth, my friends, as I can most assuredly attest to this from my own experiences.

I remember clearly, one Saturday afternoon, while on summer holidays from school in Jamaica, a group of us were playing around the house and had a sudden clamoring for ice cream.

No one in the group had any money to buy this delightful treat and, as we had been less than good “do” bees (a saying famous from TV’s “Romper Room” days), the parents declined to underwrite our yearning for ice cream.

Our yard boasted over seven mango trees, comprising a variety of Julie, East Indian, Blackie and a huge no-name species we just called “bastard” mango. It was not uncommon to find at least three or more dozen ripe mangoes at a time, enough to fill a large cardboard carton box, from just one tree.

Well, later that afternoon, we heard the familiar jingle of a bicycle bell signaling the approach of “Fudgie” the ice cream man.

Fudgie, a tall, skinny, older man sporting a worn plaid beret was a very important fixture of the community on Saturdays. Fudgie would comb the block atop his equally worn-of-all-color bicycle, shouting out the words “Eyeeee-is Cream!” to no one in particular.

When he neared the yards of his repetitively good customers, Fudgie would linger in the area, pretending to “fix up” something in the wooden crate behind the bicycle seat, which housed the precious ice cream cargo. This gave his customers time to reconsider and invariably rush out to claim their stake.

On this particular Saturday, Fudgie in true style, lingered just beyond our gate to do his “fix up” with the expectation of a sale or two. In the end, I am not sure who came out with the better deal, but we walked off with two one-gallon containers of ice cream, both two-thirds full and Fudgie rode away with a carton of Julie mangoes … Final Sale!

Now, that to me is a currency worth more than Dollaz!

Mangoes even paid for services rendered – probably in that sense too, but the one I am actually referring to is bank services.

On Monday mornings, the banks in Jamaica were notorious for being jammed packed and customers had to wait hours in line to be served.

Not so with my Dad.

Before heading out to the bank to make his deposits, he would scour the trees for enough mangoes to fill two cardboard boxes which he carefully loaded in his vehicle then sped away to conduct his business. In less than 45 minutes, Dad would return, business concluded; value … priceless!

Mangoes added value to your property. No self-respecting thief would tread on property devoid of mango trees. Your bicycle would not be touched, your car would not be broken into – why? Because the thief knew the prize lay in the juicy, ripe fruit on the tree. Once, my grandmother shouted at a would-be mango thief high up in her tree to get down and get off her property. The only response she got was “A who yu a call tief?” He was so intent on collecting this valuable currency, he was not phased in the least…that is until he was rushed by the dog. Suffice it to say though, he didn’t leave with mangoes that day.

Then there was even the bandit that made a career of stealing the juicy fruits. He was approached by my mother as he was making a quick exit from the tree over the fence and my mother shouted, “who are you and what are you doing in my yard?” to which he responded, “me is di Mango Tief dat come every Tuesday, so stop gwaan like you don’t know mi.”

This valuable fruit played a very important role in our house too. Friends who dropped by unexpectedly were treated to a delicious blend of fruits, containing mangoes, syrup, oranges, limes and sometimes, cherries. This was my mother’s specialty. The frequency of these unexpected visits seemed to increase in my estimation and I had a sneaky feeling Mom’s mango drink had a lot to do with it.

So, in keeping with Mom’s tradition, I thought I would share with you, one of my special concoctions – you know, just in case of unexpected guests. However, this one is the “grown up” version and will guarantee a marked increased in frequency of those unexpected visitors to your home. Enjoy!

THE “MANGO TIEF” MOJITO

Mango Puree 2oz
Appleton White Rum 3.5oz
1 Lime cut into 8 pieces
12 Mint leaves
Club soda (or soda water) 3oz
Sugar cane stick, cut to the length and width of a pencil
Ice

In a mixing glass put mint leaves and lime pieces and using a muddler (long wooden shaft used to pulverize stuff); muddle the lime and mint leaves until they are well battered and bruised. Add rum, mango puree and ice to the top of glass, shake vigorously till very cold and all are incorporated. Pour into a high ball glass and top off with more ice and club soda.

Garnish with a sugar cane stick.

Serve.

Mango Puree Recipe

Pulp from 1 large ripe Mango
1/4 cup Water
1/2 Cup granulated Sugar
Juice of 1 Lime

Put all ingredients in blender and puree till smooth. Can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for 1 month.

Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for three years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cookoffs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show, Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.

 

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