It’s mango season in Australia! As we re-introduced this tasty fruit to our children, it brings back memories of mango season in the parts of West Africa where I grew up.

Mangos are offered for sale in the local supermarkets, but we bought some from a friendly road-side seller who was on-selling mangos that have been grown in the Northern Territory and transported to Queensland. David and I are learning to enjoy the personal interaction that each financial transaction can bring — and hearing about our food’s history adds to the pleasure in eating it!

Aisha eating a mango, September 2011
David cuts the mango into cubes (still in the skin), making it really easy for the girls to eat.

Calista eating a mango, September 2011
Yum.

Delaney eating a mango, September 2011
Once Delaney got the taste of the mango in her mouth, she didn't want to stop eating them!

Brioni eating a mango, September 2011
Brioni tried eating the skin but found it too bitter for her liking.

Mango season in French-speaking West Africa in the 80s and 90s meant piles of rotting fruit sitting under the huge trees. Where I lived, there were many mango trees that fruited prolifically, and I never realised that one day I could be paying $4 for a single mango!

The sultry heat of the tropics — coupled with fruit fly issues — meant that much of the local fruit was marred. We were spoiled for choice and usually that meant selecting the perfect fruit that was still hanging on the branches of the tree. Firm fruit was prized over soft fruit, and we often picked it while it was green. We used a long wooden pole with a metal hook on the end to reach between the branches and bring each mango down.

After the mangos on the trees ripen, they fall off and start to rot. Occasionally we would rake up piles of mangos and put them into buckets to take to the local prison. Prisoners are not provided with meals and so rely on their families and charity organisations for daily food. I’m not sure how often we took the spare mangos to the prison, but I know that we also threw piles and piles of edible but blemished mangos into composting heaps.

Of all the mangos that grew around us, the only ones that were never wasted grew on the grafted trees. These mangos were huge, football-sized purple fruit that lacked the stringiness of the lesser varieties. We all knew where the grafted mango trees were growing. The fruit was carefully watched and assessed by the owner as it ripened — and occasionally it would disappear just before it reached its peak. One large, sweet grafted mango would feed a horde of children.

I also can’t remember mango trees without also reliving the experience of the red weaver ants that lived in them. Red ants build nests by joining leaves together with silk thread squeezed from their larvae. Each mango tree would hold several such ant nests, and if you disturbed a nest, you’d receive a shower of biting red ants down on you.

I have vivid memories of the “red ant dance” — a jerky, desperate movement of arms and legs trying to brush the red ants off as fast as possible. Sometimes clothing was removed with no thought to modesty. Watching the red ant dance was hilarious, but experiencing it yourself was painful in so many ways. Just the memory of the hot, persistent biting and distinctive scent of the red ants makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck!

Playing at the Maroochy River, September 2011
It's easy to clean up after eating a sticky fruit like mango if you can simply wash in a nearby river!

Aisha and Brioni playing in the Maroochy River, September 2011
Our girls took delight in the waves washing in the wake of the ski-boats.

We’re enjoying our short visits with friends on the Sunshine Coast. The weather has been delightfully warm — with extra heat easily dissipated by cool breezes — so we are constantly reminded of summer. After the coolness of New Zealand, we’re embracing the sunshine and learning how to stay cool again!