I live in a sweet place, literally and abstractly. Largely it is a watery labyrinth situated at a diverse intersection between temperate and tropical, hence the perfect climate for swimming and growing mangoes. At home it is remodeling a yellow cottage and building a self-sufficient homestead and edible ecosystem, less than an acre, and all I need. I knew from the start that these projects would take more than just a few seasons to rehibilitate the land and find a pattern of living closer to nature. What I didn't know was that these projects would sprawl in so many directions.
Sweetness of place in the abstract is owning my time. Half of the year I work for myself, not the man, not for money. It has it's own set of self driven challenges, uncertainties, satisfaction, and complexity. A quote from The One-Straw Revolution summarizes it best, "People sometimes work more than they need to for the things that they desire, and some things that they desire they do not need." It took me years to figure this out. I am perpetually surprised by the amount of work it takes to simplify. So far this small time adventure in living is an evolving process with unexpected fun along the way.
Who knew the mango is good to eat in all stages of growth: unripe, semi-ripe, and fully ripe? Since learning this I have become consumed, overly occupied, obsessed. Unripe mangoes are the stars of Indian chutneys, pickles, and preserves. They are fully green with firm and sour flesh, picked prematurely months before they would ever ripen. For most of May, I experimented pickling mangoes outside, letting the sun work its magic. Like most fermented foods and drinks the initial taste is strange and exquisite.
In the following weeks, I ate semi-ripe mangoes mostly in salads and sometimes sprinkled with salt and cayenne. At this stage the flesh started to turn yellow, and was somewhere between sweet and tart like a granny smith apple. I brought a salad of baby greens, candied nuts, goat cheese, and semi-ripe mangoes to dinner parties in June, even to the opposite corner of the country. (FYI Toting a bag of tropical fruit through airport security, while is a pain in the ass and apparently cause to search your suitcase, is legal in the end.) People like green mangoes, it was a hit from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
July is the end of mango season for the trees in my yard. For months it seemed there would be mangoes forever. The mega abundance finally started to dwindle, and I wanted to celebrate the season. It is best to pick mangoes as they start to blush, they are meant to ripen off the tree. It turns out my community was thrilled and ready to play mango at the slightest suggestion. So it happened there were breakfasts, brunches, lunches, and potlucks centered around mango smoothies, lassies, butters, salsas, pickles, and chutneys. Also parties into the late night with mango margaritas and countless deserts from flan to shortcake to coffeecake to breakfast bread. And maybe best of all, just chilled and eaten out of hand.
All the creative, delights made with mangoes brought on all kinds of amazing adventures- a sailing surfari, a mass bike ride, and body surfing at dusk. It is in this fully ripe stage that the mango signifies summer and inspires fun in south Florida, when I say that I live in a sweet place, what I really mean is sweet!