July 29, 2002 – Morning showers did not deter the droves of residents who lined up to savor the local fruits on Sunday at the sixth annual Mango Melee and Tropical Fruit Festival at the St. George Village Botanical Garden.
For some, it was their first experience. Others who had been before could not resist going back to meet and greet and definitely eat a smorgasbord of local cuisine.
Stimulated by the ice cream-making demonstration, Elisa McKay of the Interfaith Coalition said it was her first, but it won't be her last. She said her parents had a tradition of making local fruit ice cream desserts at family gatherings or just on Sunday afternoons.
The youngest of eight, McKay said Mango Melee brought back memories. "I've eaten so many mangoes over the past weeks," she said, explaining that her elderly clients often bring her some as a treat. She sampled some passion fruit sorbet made during the demonstration.
The annual event has grown tremendously in its six years but has not lost its focus as an occasion for showcasing fruits grown in the Virgin Islands, especially the summer treat of mangoes.
Errol Chichester, chair of this year's event and a horticulturist with the V.I. Agriculture Department, said climatic conditions have affected the abundance of crops normally harvested in July through September. He could be seen buzzing around the greathouse entertaining questions as visitors looked in awe at the displays of fruits.
"Man it is great. The turnout is excellent," Chichester said. "I thought last year was good, but this is even better. I'm speechless." The original idea behind Mango Melee was to attract locals to experience the botanical gardens. "We didn't just want folks to come to Mango Melee," he said. "It is our garden; it is about our culture. There is a lot of education here."
Tables with white linen lined the four sides of the greathouse atrium. Mangoes, gooseberries, avocado, soursop and less-familiar fruits such as shaddock, sapote and locust were identified for passing visitors.
As fairgoers strolled the grounds of the botanical gardens, some had a bite to eat or sat under a palm tree, purchased a fruit tree from the greenhouse, or took a step back in history viewing relics of the past in the old craft shop.
The day's activities included guided tours of the 16-acre estate which is home to 1,500 species of exotic plants, a fruit identification competition, the ice cream-making demonstration, a workshop on processing and marketing of tropical fruits, a mango-eating contest and lots of music and dancing. Some 40 people gathered on the northwest side of the greathouse for a silent auction.
On the east side, listeners seated beneath a bright yellow tent learned about drying fruits. Sonia Maynard-Liburd explained that any fruit can be dried and preserved. She said she experiments with different varieties and uses a five-tray rotating dehydrator. She offered tips, such as to spray a little oil on the rack to prevent the fruit from sticking to the tray. "I like to experiment," she said. "Take the time to read a book. There's a lot of info out there."
Fruit delicacies included preserves, chutneys, juices and even cotton candy. Dorothy James, who recently moved to St. Croix from Dominica, sold passion fruit and other homemade juices at her refreshment booth. "Everything I brought with me is gone," she said. The event, she said, reminded her of similar events in her homeland.
Along with the sampling, there was lots of socializing. One teen-ager said her mother was caught up in hugging and kissing friends and family. "She said she was only stopping by for a few minutes, but we've been here over an hour," Semoya Phillips said.
Musician Shelton Shulterbrandt and his children walked along a path lined with about 30 blue and white tents. He stopped to say hello to his classmate and historian Wayne James, who was grabbing a bite. Shulterbrandt said he has not missed one Mango Melee.
A young people's activity center offered such games as ring toss, sack races, tug-o-war and hopscotch.
One mother said she was there with her children because she wanted to spend quality time with them enjoying an activity that would be safe. Mom, son and daughter found a shady tree to cuddle under, seated on the green carpet-like grass.
"We just wanted someplace to go that was safe and that they would enjoy," the mother said as her daughter lay on her lap awaiting another bite of shish kabob and her son nibbled on blue cotton candy.
Event officials didn't have a count of the number of people who attended the event, but the long line of traffic from Queen Mary Highway to the Estate St. George entrance was ample evidence that the turnout was strong.
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