Mango Melee Bigger and Better Than Ever

July 2, 2006 — Quick. In 10 seconds list 10 items that you can make from mangoes. OK, time's up!
If you guessed mango sauce, mango salsa, mango upside-down cake, mango rum, mango liqueur, mango wine, mango juice, mango jam, mango ice cream and mango tart, you probably were at Sunday's Mango Melee and Tropical Fruits — the annual display of mangoes and tropical fruits grown on St. Croix.
Event chairman Errol Chichester said he did not have time to count but was certain that he had a larger variety of mangoes compared last year's festival.
In 2005 there were 85 varieties of mangoes, he said.
Chichester, a horticulturist with the V.I. Department of Agriculture, heaped praise early on Dennis Nash and Irene Lawaetz, who provided many of the mangoes. The others were picked from trees on the department's grounds in Estate Lower Love, Chichester said.
He said that following a hurricane back in 2000, the mangoes were depleted, and organizers decided to add local fruits to the display. Thus the name Mango Melee and Tropical Fruits was born. And it has stuck ever since.
Sunday afternoon, hundreds converged on St. George Botanical Garden, where the annual melee is held, to slurp on mango ice cream or drink mango juice — just one of the many culinary delights for sale.
Others checked out displays of mangoes – some of which weighed four to five pounds – as well as several varieties of tropical fruit on display, including gooseberries, tamarind, sea grapes, soursop, genips and carambola.
"People love this because many don't realize that all of these fruits are grown right here," Chichester said. "Some are knowledgeable about the fruits and others are not, so it generates a lot of questions."
One of those questions, Chichester said, is frequently about growing mangoes, after residents take in the many varieties or taste the culinary delights that can be fashioned from that one fruit.
"We tell people if they're going to grow mangoes to use grafted trees and not seeds," Chichester said. He explained that if 10 seeds from one mango tree were planted "then technically, you could get 10 varieties of mangoes."
The mangoes are given names usually by the people who graft them, he said.
In addition to the displays, demonstrations — such as making mango ice-cream, a mango eating-contest and workshops on mangoes and its various uses — were planned throughout Sunday afternoon for those interested.
A workshop entitled "Mango Dis, Mango Dat" could well have been the theme of the annual event, which boasts crowds second to only the annual Agricultural and Food Fair in February. Although Sunday's melee was scheduled from noon to 6:30 p.m., a steady stream of cars had been pulling in before noon, event organizers said.
By 12:30 p.m., the parking area near the Great House was already filled, forcing motorists to park along the route to St. George Botanical Garden. By 3 p.m., the line of cars extended more than a mile — on both sides of the road and from points east and west.
This year's melee was not just limited to the Great House area but instead was spread over the entire grounds. Vendors were set up all along the garden, so residents were able to do impromptu tours of the beautiful garden as they went from food vendors to arts and crafts booths set up in various corners.
David Hamada, St. George Botanical Garden's horticultural director, was extremely happy Sunday.
"This is the first time that it's spread out this way," he said. "It's a great excuse to get people to move about the grounds. Personally, the garden is my interest, and people already know the Great House by attending weddings or events there, but many don't come out in the garden. The melee attracts a lot of people, so this is a way to show off the garden."
Hamada said that St. George had recently added a new building, which residents got to tour while enjoying leisurely strolls from vendor to vendor.
Martha Jean Pierre and Sharon Estridge were lucky enough to be the first vendors that residents saw once inside the gate of St. George Botanical Garden. Jean Pierre sold local drinks – from ginger beer and soursop to carambola and, of course, mango juice. Estridge had a variety of cakes and tarts made with mango that were topped with either walnuts or pecans and finished off with mango sauce.
Estridge said it was her second year at the Melee and that most people came for her black rum cake with mango sauce. Business was booming, she said.
Angel Romero was among the growing crowd lining up about 1 p.m. to purchase cakes or tarts. Romero bought a mango tart, featuring a flat crust topped with mango slices.
"This is good, and if I want more I know where to find her," Romero said, as he sampled the piece of pie that he had cut with his fork.
Later, he and his wife, Denise, were seen enjoying mango juice and beef and chicken pâtés. It was Denise Romero's first time at the annual melee.
"I never was interested in the past, but they kept advertising it and advertising, and since the kids were back from college I decided to bring them here," she said. "This is my first time and it's wonderful."
Nearby, Eleanor Sealey and her son, Maxwell, were serving heapings of macaroni and cheese, conch in butter sauce, rice and beans, and fried fish to a throng of customers gathered around their booth.
Sealey, who is much sought after for her cooking during the February Ag Fair, was up all night cooking, according to her son.
"This is her 10th year doing this, and as you can see, people love the food," he said.
Those who preferred not to stand around and eat out of Styrofoam containers purchased food to take home. Others left with artwork and potted plants, including grafted mango trees. Jesus Rivera didn't want to eat just yet because he was saving space.
"I love mangoes and I am going to take part in the [mango-eating] contest this year," the 14-year-old said of one of the featured activities at the event.
Contestants normally sit at a table and eat as many mangoes as they can within a time limit. Rivera said he was ready.
"I can eat a bucket of mangoes by myself," he said.

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