Mangoes – or where have all the Bowens gone?
One of the joys that the warmer weather brings is mangoes. I've just eaten one of the nicest mangoes I've had in ages. It was large, fat, and firm-fleshed but juicy. It wasn't perfect - just a little over-ripe (my fault: I bought it last week and forgot about it in the fridge). But that wasn't so bad because the flavour more than compensated. And the smell – yum. Sorry, I've no photo of it to show you as I only thought to blog about when I was washing my hands after eating it.
So often I've found Australian mangoes at the markets that just don't have any smell – you think that's because it's under-ripe, so you take it home and wait and wait, but it doesn't ripen. Or rather, it goes soft – like it's bruised – and those black spots become black blotches – before its flavour really develops. However, besides a small black spot around the stem base, and that ever-so-slight fermented tinge of over-ripeness in one part, this mango didn't have any of those problems.
But the nicest thing about this mango is that it reminded me of Bowen mangoes – that quintessential Australian mango. When I first came to this country – over 15 years ago – mangoes and Bowens were one and the same. Now, you just can't seem to find that variety. Australian grocers, markets and supermarkets are flooded with cheap hybrids whose flavour and aroma can't hold a candle up to the Bowen.
Perhaps its complete bollocks. Maybe Bowens aren't as nice as I remember, and I'm just being sentimental about them because I can't find in the shops the variety of mango I identify most with summer and the arrival of tropical fruit in the south of Australia.
The things is, I didn't appreciate Bowen mangoes when I first came here. I had come from a country where mangoes were ubiquitous – well, almost as ubiquitous as they are in Brisbane or other parts of Southeast Queensland – and we had some of the best mangoes around. I believed that Australian mangoes couldn't touch those from home, so I turned my nose up at them. And baulked at the prices asked for them.
The same went for a whole range of tropical fruit – especially papaya, or pawpaw, as it was known here. To me, the papayas grown here smelled like vomit. In fact, these days many still do, and the only Australian-grown papayas I really enjoy are the organic red ones. But that's another story.
The mango I ate tonight also reminded me of what changed my mind about Australian grown mangoes – the lovely generosity of the president of the Student Association at Deakin University, in Geelong. That is where I spent my first year in Australia – studying for a Social Science degree that I went on to complete elsewhere – and I had a miserable, homesick, and terribly disorganised time for a lot of it.
Anyway, sometime late in the academic year, the Student Association president, a friendly, no-nonsense woman, who was a mature age student, and who had taken a number of us adrift overseas students under her wing, shared with me a mango from a box of beautiful Bowens that her brother had sent her from Darwin, where he lived. Well, at least I think they were Bowens.
Well, that one mango that she shared with me was a lovely, red-blushing, fat and juicy fruit. It had a rich aroma and flavour, and it blew me away to realise that Australia could grow tropical fruit so well.
It was also very generous of her to share that fruit with me – she obviously really enjoyed them, and she had her three young daughters at home to share the fruit with too, but she must have guessed that it would cheer homesick me up. This represented that lovely Australian generosity and hospitality that was beginning to thaw out my defensiveness and open me to this country. That, and the realisation that Australia could grow good mangoes. After that, whenever I visited relatives in Queensland, I would eagerly seek out Bowen mangoes.
The mango I ate tonight reminded me of that occasion, and generosity, and how I came to appreciate Australian mangoes and their heralding of summer.
It is just such a pity that Bowens are so had to come by in Melbourne nowadays.