I learned this bit of information just before I left for Cuba. Viv got the brunt of it after devouring a mango, scrapping the skin clean with her teeth, but both of us got a rash that looked suspiciously like poison ivy which we had been arduously avoiding in the yard, so… turns out, “The sap of the mango tree and the skin of its fruit contain urushiol, the same irritating chemical that causes reactions to poison ivy and poison oak.” One website boiled it down to this take-away: that you should not sleep under a mango tree if you’re allergic to poison ivy. good advice, no doubt about it, but if I’d been hiking through Cuba, this advice might’ve been hard to adhere to. Mangoes are prolific and the trees are perfect in shape and shelter, one finds it hard to accuse that lush foliage and dropping purple fruits of harboring an itchy allergen! However, the rash, should you get it, is not as intolerable or spreadable as poison ivy, at least for me and Viv, and this allergy in no way affects the edibility of the mango fruit—my favorite?
That’s right, next to peaches perhaps, I’ve decided mangoes are my favorite fruit. In Cuba, they were in season and I was determined to find a couple fresh ones. The breakfast buffets typical held delicacies like Guava and Papaya which i tried, again, and avoided thereafter. The blandness of those tropical fruits is nothing like the juicy acid and sweet of the mango. I got my first mango in Havana, on the way to the marcado, R, X and I happened upon a market closing for the day. I had no pesos (National currency) but had confidence enough by then to offer the relative equivalent in CUCs, or the centavos thereof) 10 pesos for a giant mango, I dug 35 centavos from my pocket and offered it to the lady. No go. I wasn’t thinking, 35 centavos was more like the value of her 6 or 8 peso smaller mangos, she put her hand on one, i totally agreed. But when she tried to pass off the least respectable specimen for my change, I immediately selected my own, a nice ripe one which i would take to the roof of the Plaza later armed with a pocket knife and plate to catch the drips (and peels, i knew better than to eat that now).
The next day we were trundling through the countryside where mango ORCHARDS abounded. Deep pink and purple of the ripening fruits dropped like, well, hung like, um… pendants from the trees. So bizarre and beautiful. In Ceinfuegos the Js and I went in for 5 little ones for a CUC, way more than the advertised price but good for us. Apparently there are many different kinds of mangoes. The smaller ones are ripe in shades of yellow-orange and even green, the bigger ones (REALLY big in Cuba) always have some dark red to show they’re ripe enough). The smaller ones are also slightly more acidic.
The morning before we got on our plane home, i scouted out one more produce market somewhere in a hidden northern corner of La Habana Vieja, I wasn’t paying attention and agreed on the mango I was given, though, truth be told, they all looked a little underripe. For 50 cents, whatever. I had a few bits at the airport (with the aid of a plastic knife this time) but let C finish the rest, too acidic, a let down from my mango high.
Now, if they can get peaches to grow in Cuba (they have! a few) can’t I grow a mango tree of my own??