The Making of a Manatic

Fellow travelers, it's time to talk about the mango

This year, by necessity, I was merciless in a different way -- I put my cats and kids on squirrel patrol, thus saving at least a dozen rosy specimens from gnawed extinction. For the layperson, that's about four cups of mango salsa I didn't have to buy. And I'm just a hobbyist. Industry producers were so devastated, their distress was broadcast on the front page of the Herald, displacing the relatively unimportant news about terrorism and suicide bombings and such.

Fortunately the experts at Fairchild had predicted correctly and wisely about the forthcoming season, and they managed to save enough fruit to make the festival a froth of smoothies. They also grafted 1700 trees over the previous winter, 700 more than last year, focusing on the most popular varieties like the ice cream mango. Author of The Great Mango Book, Chef Allen Susser says that in 2001, "The trees went on sale at 9:30 a.m. and were sold out by 9:40." This year, by midday, the ice cream cultivar was still available, though the Mallika -- a hybrid from two Indian mangos that has the capability of being the first space-saving dwarf mango in Florida -- was the first to sell out hours before. Next year I set my alarm.

But no one seemed to harbor doubts about the success of the festival itself. Ten-year volunteers like Chris Kilroy, manning the tree-sales tables, noted that attendance seemed right on line with previous years. Just to look at the newbie trees, folks had to wait for ten minutes in line.

Nor did the weather, so abruptly and unbearably humid after these past weeks of rain that Chef Allen had to joke about the likelihood of wearing rubber boots to the grounds, deter the devoted followers of mango rule. Photographer Mark Diamond, exhibiting his comprehensive mango poster that features more than 100 cultivars, enjoyed such brisk sales he thinks his work is going up in country kitchens ranging from Texas to Scotland. Indeed his determination to collect and photograph the largest number of varietals ever pretty much sums up the credo of all manatics, in good seasons or bad, whether we have been born or made: "I did it as a labor of love."

But then he's preaching to the converted.

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