If you adore mangoes like I do, this festival is for you. This year’s theme was “Mangoes of Cuba” and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden did a fantastic job of pulling it altogether at the 24th International Mango Festival, with Cuban activities, merchandise, music and cuisine.

It was my first time experiencing this festival because I thought the crowd would be too much, but even with over 3,000 attending each day and the July heat, I didn’t feel cramped. Fairchild Garden is huge, and there are lots of places to hang out.

Highlights


The Mangoes of the World display featured a huge collection of the fruits, all grown at the Fairchild farm; many originated in Southeast Asia. These mangoes were auctioned off the next day.

Mango lectures and workshops taught attendees how to plant, prune, graft, and care for mango trees. Noris Ledesma gave a lively talk on Cuban mangoes — the Prieto, Biscochuelo, and Toledo — and I was surprised to hear that in Cuba, they cook mangoes as an afternoon snack to have with their cafecito.

About 5,000 guests went through the mango tasting and flavor evaluations. At $2 per person, it was a steal, and very fun. The crowds’ Top-3 favorites were the Angie, Mallika, and Nam Doc Mai. An impressive 3,250 mangoes were freshly cut for our tasting pleasure.

The Beer Garden even served mango-flavored beer.

Concrete Beach Brewery showcased a mango brew in the Beer Garden. / Eleanor Hoh

Concrete Beach Brewery showcased a mango brew in the Beer Garden. / Eleanor Hoh

Mango-tree sales were brisk: 900 were sold during the two-day festival. The most popular tree was the Angie, for its disease tolerance and nonfibrous flesh.

Cooking demonstrations featured only one savory entree: Toledo Mango and Wild Shrimp Mojo, by Chef Allen Susser. The rest were mostly desserts, using mangoes.

Mango Brunch

One of the highlights, the Mango Brunch took place on the last day of the International Mango Festival to help raise funds for Fairchild’s Tropical Fruit Program. Eight chefs, including Mark Militello and Allen Susser, delighted guests with their signature dishes, featuring mango, of course. I loved seeing many of the chefs with their children helping out.

The Mango Brunch was a brilliant setup. On one side was a spectacular vision featuring over 3,000 mangoes laid out for view for the auction; the perfume from them was intoxicating. On the other side, chefs lined up with their  brunch creations. In the middle were tables.

It was fascinating how each chef used the mango in a different way, from Kris Wessel of Wessel’s Tropical BBQ’s Eggs Benedict, with Spicy Mango & Jam Toast; to Dewey Losasso, of Redlander Restaurant, who prepared Steak and Grits with Smoked Mango BBQ.

You can’t have a Mango Brunch without a dessert. I got the last piece of Chef Gaetano Ascione’s Mango Ricotta Cheesecake with Truffle Honey, a perfect end and not too sweet.

Next up was the Mango Auction. I took a stroll into the orchid-and-butterfly garden to walk off the brunch before the auction, and glad I did. The sounds of the trickling stream, and the sight of the exotic orchids and beautiful butterflies, reminded me why we live in this tropical paradise.

Nothing prepared me for the auction. Fairchild Garden’s  Richard Campbell, director of horticulture; and Noris Ledesma, curator of tropical fruit, drove the  show. After doing this for 17 years, they have this down pat and, together with a professional auctioneer, they revved up the crowd.

Folks were bidding at dizzying amounts with the highest of $300 for a basket of mangoes, depending on their size, usually five to eight in one basket. About 3,000 mangoes were sold at the auction, raising some $7,000. It was fun to watch the auction and see people’s emotions running high.

Visit Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, especially if you like orchids and butterflies, and enjoy the many events throughout the year (fairchildgarden.org).

Visit Katy Lynch’s post, with advice from chefs on how they like to use mangoes.