20 April 2011

Much Adieu About Mangos

When we lived on the farm in the mountains of Costa Rica, one of the many kind of fruit that grew on the farm was mango. To be more specific there were Mangas and Mangos...The mango is the male tree, the manga is the female. The mango tree produces quantities of small greenish yellow fruits that turn yellow orange when ripe. The manga is a much larger fruit full bodied and heavy. It starts out deep green and takes on a red blush as it matures. When completely ripe, the manga is mostly orangish yellow with spots of green and a beautiful red blush on one end. The trees are less prolific than the mango, but the fruit makes up for it in looks and taste!
On the farm there was a long lane that went from the farm house to the mountain top where we had our cabina, gardens and livestock. The lane was lined on the left with a small grove of manga trees and then at the mid point there was a dark deeply shaded area where the mature mango trees stood and cast their shade for some distance. During mango season the large mango trees would be filled with parrots of all sizes. When they made their circuit through the farm, the nomadic Howler monkeys would join them in the trees to feast on the small mangoes high up in the trees. The lane was the only passageway from the cabina to the farmhouse unless you wanted to try wading through the rain forest, but it was a messy, noisy passage if you happened to need to go under the mango trees while the parrots were eating their dinner! Pieces of mango, pits and poop, would rain from the trees. The cacophony of squawking parrots and howling monkeys could be heard all over the farm. It was something to behold!
Fortunately for us there were plenty of mangoes to go around and for some reason, neither the parrots nor the monkeys bothered the mangas.
Recently, I went to the local Harris Teeter grocery store. It tends to be on the high end as far as prices go but has great sales. I shop there for the sales, so this past week I went in for the store flyer so that I could plan my weeks "sale" shopping list. I saw large crates of mangoes stacked close to the door with the prices posted at 49 cents each. Normally the best price on mangoes is about $1 each so to get them for half that was a real deal! So I bought 20 of them and went happily home to work them up.
Not all of the mangoes were ripe enough to eat so they were set out in a bowl to decorate my counter with their multicolored loveliness until they were ready. I selected the ripe ones and put half of them out for eating, the rest I cut up and froze for future use.
I have discovered that the best way for me to get the fruit out of the skin is to stand it on its end and make a long slice close to the seed. Then I put the slice in my hand, mango skin to my palm and score a checker pattern through the fruit, without cutting through the skin underneath. Then I push the slice inside out and scrape the scored mango off the skin into a bowl. I repeat with the other side of the mango. This leaves a seed with some pulp on it and a small ring of skin and flesh around the outside of the seed. I take the small ring of skin off, squeeze the pulp off the skin into a separate freezer container and then strip the remaining pulp off the seed into the container as well. I then put the freezer container in the refrigerator's freezer and use it to add to smoothies. Since I stripped all the pulp from the seed and the skin there is very little wasted fruit. The seed and skin go in the compost bucket and the yummy mango pieces are eaten in a variety of ways. The simplest way is straight out of the bowl, (spoon optional...), but there are many other delicious ways to enjoy them.
This time I am preparing most of the mangoes for use as part of breakfast smoothies. I prepare them as I discussed previously only I place them on a freezer paper covered cookie sheet (glossy side up), with the juice and pulp I squeezed off the seed. Then I place the cookie sheet in the deep freeze for a couple of hours so that when I put them in the freezer bags they don't freeze into a solid mass that is difficult to work with at smoothie time. The individually frozen pieces can be taken out of the bag a handful at a time to be added to the blender with other frozen fruit. Add juice to make a frosty, thick, natural delight, that is great for breakfast starters or between meal snacks.
When the kids were small I used to take the same ingredients blend them up and pour the contents in the little popsicle forms, add a popsicle stick to each cup and freeze solid. With all fruit, no sugar, no artificial flavors or coloring, there was no reason the kids (and their friends...),couldn't help themselves to them whenever they wanted one, no permission needed.
For my birthday this past year my husband bought me an Excalibur dehydrator. I love it and use it all the time. Making fruit leathers is one of the really easy, tasty things that can be done with a dehydrator. So since the mangoes are plentiful right now I will be making some fruit leathers with mango. To make fruit leather you need a blender, a dehydrator and some silica sheets, (Excalibur sell a silica sheet that fits the trays in the dehydrator, other dehydrators have solid trays that serve the same purpose). Blend the fruit in the blender until smooth, then pour the blended fruit onto the sheet and spread out starting in the center and work to the edges. Try to distribute the mixture evenly so that the fruit leather dries uniformly. You can use a single fruit or a blend of different ones. Other things can be added, such as natural flavorings, spices, nuts or coconut. Just sprinkle on top of the fruit pulp after it is spread out on the sheet. Set the dehydrator on the temperature setting recommended by the dehydrator you are using and set the time for the minimum recommended. Keep a check on the progress as the leather starts to get tacky, so that you don't have crispy leathers. The finished product should be pliable but not sticky and should peel off the sheet in one piece. Be sure there are no wet places around the nuts or coconut if added. Once the correct consistency is achieved the fruit leather can be rolled into rolls lengthwise and then cut into desired lengths. I cut out pieces of plastic wax paper longer and wider than the fruit leather, lay the leather on the wax paper and then roll it up. Once in a roll I cut it to desired length and then wrap in plastic wrap. The wax paper keeps the fruit from sticking together and makes unrolling the leather to eat it easier, the plastic keeps it from drying out or sticking to other rolls. If you want to have rolls of fruit leather you can bite pieces off of, just skip the wax paper, roll the leather up in a tight roll and then wrap in plastic.
In Costa Rica, where they are as common as apples are in the USA, there are a great number of recipes for using mangoes in all stages of ripening. Green mangoes are used like apples to make pies, are seasoned with spices and cooked into chutneys, marinated in spices and vinegar to make pickles and more. Mango sorbet is also a healthful, delicious dessert, with no cooking and no sugar involved.
  Chose mangoes for fresh eating by gently squeezing them between your thumb and forefinger. If it feels hard to the touch, it is days away from ready. If there is a lot of give when you squeeze then it is probably past its prime but would be great for sorbet, mango bread, or smoothies. For eating as soon as you get it home from the store, the mango should give some when squeezed but not feel mushy, and have an overall orangey gold tone to the skin with a deeper red blush on one end. There will be a soft sweet mango aroma that is the final indication of a perfectly ripe mango. However you eat them, with a spoon in a bowl or peeled like a banana and eaten over the railing of the front porch, enjoy them and imagine the balmy breezes and pure rain that washes them as they are growing, maybe even add the sounds of parrots squawking and monkeys howling and you will have the worlds cheapest tropical vacation. Enjoy and don't forget the napkins!

10 April 2011

Springtime at Heart's Ease Cottage

Springtime at Heart's Ease Cottage means thousands of azalea blooms, spring veggies in the garden, fruit blossoms, bluebirds, and the emergence of the bull frog from the front garden "frog pond". Here is a photographic Springtime stroll through the cottage gardens.
Violas and Lemon Thyme
Granny Smith Apple Blossoms

Espalier Apple Tree
Blueberry Blossoms
Russian Red Mustard

This is our resident Bullfrog. He has lived in this little pond for many years.

I hope you enjoyed the walk and that you'll check back another day and see what we're up to! Until then, Shalom!

06 April 2011

It Is Spring After All

Misty morning at a nearby pasture.
  I have many things that I want to write about, the last part of my pantry keeping post, tips on how to get the most out of your grocery money, but today I just want to talk about how beautiful it is outside. This morning it was frosty and cold,  a mist rose from the grass when the sun hit it and the birds sprang to song as the morning light hit the trees. As I stood outside with the dog, he sniffed at the air, seemingly as distracted by the the awakening world as I was. It was going to be a lovely day.

  Today is Wednesday, so I have the house to myself. My son is at work, and my husband works in the office on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Since I was on my own a took the opportunity to do some things I don't often get to when others are home. I worked on my blog, prepared letters for mailing, and walked around the yard with my camera to catch the garden in it's p.j.'s. The tender leafed veggies always look their crispy best before the sun is warm and strong, so I strolled out and caught the pale early morning sunlight as it streamed through the espaliered fruit trees and struck the tips of the Russian red mustard.
I then made my way around the garden taking pictures of the progress of the  veggies we planted in the fall. Normally, we plant in August/ September for a November/ December harvest and let some of the beds rest the last of the deep cold is gone, the remaining beds will be tucked in with hoop houses and planted with veggies that don't mind some cold. This year, winter arrived early and we never got a fall harvest. The temps. stayed cold enough that the vegetables all decided to hunker down for the winter and waited for the warmer weather of early Spring to arrive before putting on growth. Now we have cabbages heading up, red mustard furling their large deeply crinkled leaves, and fava beans putting on masses of purple and white blossoms. The garlic is looking good with thick sturdy stems and the red and green romaine is ready to go to the salad bowl.
Jersey Wakefield Cabbages begin to head up.
Fava bean flowers

  Once the sun was up and the chill burned out of the air, I stood barefoot at the potting table and planted seeds for some of our warm weather vegetables. The cat came to see what she could help with and had to be dismissed when she almost pushed a watering can full diluted fish emulsion off the deck rail. She went off in a huff to sulk under the rose arbor, her tail twitching to show her displeasure. Today I started yellow pear tomatoes, artichokes, spinach and bell peppers. I fed the flats of Neon and Bright Lights swiss chard, and Detroit Beets. They are ready to go in the ground when I get a few minutes to pop them in. The breeze is blowing and the air is just cool enough to be refreshing. It reminds me of mornings on our mountain in Costa Rica.
   Several projects will demand my attention tomorrow, but for today I am going to enjoy a day without rain and play outside. Tomorrow it is back to work, it is spring after all and there is much to be done!
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