By Erin Stover Sickmen
Anyone who says the Keys don’t have seasons hasn’t experienced summer south of Miami. Aside from a near constant threat of spontaneous combustion, the Keys also experience waves of blooms, baby chicks, and a magical crop of nature’s most delightful tropical fruit. From May to July, mangoes reign supreme. Mailboxes serve as trading posts and residents stand guard, ready to chase fence-jumpers looking for a free sweet treat. And yes, the “Mango Fairy” is absolutely real. How else could residents explain the ripe fruits that turn up on their porches or their desks at work? It’s not just individuals rejoicing, though. Organizations throughout the Keys are eager to celebrate.
Mango Festival – PAL
The Police Athletic League (PAL) offers a Mango Festival as its largest fundraiser of the year. K9 Detective and PAL board member Jesse Hammers turned his local love of mango season into an opportunity to help Key West kids. “As a kid, you’re waiting out in the streets for the fruit to drop, and you know when the season is starting,” said Hammers. “Now that I’m on the board of the PAL, we’ve rolled that into a festival.” The festival helps PAL raise money for programs like sports leagues and summer camps. This year, PAL has expanded its festival offerings to include a Paint-and-Sip at Key West Harbor on Thursday, June 27 and a kickoff party at Rick’s Bar on June 28. On Saturday, June 29 the day starts with a 5K and ends with a mango-themed scavenger hunt through Old Town. And of course, the perennially popular culinary competition will once again be part of the festivities. Hammers knows that visitors have to brave the heat to enjoy the party, but hopes it’s not a deterrent. “Unfortunately it’s the hottest time of the year, but you can’t have a mango festival without it being mango season”, said Hammers.
Mango Madness – TSKW
The Studios of Key West celebrates the aesthetics of everyone’s favorite warm-hued beauty with its annual Mango Madness Members Show. Every summer, this popular exhibition invites members to showcase their latest mango-inspired works of art. On Thursday, June 6 from 6 to 8 p.m., the Studios will present paintings, sculptures and photographs on all three floors of the building. As annual tradition prescribes, the bar will serve artist Perry Arnold’s famous Mango Margaritas – the only night of the year when Key Westers can taste the secret recipe that includes fresh mangoes from Arnold’s tree.
Mango Festival – Fairchild Garden
For those seeking a road trip, the granddaddy of mango festivals is just up the road at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables. The annual festival offers a weekend jam-packed with vendors, mango tastings, cooking demos, classes, kids’ activities and live music. The annual brunch, a highlight of the weekend, takes place on Sunday, July 14 and features dishes by five distinct chefs, including James Beard Award winner Allen Susser, who was named one of the 10 best chefs in the U.S. by “Food & Wine.” For armchair travelers and at-home chefs, Susser has also written the seminal book on mangoes as culinary treats, “The Great Mango Book.”
Grimal Grove – sponsor a tree
Mango lovers may also opt to help preserve and rebuild the Keys’ beloved mango trees. Grimal Grove on Big Pine Key is an urban farm dedicated to preserving the native fruit trees of the Keys while educating the public about their importance. Sadly, the Grove endured a direct hit from Hurricane Irma and is still recovering. As they work to rebuild their grounds, they have set up a fundraiser (Go Fund Me – “Grove for the Future”) through which dedicated conservationists can sponsor a tree to help offset the costs of new plantings and the maintenance of surviving trees. An original Grimal Grove Lancitilla Mango is available for $500, while new mango trees can be sponsored for $200. Supporters will be able to introduce their tree to new visitors when Grimal Grove reopens to the public in 2020.
Of course, it is hot outside. For those needing to beat the heat, the Key Largo Conch House offers up a delicious recipe with a sustainable slant – lionfish with mango sweet pepper salsa. A dip under the waves sounds refreshing, but if the spear gun isn’t sharpened, cooks can pick up any of the Keys’ fabulous fish options available at local markets like Eaton Seafood in Key West or Keys Fisheries in Marathon. And of course, anyone in the Keys can attest that the best way to beat the heat involves nothing more than fresh mangoes, a little juice, a lot of ice … and maybe just a dash of rum.