For enthusiastic cooks, the arrival of new seasonal ingredients is a huge pleasure, inspiring the creation of recipes that make the most of the fleeting availability of the produce of the moment. Here, Jenny Linford - author of The Missing Ingredient: The Curious Role of Time in Food and Flavour - celebrates the annual Alphonso mango season in May and June, when crates of perfectly ripe, sweet and juicy Indian mangoes reach our shores by the crate-load.
A brief season catches your attention in a special way. To begin with there is the charm of anticipation, of looking forward to something coming into season; next there is the satisfaction of enjoying the first that year; then, as it becomes plentiful, gorging on it; and, finally, there is realizing that the window to enjoy it has gone and you will simply have to wait another year. With the arrival of spring come treats that have a special place in my affections. The first is Alphonso mangoes from India, noted for their smooth flesh, deep orange colour and noticeable perfume. This is the time of year when I go on a mango-buying expedition to Fruity Fresh’s huge store on Ealing Road in Wembley, returning with a large box of Alphonsos to be devoured with relish by myself, my family and friends.
Serving Alphonso mangoes simply involves cutting off the mango ‘cheeks’ and scooping out the soft flesh which, while intensely sweet is not cloying, cut through with notes of pine. Committed mango lovers then move on to suck the flesh from the skin and the large stone, relishing the particular flavour these parts of the fruit offer. During the Indian and Pakistani mango season, Fruity Fresh has stacks of boxes of mangoes piled high, with customers coming in a steady stream to buy them, opening the lids and assessing them closely before making a purchase.
While nowadays Fruity Fresh imports, wholesales and sells a huge range of fresh tropical produce, the business’s roots and fame can be traced back to 1978, when its founder, Ashok Chowdry, began importing mangoes, then a rarely seen, little-known fruit. The trade grew in volume, creating the foundation for his successful exotic produce importing business. Over the decades, Ashok has seen the interest in Indian mangoes spread beyond the Indian community. Now the work at the Fruity Fresh warehouse begins each night at Western International Market, Southall, carrying on into the next day. ‘At midnight the warehouse is buzzing, because you’ve got all the goods coming off the aeroplanes,’ Ashok’s son Neil Chowdry tells me. ‘Once they come off the aeroplanes they are put on a lorry. When the lorry arrives at the warehouse, you’ve got to do stock control, check you’ve got what you should have, do quality control, separate out the products, send them out to the customers. I want to give my customers the freshest produce.’ During the mango season, around 3 tonnes of mangoes will be processed every couple of days. Because Alphonsos are especially perishable, the emphasis is on processing them quickly, getting them to the shops within a few hours.
Although Alphonso mangoes come in season in India in March, because of the high cost of airfreighting them Fruity Fresh wait until April, when the mangoes are more plentiful and the price per mango is lower before importing. Even then, they are an expensive treat. ‘When we have a large volume of Alphonso mangoes, you smell it the other end of our market,’ laughs Neil Chowdry. He muses on the special appeal of the Alphonso. ‘When my wife and I have my in‑laws round for dinner and we sit around with a box of good mangoes, it just brings everyone together. All the family are sitting round the table and enjoying the fruit; the little kids are going gaga because there aren’t many fruits as sweet as a mango.’ It is a pleasurable picture, which mirrors my own experience.
From April to late June, Alphonso mangoes are available to buy in the UK. They can be used as the star ingredient in a host of sweet and savoury dishes, including salads, salsas, fools and syllabubs. For mango recipe inspiration, take a look at this collection of our favourite mango recipes.