Mangos topic of Community House potluck dinner
Published in Sanibel-Captiva Islander July 1, 2015 issue
The Community House came alive Wednesday night as individuals drifted into the facility with dishes in hand to share with others during the Wednesday potluck dinner and presentation by FruitScapes Owner Steve Cucura.
The large round tables filled with smiling faces as individuals caught up with friends and introduced themselves to some of the new faces that graced the center.
As attendees filled plates high with a variety of appetizers, entrees and desserts, they also had the opportunity to taste four different kinds of mangos that were at each table – Tommy Adkins, cogshall, nam doc mai and kent.
FruitScapes owner Steve Cucura began his presentation by giving an overview of the history of mangos, which are indigenous to India. He said mangos do not have a big production in the United States and they are hard to import because of the time it takes to ship them into the states.
“I’m from Virginia originally and I grew up tasting mangos in the grocery store and hated them,” he said. “I tried them one time and I never ate a mango again when I was living up there. I thought that was just how mangos were. Mangos are not an American produce. They only grow it in Florida and very restricted areas in California.”
In the late 1980’s Cucura was introduced to the mango again after visiting with a friend in Sarasota, who had a mango tree that grew a variety of 15 different kinds on one tree.
“I thought it was pretty extravagant having so many different varieties on there,” he said.
After Cucura tried a mango fresh from a tree he became hooked and traveled to India where he was introduced to more varieties.
“They have selected and kind of human engineered better varieties,” Cucura said of mangos that started in India thousands of years ago.
From India, the mangos traveled throughout the tropics before being introduced to Miami in 1880. Mangos do well in Florida because the weather is similar to that of India. Cucura said in India they have a drought for eight or nine months and a monsoon season for two or there months, which is very similar to Florida.
“Our climate mimics the India climate very well,” he said making the mango tree the easiest fruit tree to grow in Florida.
The mango eventually made its way to Pine Island when groves were established in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The mango is significant to Pine Island because the land is cheap and there are not too many tourists because there are no beaches, he said
Cucura said the north end of Pine Island is the best place to grow mangos because it is south of Charlotte Harbor, which holds all the heat during the winter time.
Mangos only ripen during the summer because once the temperatures drop below 70 degrees they no longer go through photosynthesis. He said mangos need both heat and moisture to produce a fruit.
The peak mango season falls between the beginning of June to the end of August. Cucura said they have about 80 varieties of mangos that will ripen one week after another with July 4 being when the ripe mangos overlap the most.
Cucura also shared information on how the mango tree was initially grown, compared to how it is grown today at his nursery in Bokeelia. He said when producing fruit an individual has to take all the seeds from the tree and grow them, which usually amounts to 1,000 trees.
“Some of them will survive and some of them will not. Some of them will wind up making a lot of fruit and some of them will not,” Cucura said. “Some of them will be a sweet fruit and some of them will not. You go through and select and narrow it down to one out of the thousand seeds that you planted.”
The mango that bares the best smelling leaf typically is among the chosen plant because it means the fruit will have the most flavor.
“Any mango that doesn’t have a stronger smell in the leaf is eliminated almost at birth,” he said.
Mango trees typically grow between five to eight years before they bare fruit because of the juvenile period they go through.
However, mango trees at Cucura’s nursery are grown under different circumstances. Although he grows mango trees by seed, he cuts the top of the tree off when the seedling becomes about a foot in height. Once the top is cut off, Cucura then takes a branch from the mother plant and grafts it onto the seedling.
The process is similar to surgery due to the tree being wrapped up and bagged before being placed in the greenhouse for a couple of months, so it grows and recovers and becomes a clone.
“The root stock is still the seedling, but the top that gives you fruit is a clone of the nam doc mai and it will give you fruit even if its only this tall,” Cucura said showing his hand mid waist. “A grafted tree will give you fruit right away even if it’s small.”
The tree, which is one of the most salt tolerant fruit trees, does not take much care to keep alive. On average it grows two to three feet a year. He said the best way to take care of a mango tree is by placing mulch around the trunk to replace some of the nutrients that are depleted during the fruit baring process.
The next potluck at the Community House will be held on Wednesday, July 22 featuring nutritious summer salads from Executive Chef and The Sanibel Sprout Co-Owner Nikki Rood.