The Fruit the World Can't Help But Love

Episode 1 January 11, 2022 00:28:02
The Fruit the World Can't Help But Love
Fruit Love Letters
The Fruit the World Can't Help But Love

Show Notes

"Strand me on an island with one food, I always choose you."

This is an impassioned ode to the mango. Host Jessamine Starr talks to mango expert Dr. Noris Ledesma, who fell in love with mangoes as a child in Colombia and has since spent much of her career studying this fruit. While both Jessamine and Noris share a great love for mango, Noris has made it her life's mission to ensure that it continues to thrive and make it to our kitchen tables. She has traveled around the world collecting mango species in an attempt to cultivate mangoes that can withstand everything from climate change and farmers' needs to the picky consumer's eye.

Topics covered in this episode:

Learn more about this episode of Fruit Love Letters at, on IG and Twitter at @whetstoneradio, and YouTube at /WhetstoneRadio.

Guest: Dr. Noris Ledesma (@norisledesma)

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hey everyone. I'm Jesse Sparks host of the new podcast. The one recipe from the team behind the splinted table. This pod is all about that one recipe that you lean on. The one you share with friends, the one you make, when you need a little love. And the one, you know, will work every single time. Every week. I talk with chefs and gifted cooks from all over the world about their one and the story behind it. We're here to help you build your kitchen library. One dish at a time, follow the one recipe, wherever you get your podcast. Speaker 1 00:00:29 Have you ever wondered why rotisserie chicken is so cheap or whether eating a plant based burger can really help fight climate change? Or how about what labels to look for? To know which food is the healthiest or the best for the environment. If those questions intrigue, you try the new podcast. What you're eating from food They connect the story behind your food, to what you eat every day. What you're eating helps you understand how food gets to your plate to see the full impact of the food system on animals, planet, and people from conversations with farmers and chefs, to discussions with policy experts on the barriers to sustainability food prints, new podcast covers everything from the why to the how join host Jerusha clipper director of food, every other week for new episodes and more answers to the question you have about what you're eating, listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcast or at food you're eating Speaker 3 00:01:42 Mango, mango, mango. This is personal very, you are my love. Yes. I love all fruit, but oh, you, I don't even wanna assign a word to this. Love the deepest realist. Most sincere, perhaps an obsession, a mango serotonin dependency. Strand me on an island with one food. I always choose you. About a decade ago, I bought a flight of mangoes and every single one was perfect firm, but juicy flesh that seamlessly pulled away from both pit and skin. Sweet orange meat, dense with sweaty floral notes. I ate them all. I don't know, 7, 8, 10 mangoes. All in one day I had no regrets. It felt right. Glorious. Even because this is love. Yes, everything. And the next mango I ate my body rejected or did mango reject my body. Don't answer either way. This love hurts. I can still eat a few bites without my inside screaming, but it's a handshake. When I want to spoon a postcard. When I want a ballad, a broken heart doesn't mean you're not still. My favorite memories are what? Right? The present tenses, you are my favorite, best fruit mango. Ask the world. They will agree. Speaker 3 00:03:47 I'm Jess star. You're listening to fruit. Love letters. Food for me is a way to express love. I'm a chef in Atlanta and I fold my feelings into the meals I cook for my family, my friends, even strangers. It can be hard for me to say, I love you, but you will know when I serve you roasted D DETA squash with cumin and fennel seeds. But if I peel you an apple slice you a persimmon, pick you a Mulberry with my stained fingers. Then we'll both know it's really serious. Fruit of course have long been considered symbols of love, even aphrodisiac on this show. I'm exploring our love of fruit and what it says about us. People on this episode, the mango Mango has so many admirers, so many homes, so many stories to tell. I thought, how will I choose the threads to follow? But I knew there was one person who could help. She stuck out for her breath of knowledge about mangoes her, look back at its origins, her hand in shaping its future. Speaker 5 00:05:17 Well I'm, NOIs Ledesma. I am a horticulturalist and have been dedicating my life to tropical fruits in general, with emphasis in mangoes. Speaker 3 00:05:32 I first saw Norris in a documentary about people who hunt and preserve exotic fruits. I called her up because her affection for the fruit was so clear. So contagious. It turns out Norris's love of mangoes started early when she was a little girl growing up in Columbia. Speaker 5 00:05:51 Well, mango was a treat for me because it was no Candice in those days in my small village. So when I was behaving by God, a man was a prize. It was a big mango tree in my backyard. So my grandmother used to pick the fruit for sale to the doctor in the little town. So precious fruit was for sale. So when I was behaving, I got mango as surprise. That's the memory that I have then when I was at the school, I remember when the ring sound for the break would run so quickly to get to Amanda was selling green mangoes outside the school. He was wearing a big hat with golden teeth, and he had these little bags with green manes and he had the option that you can put salt on it or lemon. So I was probably six years old by then. So every time when I travel, especially to Latin America, and I see those street vendors selling green mangoes still today, I cannot resist that. And I just take me back to those memories. Speaker 3 00:07:07 These days, Norris lives in Miami. She says, there's no shortage of mango trees in south Florida. Either Speaker 5 00:07:15 Every backyard, at least they have five different mango trees. And it's so nice to see that. And they grow the mangoes. Then they grew up with, because mangoes are a representation of our culture. Mango is not like a banana. That is, you know, it's a comfortable fruit and everybody can afford it. It has a perfect package. Then you can peel it. But I don't remember anybody saying, oh wow. I remember the bananas. And I ate when it was a little, nobody said that and they fill your belly and that's it. But you don't dream with bananas. You dream with mangos, talk with anybody, different communities, different countries, they roll their eyes up and start telling you about the grandfather, their cousins. And they just travel in time. Talking about mangoes. That's a fruit to dream is not a fruit to eat. It is just, uh, an experience eating a mango. And that's what I could like to bring. It is just diversity. And if you come to Florida, talk to me, I give you some very nice instructions to have mango hunting. Speaker 3 00:08:32 This is how excited Noice is about mangoes. She'll offer total strangers like me, grand tours on the Florida mango trail on a whim, just because she wants to share her love of the mango. Speaker 5 00:08:48 I will be more than happy to take you around. You can come and visit the entire peninsula, close to the ocean, starting from Tampa, going all the way south to the keys and come back to the Atlantic coast to Mary island. All this territory is mango land. And they came here in 1700 with the pilots and they made this land home. And it's so many stories, people so passionate about their food. They are mango collectors in every backyard here in our community. And they are always in meetings, beautiful meetings, sharing their fruit, their ditches. You know, you can make Ney, you can make salsas, everybody have their own version, how to cook with the fruit, how to use it. It is just an experience to visit us during ma Speaker 3 00:09:45 Noe says these mango trees all over south Florida, they're all different varieties. Speaker 5 00:09:51 I can tell who lives in that house based in the kind of mangos they have and say, oh, these are from the Caribbean and I'm brave enough and knock the door. And I just start talking about mangos with my neighbors. And yes, they are from the Caribbean <laugh>. I was sure about it. And they are is based on what they have in the backyard. Speaker 3 00:10:15 The plenty of mangoes Norris is describing in Florida. Those are primarily for personal consumption. 99% of mangoes sold in stores in the us come from abroad, mostly Mexico. Some also come from south and central America, even India. And these mangoes, they're not exactly fresh from the tree, Speaker 5 00:10:36 Any mango that arrive to the us, they have to go through hot water treatment in order to kill the disease. Deceased is in the seed and we don't take it here and probably contaminate our agriculture. You can also eradiate the mangoes. That's the way that we introduce mangos from India. They get eradiated here in the us. Speaker 3 00:11:03 Part of Norris's mission as a horticulturalist is to help farmers figure out a profitable, sustainable way to grow mangoes in the us that involves creating new varieties of mangoes that work here. Speaker 5 00:11:18 So for 20 years, I've been traveling to Borneo, Malaysia, Indonesia, those different islands, where all the remain of the man species, the grandpa of the mango is still standing without them. We don't have those basic lines of resistant to diseases, be able to grow in salty conditions in swamps, in higher altitude. So all that information is there. And many of those species are in danger. So the best way to do it when I was working was to try to rescue some of those genes, basically introducing some of that material to our land in America, grow them in a way that they can survive in our soils. That means doing graftings, using different species than they can adjust to our soils here. So it was practically 10 years learning. What are the right combinations to make them to survive in our conditions? Finally, they did it. Speaker 5 00:12:34 They passed the first winter, which was the other challenge. They are coming from the real tropics and coming here during the winter, even in south Florida, it's very cold for them. So many of them, they didn't made it. And the survivors, they made it after many tribes and failures. So we start working with those and we put them together with the mango that you and me are familiar with all this mango that you can get in the store or some of the mangoes and are growing in the Philippines in Mexico, in India, Africa everywhere. And we make some combinations. I was trying just to be the Cupid of the mangoes and put them together. Speaker 3 00:13:23 The mangoes that she's match making need, not just work in the soils here, but to also handle constantly emerging problems that applies in the us as well as the other major mango growing regions Speaker 5 00:13:38 Today is just problems. Everywhere you go. In terms of growing food, you have to face environmental issues, contamination, the deterioration of soils and water, and too many chemicals, too many inputs, too many technicians with different views and confuse the farmers. They don't know what to do, and they are in this grace to make profits and no matter what they do, they still in debt. So my goal is to try to help them in a different perspective and is long term is using genes than are more productive. Speaker 3 00:14:22 For example, one specific issue she's breeding for is the ability to avoid disease without having to use chemicals. Speaker 5 00:14:30 So that's one of my goals. The other one is mangoes and are more tropical than they don't need bloom induction. What is happening in the majority of the countries that are producing mangoes for the us customers are mangos were selected in south Florida are mangoes and are tropicals. Speaker 3 00:14:49 Florida used to more mangoes, like Nora said, most of the mangoes now grown abroad and imported to the us were actually developed here. But us growers couldn't compete with cheaper imports than hurricane Andrew in the early 1990s destroyed a bunch of orchards and the industry never recovered. The problem is mangoes developed in Florida. Aren't quite right for some hotter climates where they grow now, particularly in our warming climate, Speaker 5 00:15:20 They don't have the chalk of the weather in order to bloom. No, naturally they have to do it with chemicals and are heavy chemicals that are probably dangerous for you Speaker 3 00:15:33 Because it's too cold here. Is that why? Speaker 5 00:15:37 Yeah. Mangoes need this shock of cold in order to bloom, especially the mangoes that have been developed here in south Florida, which is the majority of the mango stand. Then we import to the market in the us Tomkins, which are the red ones. Kit is also a selection from south Florida. And we have also the ATFA, which is the yellow one. This is from Mexico, initially from the Philippines. And this is the only one that is more tropical in reality, but the majority of the mangos are coming to the us are coming from Mexico and to Atkins is the number one. So to avoid this problem and try to get some mangos and are more appealing for the farmers to sell to the biggest customer, which is the us, it has to be a mango. And it's more tropical. I've been working with the Peruvian farmers for about 20 years and they produce Kent. Speaker 5 00:16:34 Kent is the same stories, a mango that needs this cold wheat in order to bloom. And with the global warming, they had been facing problems every year and the mangos, they don't bloom naturally like before they grow mangos in the desert in PRA in Peru, in the Pacific coast. And they're facing a lot of problems because they don't bloom. So they are bringing a lot of consultants, experts in bloom induction than some of them. They said, no, it's better than you do this. You do this. And they are spending more and more money in order to produce their crops. But the reality, that's not a solution. The solution are tropical mangos. They have to be more tropical. And what better than the, of the mango and they're coming from the real Tropic areas. And the third objective for me is to create a mango tennis, poor pork skin. Speaker 3 00:17:32 I had heard Noice talk about this in past interviews in articles, this dogged pursuit of a mango with purple skin, why purple, Speaker 5 00:17:43 Purple skin. It is a plus in different ways for the customer and for the producer, for the farmer, the losses of yellow S ski mangoes are about 60% because they get rejected for the imperfections that they can get for the carbs from the harvest, or they get some stain when they are harvesting the food for the latex and drops in the fruit, any kind of imperfection of the fruit. It shows in yellow skin mango. When you have a dark skin mango like purple or red, even red, you come and flush those a little imperfections and they don't get rejected in the market. It is insane to see the losses of fruit just in the packing house. If the consumer realize that they will be more appealing to accept a little scars in their fruit, because the losses are huge. The other important thing for me about purple color is because it's a color that doesn't need any marketing. We are making our carrots purple tomatoes. We are making them purple because it is something that the consumer have in their mind that is good for your health, that it's antioxidant. Then it make you younger. That is good for, to prevent cancer. So it is a win, win situation. If we can create a purple mango, Speaker 3 00:19:16 Right. Basically just hiding our encouraging people to buy a beautiful fruit or not waste. What has been bruised because they want something that looks pretty. Speaker 5 00:19:29 Yeah. I remember growing in Colombia, having a banana with all the, the spots on it, it was better <laugh> it was delicious for us, but here they are rejected. Speaker 3 00:19:45 What's your favorite way to eat mango today? Speaker 5 00:19:49 Oh my God. You know, it's a difficult answer because it depends on my mood. I will say there are some mangoes and I like to eat them like the Egyptian way. They make a mangos smoothie in a cup. When you go to Egypt, they have this mango and they call it SEPTA. It is green as skin. Then they have no fiber, orange, very orange flesh. And you just batch them with your fingers, make a little bite in the pick of the mango and they just squeeze it in a cup and you just drink it. So I like that way, but without the cup, I just drink it in the field when I'm working and I get messy because that's the best way to eat a mango is just to get messy, forget about, to be sophisticated and all that. Speaker 3 00:20:43 That sounds perfect. Speaker 5 00:20:45 It's good to feel like a lady and sophisticated lady and you want to be treated well. So working with chefs, I try to learn at different ways to eat and present a mango in a different scenario, to have a wonderful China to serve it. And there are some mangoes like once from the Caribbean, they are easy to clean. So you basically take the knife, call it across, like in the middle, twist it. And you have two cup with a hole in the middle. You can put that in a very nice tray. Fill the hole that used to be the seed with berries, whipping cream, just eat it with a spoon. So that's another very simple way to eat a mango that is different and more sophisticated. There are mangoes than you can eat with the spoon so easily because they have no fiber at all. And the juices just melt in your mouth. Like Angie, that's one of the most sophisticated mangos I can recommend to eat. Speaker 3 00:21:56 So here in the us, we can really only get the Tommy Atkins and the Alfonso. So why is that? Why can't we get all these amazing mangoes that you're talking about? Why is it so limited in the us Speaker 5 00:22:10 Quantity? We are talking about big corporations. And in order to be able to make profits, you have to have the value. You have to have a lot of fruit in the right time to cover all the windows. That means that you can provide food from January to December. So if you don't have that quantity, it is very difficult to promote it to cheap it, everything. Speaker 3 00:22:38 Do you think we'll ever have more varieties available in the us? Speaker 5 00:22:43 They are already, they are already in a small amount, but I seen the changes in the past 10 years, we have different diversity. They are coming now palms from Brazil, which is a very good food. Still selected in south Florida. We have nada ma that is coming from central America and also Puerto Rico. We have some of the Indian mangos locally grown in the Dominican Republic. Very delicious, good mangos. We have Kea Alfonso being bings that are coming from the Dominican Republic. We have the Haitian mangos that are delicious as well. Like Manam Francis and Baptist. They are available now in the us. We have the Caribbean with wonderful mangos coming to the us. The market is changing. You will see more diversity very soon. Speaker 3 00:23:39 So I have a very personal question to ask. I love mangoes. Even the Tommy Atkins, which I realize is not the pinnacle, but it's the mango that I can eat. I love all fruit, but really mango is my favorite. And I've always eaten a lot of it. And about 10 years ago, I got a really good box of mangoes and I ate them all probably in a very unladylike way. I'm sure like you're talking, I think I ate eight or nine or 10 in one day. And then the next day I got a rash on my face and it went away. And then I went back to eating mangoes. And now every time I eat mangoes, I get a rash or my stomach gets a little upset. Is there any hope for me to find a mango that I can still enjoy? Speaker 5 00:24:31 Well, it's unfortunately, and it's a reality that many people have suffering for allergies and a mango is one of them. And it's related with a compound than the mango has. And it's called manera actually, and is more present in the skin than in the flesh. Speaker 3 00:24:53 So it's the peel of the fruit that contain the allergen. And it's the same stuff that's in poison Ivy because these plants are actually related. Speaker 5 00:25:03 So my recommendation to you, there are some different levels of allergies with mangoes and my experiences. If it's not that severe is you had so many mangoes in one day. Speaker 3 00:25:15 <laugh> I did, I did. It was a little, it was a little much. Obviously Speaker 5 00:25:19 We need more consumers like you. And let me tell you, it is hope for you because I know I had volunteers during my career. In the beginning, they didn't have allergies for mangoes and eating so many mangoes during the season. They start getting these reactions. So they start using gloves to peel the fruit. That's something that you can do. Don't wrap your eyes when you are touching the fruit and eat it with a fork and you spread it in your mouth at the flesh, and I'm sure you will be fine. And suddenly you can gain a strength and be able to eat mangoes like before. Speaker 3 00:25:58 This is great to hear because a life without mangoes just seems a little gray. I love them so much. Speaker 5 00:26:08 How not to love mangoes. Mangoes gave me everything that I am today. Just a little Latin girl, with a funny accent, coming to the us and living the American dream and being able. Then through mangoes, I met wonderful people everywhere. I have a, a mango family everywhere I go, how not to love mangoes. It is impossible to me. If I want to go to India, I have a Indian family that opened their house for me because of mangos anywhere. I have a friend that wants to travel and he called me, he's on vacation with his family. Noe I'm here in Thailand. Do you know anybody that grow mango so I can go on and he's on vacation <laugh> and this is just a different community. Our mango community is very special. It is a family. Speaker 3 00:27:03 That's wonderful. Speaker 5 00:27:04 We are happy to have you as part of our family. You consume so many manes and just use your gloves and use a fork to eat them. Speaker 3 00:27:14 And I'll just have my allergic reaction and deal with it. It's worth it. Some love is worth, whatever it takes. Thank you to our guest today. Noice Lama, you can subscribe to fruit, love letters anywhere you get your podcasts, and we'll be back next week. With more love letters to fruit, Fruit, love letters is part of what stone radio collective. So thank you to the fruit, love letters, team producer, Joof audio editor, Bethany sands researcher, Carolyn Crosby, and intern indigo Clarkson. I'd also like to thank what stone founder, Steven Satterfield, what stone radio collective executive producer, Celine Glaser sound engineer, max cold associate producer, Quin Lebo, and sound intern, Simon lavender. I'm Jess star. Thanks for listening to fruit. You can learn more about this [email protected] at Instagram and Twitter at Wetstone radio and subscribe to our YouTube channel Wetstone radio collective. For more podcast, video content, you can learn more about all things [email protected]

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