Yes, the Filipino mango, the most amazing fruit in the world. There is simply no tree-born treat like it. Unsurpassed in its ripe sweetness, the Filipino mango also has a remarkable smoothness that translates even into its transformed forms, such as the legendary dried mangoes balikbayans know so well. That’s not to mention the ripe mango shake found on these shores. Down south, the ripe mango shake is not only delish, it’s also really affordable. My wife has a nephew from California who can literally down a ripe mango shake with every meal whenever he’s here on vacation.
Growing up, we had a mango tree in the yard, a big, leafy tree that has mysterious fruit-bearing tactics. It was almost a hobby just waiting for any sign of developing fruits. Today, there is a mango tree here as well, and it becomes a delicate game of waiting: Does one pick the little, still-green mini mangoes or do we wait until the mangoes are in full form and risk a fruit-napping by those pesky squirrels with a sweet tooth?
Other fruits had their charms as well. I never liked guavas—but many others apparently do—but I do remember we had a slender but remarkably strong guava tree that was rooted in my family’s yard but whose branches stretched out over the wall to our neighbor’s yard. It was practically a ladder next door. We spent many a day crossing back and forth on that sturdy tree with the distinctively peeling bark. I don’t recall ever actually eating fruit from that guava tree but those sun-drenched afternoons are a gift I would never forget.
We somehow had a pretty good supply of star apples (never was a fruit name so accurate) and they came in handy one summer when we declared war on the kids in the house across the street due to the constant tug-of-war over the shared telephone line—what we called the party line back in the 1980s. One day, we collected all the star apples we could and began chucking them at the gate. Oh, the grownups from both houses were unhappy that day, but I have to admit, despite the wastefulness of it, seeing the neighbor’s gate literally covered in star apple bits was satisfying in its own way.
Fruits can be surprising. I only found out fairly recently that the atis is also known, variously, as the custard apple, sugar apple but, most accurately, as the sweetsop. The guyabano is the polar opposite, the soursop. How many grapes (seedless!) are you supposed to eat on new Year’s Eve exactly? And I still can’t get my head wrapped around the idea that the tomato has always been a fruit.
Perhaps the most beguiling experience of a fruit I can remember comes from what I considered the smallest variety I encountered. Back during those childhood afternoons when we race around trying to squeeze every minute we could from a day that was rapidly being pursued by a sinking sun, we looked around and found every game we could imagine, and made up a few more, surrounded by friends and unconquered by shadow. Those days are immortal and as sweet as the taste in our mouths, bunches of those tiny fruits we gathered by the handful, the aratiles (known otherwise by the rather unevocative tag, muntingia), each globe like a world of remembered flavor bursting alive with every bite.
Read about the latest twists on fruits in the September 6, 2009 issue of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.