I recently went to Nevis on a press trip and ate my weight in mangoes. The Nevis tourism board flew writers to the small Caribbean island for a mango festival and other events, like mango-forward dinners, mango cocktail hours, snorkeling off a catamaran, and hotel tours. You know, typical mango junket stuff. All told, I could have eaten around 3 million mangoes in various preparations over the course of four days. We’re talking mango chutney, cocktails with mango purée, mango slaw, mango sherbet, mango skewers, plain old sliced mango, mango hot sauce, mango biscotti, mango gelée, and others I’m forgetting. There was also a multi-day cooking competition with Nevisian chefs that was judged by Americans Seamus Mullen and Judy Joo. They were jokingly calling it “Iron Chef: Nevis.” The winning chef won a bronze mango trophy.
Nevis is smaller, more relaxed, and less developed than its neighbor, St. Kitts. The two islands make up the country St. Kitts and Nevis, which is near Antigua in the West Indies. The only big industry on Nevis is tourism, and with the four-year-old Nevis Mango and Food Festival, the tourism board has been hoping to parlay the island’s bountiful mangoes into an annual event.
So about those mangoes: They’re everywhere. Mango season is in the summer, and locals feast on them for free, picking them off trees by the side of the road. There are 44 varieties of mangoes on the island. You could even say that Nevis is shaped like a mango. I was curious about what Nevisians thought about them, so in between tasting mango bellinis and grouper fritters with mango purée I talked to some locals about mangoes and why they’re not rolling in money from exporting their prized fruit.
Marlon Francis, Montessori School Teacher
Marlon Francis: Nevis is mango country. You go anywhere on Nevis, toward Gingerland, toward the mountain, mangoes everywhere, dude. And I’m just trying to figure out what can we do with them.
Extra Crispy: I hear that there are 44 different types of mangoes. Do you know what all the varieties are?
You know what, I’ll give you three. I’ll give you Amory Polly, long mango, and grafted mango.
The majority of mangoes on the island are grafted mangoes. They’re these huge mangoes that can get to like the size of your head. It’s awesome.
So they don't ship the mangoes anywhere?
You know what, that’s my big thing. My big thing is I wish we could ship, because it’s a waste. We’ve got like an overload of donkeys on our island. We’re really stuck with donkeys, monkeys, and mangoes
What do you do with all the monkeys?
The monkeys, they get shot. The donkeys, they get slaughtered. But the mangoes, they just die by themselves on the side of the road
Nobody eats them?
Nobody eats them.
There's too many.
Too many. It’s ridiculously stupid.
That’s why you have the mango festival, so you can use them all.
Yeah, you can use them here at the festival, but after this is done there's still going to be mangoes coming in. And then on top of that we have avocados that come in. It’s ridiculous, dude. So much wasted. So much wasted. We need to find a way to ship them to other countries. That’s a job. That's an industry right there.
Champ, Cab Driver
Champ: Do you know how you have name-brand shoes, like Nike and Jordan? We have a saying here on Nevis. There are people who say they only eat name-brand mangoes. Some people like name brand sneakers, like Adidas and everything. Here, it’s the same thing with mangoes. People say, “Oh, I only eat name-brand mangoes.” The name-brand mango is the Amory Polly.
Paulette Fredericks, Chef, Paradise Drive-Thru
Extra Crispy: Mangoes seem like a big part of childhood on Nevis.
Paulette Fredericks: Yes, I grew up eating mangoes. When mango season comes around, you hardly eat food. You focus mostly on mangoes. You eat mangoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then you drink some water after that and you’re full for the day.
Would you ever pay for a mango?
Not in the mango season, no, I wouldn't. Unless it's a special mango that I can't get and I really want a taste, then I would maybe purchase. But hardly around this time would you purchase mangoes. Of course if you go to the sister island, St. Kitts, you would be able to purchase mango.
Who has better mangoes?
Nevis, of course. We have the best mangoes in the Caribbean. Sweet and sugary. The soil is nice and rich, so we get real good mangoes. Sweet mangoes.
Everyone says there are 44 types of mangoes. How many can you name?
Oh my. I know the seedy. I know what we call the red mango. We have the long mango, we have the native Polly mango, we have the Amory Polly, which is our name-brand mango, I would say. We have the grafted mango, we have the rosie cheeks, we have the God blood, the grafted mango, which is a popular one as well. We have the roundball mango that is round. That’s about all I can remember.
Why doesn't Nevis have a mango industry or a way of exporting the mangoes?
I always ask myself that question. I think maybe they’re working on it. I am waiting to see if anybody would come up with something like that, but that's a very good idea.
Kenneth Dore, Firefighter
Kenneth Dore: The monkeys normally attack the most famous mangoes, the Amory Polly. That’s the one that the natives love the most. The monkeys like to bite the mangoes and chop them off the tree. Or sometimes they would just sink their teeth in them and leave them in the tree. And after they do that, the mangoes can’t be used. They’re very sweet, the Amory Pollys, and everybody loves them. And the monkey knows that you love those mangoes, so they go after them.
Extra Crispy: So the monkeys seek out the Amory Pollys?
Yes, and the monkey will chop the mangoes from the tree, and a donkey will come and eat it. The pig will do the same. All of them work together. Also, the goat and the sheep. So it’s like they have a bond where they feed each other. The monkey helps them get food, and they have a bond like that. Like, the monkey will chop the trees and shake down the mangoes. The pigs, the donkeys, the goat, the sheep come and they eat it.
I heard that there are 44 types of mangoes. How many can you name?
We have the Julie mangoes, the Amory Polly, the long mangoes, the nano mango. You have a small little mango that’s very sweet and we call it the teeny mango. You have the rosie cheek mango.
Do you never get sick of eating mangoes?
No, but the only problem I have with the mango is they get into your teeth when you we eat them. Most people peel the mangoes with a knife and eat it like that, but we locals like to just pick it from a tree and eat it like that. The hairs from the mango stick between your teeth, and it’s very annoying.
Are Nevis mangoes the best in the world?
So why do you keep them all for yourself?
When the mango season comes, it’s too many mangoes to sell. It’s so many mangoes coming in sometimes, and it’s very hard to sell. Various people go out on boats on a daily basis and sell the mangoes. Some of them will buy from the locals and then they go on exchanging and selling them in St. Kitts, which is easier. It's easier for you to sell someone your mangoes and let them go and do the hustling and selling for you.
Bo Williams, Cricket Player
Extra Crispy: Did you eat lots of mangoes growing up?
Bo Williams: No.
I just don’t like them.
Why don’t you like them?
I don't like to smell them.
So you must be pretty sick of mangoes.
You could say, yes.
Iyana Dore, Chef, Four Season Nevis
Extra Crispy: What’s so special about mango season in Nevis?
Iyana Dore: It’s like waiting for Christmas to come. In my home, we would eat mangoes as opposed to eating dinner because the mangoes will fill you, so we’d have like a bucket of mango in front of us and we eat it with a bottle of water, and and that will be it for the night and you will be full until the next day. It’s like Christmas coming all over again.
How many could you eat?
If it’s grafted mango, I could eat up to 10 a day. If it’s Polly? Like 20 a day!
What do you like about cooking with mangoes?
It's in season now, so I can freeze some and in December I can go back to the freezer, puree them, and use them so I'll have them all year.
Mark Brantley, St. Kitts and Nevis Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Premier of Nevis
Extra Crispy: How many types of Nevis mangoes can you name?
Mark Brantley: I don’t know. Probably dozens.
Can you name them right now?
Sure. We have a mango we call round ball, we have long mango, we have the Polly mango, we have the Amory Polly mango, we have grasia syrup. What else? We have Julie mango, we have grafted mango, we have starch mango. We have so many.
And none of them are exported, right?
They’re not farmed. Mangoes here grow wild all over the island. Nearly every household has mango trees. Vacant lands are covered in mango trees. The mountain sides are covered in mango trees.
Do you think Nevis could have a mango industry?
Oh, absolutely. It’s just that we’ve taken it for granted. We are so accustomed to it in abundance we aren’t really worried about it. But the truth is, I think that it can get to a point where we can harvest them and turn it into an industry. So, for now it’s a lot of preserves, lots of mango-themed additives, preserves that are being created. But even in terms of the basic mango Nevis has some excellent varieties, very sweet and these are things that I think we can actually get to a point where we can export. If not export, we can certainly satisfy the local market all year round.
Silvester Wallace, Chef and Culinary Arts Instructor
Extra Crispy: What’s your favorite mango?
Silvester Wallace: I love long mangoes and I do love Amory Pollys, but to be honest, I’m not really a fan of eating mangoes.
You don’t like mangoes?
I eat mangoes, but I can only eat a few. Some people will sit down and have a whole basket, and they’ll just eat mangoes all day. For me, I consumed too much when I was small.
Does St. Kitts have their own mangoes?
St. Kitts does have mangoes, but they pay Nevis for mangoes.
Which island has the better mangoes?
Nevis has the best mangoes.
Are the St. Kitts mangoes actually different than Nevis mangoes?
Basically you'll find the same types of mango on the island of Nevis on the island of St. Kitts.
How are Nevisians different than Kittitians?
We are much more friendly people. We welcome everybody. We welcome all the visitors, we speak to our visitors, we greet everybody on the street that we meet. St. Kitts now is changing to the American standard. Like, I go my way, you go your way. Which it shouldn't be. That’s not our culture. Our culture is to greet everybody. Good morning, good afternoon. How can I assist you? These are the things that we are accustomed to in growing up that way. St. Kitts has changed from that.
How would you feel about someone starting some sort of mango industry in Nevis?
Well that would be a good thing.
Kelisha Roberts, Chef, Four Seasons Nevis
Extra Crispy: Do you ever get bored of all these mangoes?
Kelisha Roberts: I wouldn’t say I’m bored of it. I’m accustomed to it. And then there are many different mangoes.
What’s your favorite mango?
The texture is different. I love the texture of grafted mango
And you can find them everywhere. You never have to buy a mango.
No, we don't buy mangoes here in Nevis. Everybody in Nevis basically has a mango tree.
Do you have one?
I have three!
Thema Ward, Officer, Nevis Physical Planning Department
Extra Crispy: Would you say the island is obsessed with mangoes?
Thema Ward: It’s one of the fruits we all grow up on. It’s one of those things you enjoy doing in the summertime, especially as a kid, and so even as an adult you remember the good old days where you would climb a mango tree and relax and eat a mango that, on a very hot day, is cool and refreshing.
Why are Nevisian mangoes better than St. Kitts mangoes?
Our priorities are very different from theirs. I think in the last 20 to 30 years, agriculture definitely had put more emphasis on producing higher quality mangoes, and so many people got into purchasing slips or having an agriculture officer graft their trees to create these different types of varieties from the original varieties. And so we basically are where we are today, where we have all the different types and we’re enjoying them. We have relatives from St. Kitts come over who have never had these types, and they fall in love with them and always ask for them.
How many different types can you name?
I have so many types on my property. I don't even know some of them because it's what my grandparents planted before I was born. We have long mangoes, we have seedy, we have regular Polly, and grafted Polly. We have one that we call turkey egg. There's probably an actual name for that one, but we call it turkey egg. We have one we call God blood because it turns a nice red color. We have one I was told might be missionary mango, but I'm not 100 percent sure. What else do we have? Red-breasted mango and Amory Polly. That’s about it that I know.
Do you think Nevis should start a mango industry?
I can’t say we should do a big mango plantation. We've never been into that big plantation life. And most people wouldn't want anything that would involve a big plantation kind of feel. That’s just how Nevisians are. We look at a big industry like polluting our air. We have never been into that. We prefer small-scale industries that have less impact on the resources that we have. We’re a small island, so a big industry wouldn’t be profitable here. Small ones would be more profitable. That's how we look at it.
Interviews have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.