Alphonso mangoes are not lookers. Even the most mottled quince would win a beauty contest with them and the furry bloom of an in-season peach is infinitely more Instagrammable. But all is forgiven once you squeeze the exotic, saffron-coloured pulp out of the yellow skin, the ripe smell almost coconutty, a reminder of the South of India, whence they sprung. Think flavours of honey, melon, nectarine and apricot gone up a notch.
They are named after 15th century general Alfonso de Albuquerque, aka ‘Alfonso the Terrible’, conqueror of Goa. The Portuguese invaders brought to India from the New World red chillies, potatoes, maize, and tomatoes. In return the Sub-continent offered up its native mangoes. Apparently Alfonso (below) was very hands-on in creating a firmer, juicer variant of the fruit for export to Europe. Hard grafting, but what a result.
Today there are several different varieties of Alphonso mangoes, primarily grown along the western coastal strip of Konkan. The acknowledged superstars are hand-harvested in the tiny Natwarlal plantation of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra.
OK, every corner of India offers rivals – Badami, Himsagar, Kesar, Chaunsa, Dasheri – but the spring season mango rush is dominated by the Alphonso. Mumbai and other big cities even hold mango festivals. I hold my own. Alas, the season is as short as their shelf life once they arrive, so once again I sliced open a coulpe and guzzled, the juice dripping into my beard, before organising the rest to make a vat of sorbet (De-stone and extract the flesh from six to eight ripe mangoes, combine with the juice of two limes,100g icing sugar and 100ml double cream. Churn the puree in an ice cream maker for half an hour).
I get my annual fix from London-based Red Rickshaw, who specialise in sourcing hard-to find ingredients, primarily from India but also from across the globe. It’s hard to resist exploring their site, which always yields new fruit. Literally. So that’s how I stumbled upon Buddha’s Fingers (or Buddha’s Hand, main picture). This odd ancestor of our mainstream citrus fruits resembles a large lemon with finger-like segments growing from it. True to its name, it is considered a religious offering in Buddhist temples, typically given as a New Year’s gift, symbolising good fortune.
It is still hanging in the balance whether I’m prepared to stump up £24.99 for a single specimen of a citrus fruit that seldom contains any tangible fruit, flesh or juice. Will it be worth it just to employ its formidable citrus fragrance for cocktails, candy making or salad dressings?
While I’m ‘hanging on by my finger tips’ to make a decision it’s time to prepare a Mango, Lime and Rum Syllabub, the recipe borrowed from Sunshine On A Plate (Penguin, £30), the gorgeous cookbook from Shelina Permalloo, 2012 Masterchef winner, who runs the Lakaz Maman Mauritian Street Kitchen in Southampton.
4 ginger biscuits, crushed; 300ml double cream; ½ vanilla pod, seeds scraped; 3tbsp unrefined icing sugar; 75ml rum, plus 4tsp; zest and juice of 4 limes; 150ml Alphonso mango puree; 2 Alphonso mangoes, peeled and cut into 2.5cm cubes; desiccated coconut and reservd lime zest plus optional mint leaves to decorate.
Put the ginger biscuits into a large plastic bag and bash vigorously with a rolling pin until you have a bag of crumbs. Using an electric whisk, lightly whip the double cream. Add the vanilla seeds, icing sugar, the 75ml of rum, lime juice and zest, reserving a little for decoration. Keep whisking until it forms light peaks. Add about one third of the mango purée and half the cubed mango and fold through for a marbled effect. T
o assemble the syllabubs, divide the crumbs between four glasses. Sprinkle a teaspoon of rum over each and top with the rest of the mango purée. Spoon the cream over the top. Just before serving, sprinkle with coconut and lime zest. Decorate with the mint leaves, if using.