It was my lack of long term experience with avocados that had made me hesitant to buy them at all for many years. But now they are a family staple. Avocados are part of a generation of global food that are available year round in NJ. It is so different from my seasonal eating upbringing. A craving for guacamole is what got me past my initial reluctance. And a restaurant in the city that made it fresh, table side. I was inspired to learn how to pick out avocados so that they would be ripe whenever I wanted them.
Mangoes are the same way–a fruit foreign in my childhood, but now common. My hesitancy to try new things includes food–in fact, some of my earliest and strongest memories are of refusing to take a taste of something different. I gravitate to the familiar. The only thing that makes me feel better about my wariness is a bit of research that I read: being a picky eater has its roots in evolutionary survival. But when one of my sons complimented a random mango in a restaurant salad, I took it personally. I felt guilty that I had been deficient in providing mango experiences at home, especially when he asked if I would buy some. I shouldn’t pass on my tepid existence, I reminded myself. I bought one soon after.
The mango didn’t work out. I wasn’t sure if it was a bad one or if it had something to do with the way I cut it. Maybe it wasn’t ripe enough. As I tossed it in the compost Carlos came to mind. He was our host at a bed and breakfast and had gone into great detail about the right way to cut mangoes. We had been in a hurry to leave and I was struggling with context to understand his description. I didn’t feel like I could admit to him how little I knew, he was obviously an adventurous eater, a risk taker. I just nodded at him as he spoke, as if, of course that’s how a mango works. It took a mango sale and an enthusiastic mango eater who also happened to be a supermarket employee to inspire me to try again.
I overheard him pointing them out to a nearby shopper while I was looking at bananas.
“Four for five dollars,” I overheard, “amazing deal.” Since I hadn’t ever really bought mangoes I had no idea what a good deal might be. His excitement was the thing that caught my attention, something in his voice made me think that he really did “eat a whole basket of them last week” as he was claiming. Plus, he wasn’t representing a new company of gluten free crackers, he was just representing a piece of fruit. That, in itself, was unusual. Grabbing a bunch of predictable bananas and setting them next to the strawberries, I reconsidered my safe shopping cart full of unthinking fruits. Maybe it didn’t need to be that way. I circled back to the mango enthusiast.
“I don’t know much about mangoes,” I said to him. “How do you know when they are ready?”
“Just feel them,” he answered.
“But how should they feel?” I looked down at my basket of avocados. “Like an avocado?”
“Yes, press it,” he answered, pushing on random ones that were piled high in the basket in front of us.
I stood there contemplating them.
“How do you eat them?” I asked.
“Oh, I just peel them and eat them like an apple,” he answered, “but not in the car. They would be messy in the car.”
I picked up a mango and felt the smooth skin. It had some blemishes. Did that matter for mangoes?
“Is this one ripe?” I asked instead.
“Not yet,” he replied, “two-three days, it will be ripe.”
I picked up another one. I made my own guess.
“This one. This will be ready, maybe tomorrow?” I handed it over for confirmation.
“Yes, tomorrow. Almost ripe.”
I thanked him for his help and added two mangoes to the plastic bag with the avocados. It felt like progress.