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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, August 18, 2022
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Mango Melee a Sweet Success

Children devour four mangoes in the mango-eating competition.The mangoes tasted just as sweet as they always do at this year’s annual Mango Melee and Tropical Fruit Festival at the St. George Botanical Garden Sunday.

The gardens were packed with visitors and vendors celebrating the flavor and versatility of mangoes, which organizers dubbed “the queen of tropical fruit.”

Unlike many other St. Croix cultural events this year that have suffered from smaller turnouts than in the past, attendance at the Melee seemed just as high as the previous year. David Hamada, executive director of the gardens, said they lost a handful of vendors but overall participation was strong.

“This is still one of the events that’s doing well. People look forward to it. All things considered, we’re getting a great response,” he said.

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He said the secret to the festival’s success was creating enough to do that a family could happily spend their whole day in the gardens. To do this, Hamada said the staff attempted to hit the perfect balance of learning activities and entertainment.

“I tell people it’s as educational or as fun as you want it to be,” he said.

Mango Melee visitors line up for free tastings.True to that message, the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service held a series of talks throughout the afternoon at the visitor center about cultivating local fruits. The talks were surprisingly well attended considering the party unfolding outside.

Dr. Caryl Johnson, who lectured on breadfruit, said she thinks people are interested in the talks because they want to be able to produce more of their own food.

“You can grow a lot of it in your backyard,” she said. “If you can grow your own fruit in you own yard, you can help your family financially.”

While Johnson could rattle off the health benefits of eating breadfruit, when asked for a good recipe she came up short. To get that answer, visitors had to wander over to the Great Hall, where local chefs whipped up inventive tropical creations at the Mango Dis Mango Dat cooking competition.

A boy nails the dunk tank bullseye and sends Lee Seward into the drink.Judges handed out awards in four categories: sweets, salsas, sips (beverages) and stuff (miscellaneous).

Sharon Grimes took home two awards. She placed second in the “stuff” category for her chilled mango curry soup, but her mango salsa took top honors.

She said she’d cooked with mango before, when she lived in Texas, but since moving to the USVI six years ago, her love for the ingredient has only grown.

“They’re wonderful. They just taste so good and so sweet,” she said.

Mona Bastien agreed with that sentiment. Her table in the Great Hall was littered with brightly colored bottles filled with mango jams, jellies and sauces of all kinds. She was even selling pickled mango, which she swore went great with hotdogs. The adult competitors couldn't keep up with Hector Gordon, right, who ate twice as many mangoes as anyone else.

She said the trick to cooking with mango was to make sure you had the right variety and the right ripeness for your recipe.

“If you use the ripe ones to do the hot sauce, you get a sweet taste, but you don’t want that so you use the green ones to do the hot sauce,” she said.

The highlight of the event, as always, was the mango eating competition. As soon as the organizers set up the tables on the lawn, a crowd immediately began to form and people started jockeying for a good place to watch.

There were far too many volunteers this year for everyone to compete, so names were drawn from a box to select the contestants.

In the children’s competition, seven brave souls devoured four mangoes as fast as they could and, for the most part, succeeded in keeping them down.

It was a close contest, but Sariah Samuel, the smallest competitor at the table, edged out the competition.

Hector Gordon calmly cleans himself off as Kofi Boateng crowns him champion of the mango-eating competition for a second year.“We got a winner, but I don’t believe it, because she is the tiniest,” shouted Kofi Boateng, the master of ceremonies for the event, as Samuel opened her mouth to the judges to show she had swallowed the last bite.

Boateng told the girl she had just won the biggest event at the festival, but Samuel seemed unfazed by the spotlight. She calmly wiped the mango from her face, walked coolly over to Boateng and took her $50 in prize money. Only then did she flash a wide grin to the cheering audience.

In the adult competition, last year’s champion, Hector Gordon, was given the chance to defend his title against eight other randomly chosen participants.

Unlike the children’s competition, the adult contest wasn’t remotely close. Gordon tore through his pile of eight mangoes like a starved beast. By the time the judges declared him the winner, no other competitor had yet finished four of their mangoes.

Afterward, Gordon was sly about his victory, staying tight-lipped about the secret to his success.

“I’ll tell you next year,” he said with smile.

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Children devour four mangoes in the mango-eating competition.The mangoes tasted just as sweet as they always do at this year's annual Mango Melee and Tropical Fruit Festival at the St. George Botanical Garden Sunday.

The gardens were packed with visitors and vendors celebrating the flavor and versatility of mangoes, which organizers dubbed “the queen of tropical fruit.”

Unlike many other St. Croix cultural events this year that have suffered from smaller turnouts than in the past, attendance at the Melee seemed just as high as the previous year. David Hamada, executive director of the gardens, said they lost a handful of vendors but overall participation was strong.

“This is still one of the events that’s doing well. People look forward to it. All things considered, we’re getting a great response,” he said.

He said the secret to the festival’s success was creating enough to do that a family could happily spend their whole day in the gardens. To do this, Hamada said the staff attempted to hit the perfect balance of learning activities and entertainment.

“I tell people it’s as educational or as fun as you want it to be,” he said.

Mango Melee visitors line up for free tastings.True to that message, the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service held a series of talks throughout the afternoon at the visitor center about cultivating local fruits. The talks were surprisingly well attended considering the party unfolding outside.

Dr. Caryl Johnson, who lectured on breadfruit, said she thinks people are interested in the talks because they want to be able to produce more of their own food.

“You can grow a lot of it in your backyard,” she said. “If you can grow your own fruit in you own yard, you can help your family financially.”

While Johnson could rattle off the health benefits of eating breadfruit, when asked for a good recipe she came up short. To get that answer, visitors had to wander over to the Great Hall, where local chefs whipped up inventive tropical creations at the Mango Dis Mango Dat cooking competition.

A boy nails the dunk tank bullseye and sends Lee Seward into the drink.Judges handed out awards in four categories: sweets, salsas, sips (beverages) and stuff (miscellaneous).

Sharon Grimes took home two awards. She placed second in the “stuff” category for her chilled mango curry soup, but her mango salsa took top honors.

She said she’d cooked with mango before, when she lived in Texas, but since moving to the USVI six years ago, her love for the ingredient has only grown.

“They’re wonderful. They just taste so good and so sweet,” she said.

Mona Bastien agreed with that sentiment. Her table in the Great Hall was littered with brightly colored bottles filled with mango jams, jellies and sauces of all kinds. She was even selling pickled mango, which she swore went great with hotdogs. The adult competitors couldn't keep up with Hector Gordon, right, who ate twice as many mangoes as anyone else.

She said the trick to cooking with mango was to make sure you had the right variety and the right ripeness for your recipe.

“If you use the ripe ones to do the hot sauce, you get a sweet taste, but you don’t want that so you use the green ones to do the hot sauce,” she said.

The highlight of the event, as always, was the mango eating competition. As soon as the organizers set up the tables on the lawn, a crowd immediately began to form and people started jockeying for a good place to watch.

There were far too many volunteers this year for everyone to compete, so names were drawn from a box to select the contestants.

In the children’s competition, seven brave souls devoured four mangoes as fast as they could and, for the most part, succeeded in keeping them down.

It was a close contest, but Sariah Samuel, the smallest competitor at the table, edged out the competition.

Hector Gordon calmly cleans himself off as Kofi Boateng crowns him champion of the mango-eating competition for a second year.“We got a winner, but I don’t believe it, because she is the tiniest,” shouted Kofi Boateng, the master of ceremonies for the event, as Samuel opened her mouth to the judges to show she had swallowed the last bite.

Boateng told the girl she had just won the biggest event at the festival, but Samuel seemed unfazed by the spotlight. She calmly wiped the mango from her face, walked coolly over to Boateng and took her $50 in prize money. Only then did she flash a wide grin to the cheering audience.

In the adult competition, last year’s champion, Hector Gordon, was given the chance to defend his title against eight other randomly chosen participants.

Unlike the children’s competition, the adult contest wasn’t remotely close. Gordon tore through his pile of eight mangoes like a starved beast. By the time the judges declared him the winner, no other competitor had yet finished four of their mangoes.

Afterward, Gordon was sly about his victory, staying tight-lipped about the secret to his success.

“I’ll tell you next year,” he said with smile.