There are still streetside independent grocers where I live in East London, and many of them are owned by and serve South Asians. When India’s mango season comes round, plastic-strapped boxes of them pile up on the pavements outside these shops, always slightly battered corrugated cardboard printed with pictures of improbably perfect mangos and the names and slogans of the shipper. Balaiji offers “UNSPEAKABLY Good Mango”; Kay-Bee’s is “The TASTE of Freshness”; All-Season is “Definietly [sic] … The Right Choice!”
Before committing to a box of six or twelve, convince your merchant to snip the straps and permit you to remove each mango from its unsustainable foam net sleeve to inspect it for: Signs of black rot at the stem, fungal blooms and rusts on the skin, soft patches, and the patchy colouration indicating force-ripening using acetylene produced by reacting calcium carbide with water (a barbaric, though apparently common, practice). Unfortunately, short of cutting it open, there is no way to tell if a mango suffers from the spongy tissue defect which manifests as undeliciously fibrous, diseased-looking, undeveloped sections of flesh.
Once home, the fruits must repose in a single layer in open air, unwrapped to facilitate a programme of careful daily inspection to determine each fruit’s optimal moment of consumption—I leave them unenclosed to allow ethylene to dissipate and slow the ripening slightly. Placing each mango on its unsustainable foam sleeve prevents the flesh from being bruised by its own weight (usually not a problem unless you are prone to buying the so-called jumbo fruit).
My favoured mango cultivar is the kesar, which supposedly originates in Gujarat. “Kesar” is Hindi for saffron, for the flesh of some kesars is the red-gold of saffron water. Though others recommend waiting for the skin of kesars to turn a bright and deep yellow as an indicator of ripeness, they are best if caught when the skin is entirely yellow with a slight cast of green. Mostly ripe but with just a trace of immaturity, the kesar then frequently evokes the scent of fig leaf and freshly grated coconut and has a slight sappy, tannic acidity. (Many popular mango varieties are cloyingly sweet and uninteresting, especially when taken too far. Remember that ripeness is a matter of interpretation and judgment.) To keep the kesar at this stage for a little longer, store it in a box in the fridge to maintain relatively high humidity.
It can be quite luxurious to be in possession of a box of mangoes whose ripening has been precisely managed to permit a perfect, chilled mango whenever you want it.