Campbell's favorite mango varietal? The Edward mango, which his mother used to grow in her backyard.
This weekend Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens celebrates its 21st annual International Mango Festival, spotlighting mangos from Mexico. The gardens currently harbor hundreds of mango varieties, all of which are overseen by Dr. Richard Campbell, the director of horticulture and senior curator of tropical fruit. Behind the revered position and global recognition, Dr. Campbell is simply a man with a passion who speaks with an accessible ease. We chatted with Dr. Campbell before the festival's kickoff to find out what it takes to prepare for such a large-scale event.
How far in advance do you start prepping for a particular year's exhibit?
DR. RICHARD CAMPBELL: Our mental calendars work eight years out. I collect [mango varieties] four or five years ahead of the actual start date.
Break down the process.
DRC: We have to go collect varieties, bring them back to Florida, graft and grow them after their two-year quarantine with the USDA. Then you need to make sure you have enough fruit and learn all you can about them. Toss in possible hurricanes, unfruitful plants, and alternative plans and you need that cushion time.
Why do you think the mango festival has been so successful?
DRC: From the beginning, the idea was to showcase all the mango varieties we had but not generically. Instead, we promoted them from a complete cultural standpoint.
What will we see from festivals in the future?
DRC: We are going back into that crossroads between Southeast Asia and India, anywhere from Vietnam through Bangladesh. I'd really like to take it back to Africa within the next decade. The 40th anniversary will be when we outlay a new mango using wild relatives and breeding stock. In sum, reinvent the mango.
Is Florida considered an ideal mango growing environment?
DRC: Florida is actually not the right place. But what we have here, and all benefited from, was really smart mango scientists, homeowners, and hobbyists. They adapted the mango to our conditions. Go back 50 years or so in Florida, there was a collection of science and horticultural investigation like nowhere else in the world. Florida is really responsible for the creation of the world's modern export mango. I'd rather grow them here than anywhere in the world.
Which mango variety do you prefer?
DRC: I gravitate towards acidic mangoes. I grew up with the Edward mango in my backyard; it was my mother's favorite. When no one is around, I sit down with one and eat it from start to finish without sharing. I also grow Tommy Atkins, but I never eat them fresh; I dry them. For my money and how many you get off the tree, they're perfect. Their sugar concentrates well and the color and texture maintains.
What about for cooking?
DRC: I really like Cambodiana. It carries that acidic punch. It's an old variety introduced by David Fairchild in 1902. Nowadays we [mango lovers] probably wouldn't give it a second look, but I use it for jam with ginger.
How far have you delved into mango wine making?
DRC: We were involved with Schnebly Redland's Winery in their beginnings. They make a dessert wine, but in the long term, I would love to circle back to looking at making an estate-quality wine. There are a lot of things that can be done. It wouldn't be easy but given the varieties we have and our sophisticated market, the potential is immense.
BY LIANA LOZADA