It’s been two years since the Batungbacal farm in Zambales has had enough fruits to sell. That is why when Maricris Batungbacal Encarnacion’s invitation to pick mangoes came, I accepted it as excitedly as the first time many years ago.
The sight of mangoes hanging from tender twigs always excites me. Nothing can make my head turn when passing through country roads than a tree heavy with fruit. And summer is the best time to espy those wonders. In Ilocos recently, I noticed the mango fruits had a bit of reddish tinge at the top.
“Blush” was how Rico Batungbacal described that hue. Some local varieties have that, he said. Rico takes charge of the family’s farm and has been responsible for my continuing education about growing mangoes. While we may complain about the hot weather these days, the terrible heat is heaven-sent for mango farms because the fruits will be sweeter. The flowers do not shed before developing into fruits when there are off-season rains.
So we wannabe fruit-pickers set off into the orchard with our faces protected by sunblock and wide-brimmed hats. The trees are pruned properly so they don’t grow that tall, making many of the fruits within reach. Those fruits made so much noise on the car’s roof as we passed through to get to the trees assigned to us.
Agricultural technology has made it possible to induce flowering. Rico said he can plan which trees will produce mangoes first so farmhands don’t get overwhelmed during harvest. Rico has traveled to places in the country where mango-growing is an industry, like Guimaras, as well as to Australia, to learn new techniques and observe how different mango-growing is in those areas. He said the mango variety in Australia cannot do the planned flowering technique that he utilizes.
Long fruiting season
The fruiting season has been long, to Rico’s delight. When we pointed to some mangoes on the ground, he said those will be taken and buried because they have been damaged and have fruit flies that will affect the new mangoes. We gasped as he said there have been about 2,000 kilos of buried damaged mangoes. A good farmer will have to take those losses to ensure that the next harvest will be of high quality.
Some short picking instructions were given the newbies. If picking fruits with your hands, just pull down until the stem snaps. Don’t twist. It’s the same with fruits picked with the help of a long tool (panungkit) with a basket attached to catch the mango.
The sap is not good to get into the eyes, so the fruit must be pulled away from the face. The most a person can place into the basket are two mangoes, because the fruits are heavy. When picking too many in a basket, the fruits may drop to the ground. Those won’t go to the crates as they are damaged.
Fruits picked are already inspected for bruises or attacks by fruit flies before being put into the crates. Because we couldn’t imagine imperfect fruits going underground, Glenda Barretto of Via Mare asked for some of those to be pickled in her restaurant kitchen.
Glenda was also ready with food to be had for breakfast and lunch. The picnic took place in a huge pavilion built, I suppose, for guests of the family to dine in and rest. A stream nearby provides a small pool for those brave enough to shiver in the cold water.
Glenda brought chicken tocino, chopped then formed into rolls with olives at the center. Those were cut crosswise for neat pieces. It is another Glenda Barretto innovation in local cooking. Each of us contributed to the picnic menu. For breakfast, we had the tocino, ensaymada, ham and tamales.
After the mango-picking, which really wasn’t that long, it was time for lunch. Rico had the specialty of the house cooked—tinola of native chicken. The big fish, which I guessed was pla-pla from a fishpond in Pampanga, was grilled, preserving its moistness.
Glenda brought crispy pata, refried the way it should be just before eating, accompanied by a dipping sauce of soy sauce-vinegar mixed in with chopped onions. She also had pako salad, the fiddlehead of ferns still crisp after traveling in a cool box. She gave us a lesson on whipping up a new dressing, grating tomato then mixing those with chopped onions, salted eggs and more tomatoes.
There was also laing (taro leaves cooked in coconut milk) and pork adobo.
Dessert didn’t need anything but the mangoes from the farm and red sweet papaya served during breakfast. My acupuncturist says mangoes are hot fruits which should not go well with balancing my yin and yang. Yet that admonition is always forgotten when the mangoes are sliced, ready to be eaten and looking and smelling of summer.
Other fruits are also grown in the farm. We looked forward to the cantaloupe and honeydew, very sweet the last time we were there. But we were told those fruits weren’t as sweet anymore because we caught the tail end of the melon harvest season.