Jamming along: Estero Historical Society’s annual mango chutney and jam sale aims to help open new headquarters
       By LAURA GATES,  August 3, 2011

ESTERO — As the late summer sun blazes over Southwest Florida, Marlene Fernandez’s kitchen heats up as well.

Fernandez has been in charge of the Estero Historical Society’s annual mango chutney and jam sale for the last six years.

churney1 The endeavor has taken over much of her Estero home, with a darkened bedroom dedicated to ripening mangos and a laundry room filled with canning equipment.

“Marlene is the master of this whole thing,” said Jill Keene as she sat at Fernandez’s dining room table sticking labels on jam jars. “She is so generous with her time, her energy and

her home.”

If the chutney and jam sale raises enough money, this may be the last summer Fernandez’s home will become a canning factory. The Historical Society plans to open a headquarters — complete with kitchen — in a historic home which was moved to Estero Community Park in 2009.

Restoration of the 1906 Hall-Hanson-Collier House is nearing completion, but work still needs to be finished on an access ramp and deck before it can be opened to the public, Fernandez said.

Keene, along with Marlene’s husband, Tom, recently attempted to calculate how many hours Marlene has dedicated to the annual mango chutney fundraiser during the last six years. They pegged the figure somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 hours.

Meanwhile Marlene busied herself in the kitchen boiling canning lids and simmering mangoes with sugar, regarding the calculation as senseless. For her, it is a labor of love which benefits the community her husband’s ancestors settled more than 100 years ago.

Marlene is said to run a tight ship when it comes to canning, and she is quick to point out she uses the FDA-approved method to ensure safety. “She’s been canning since the time we got married,” said Tom. “That was 54 years ago.”

When it comes to canning, Marlene said she ties to “think like Edith.” That would be Edith Trebell, the Estero pioneer whose recipe for “Mango Chutney Meat Sauce” is still used by the Historical Society today.

“Edith was very particular in how she did her canning,” Marlene said. “Back in her day, they had no air conditioning, either.”

Trebell opened the Tropical Fruit and Products Company in Estero in 1937, featuring jellies, jams, candies and chutneys made by local women using Trebell’s own recipes and homegrown exotic fruits such as papaya, lychees, guava, mangoes and coconut.

“In Edith’s day, she grew all the ingredients here in town,” Marlene notes. Everything was picked at peak ripeness. For Trebell’s employees, that might mean a trip to the beach to harvest sea grapes or a jaunt to the woods to gather downy myrtle.

chutney2Customers came from all over to visit “the jelly plant,” as it was known to locals in Estero, and Trebell began shipping her products far and wide, with a regular customer at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Today, the Historical Society has three sources of mangoes, although none are in Estero. Ripe mangoes come from donors in Marco Island, Iona and St. James City, near Pine Island.

The jam and chutney is made with all natural ingredients, just the way Edith used to make them. “It’s very ‘green’ because it’s all made from scratch, and we use no artificial anything,” Keene noted.

Fernandez and her crew of volunteers use Trebell’s original Mango Chutney Meat Sauce recipe, which is self-cooking and self-preserving, as fresh ingredients are combined over several weeks into large vats where their natural acids and sugars ferment.

The chutney can be used as a condiment for nearly any meat or in a number of other ways, such as slow cooking or with cream cheese and crackers as an appetizer, say the ladies of the Historical Society.

“I keep it out on the table,” said Nancy Stewart, who was also helping with labels. “You can use it for anything. Some say it would make dirt taste good.”

Due to the high cost of tamarinds this year, the society is focusing on making mango jam this summer, while also trying to sell a few remaining cases of chutney. Last year’s sale garnered $6,000 for the society.

“It’s a good cause,” Fernandez said, adding, “We’ve got to get into that building.”

The society’s jam and chutney products are available locally at We’re Hair For You salon, 20461 S. Tamiami Trail, or by calling Marlene Fernandez at (239) 992-3178.

“I’ll sell them right out my front door,” she said.

© 2011 Naples Daily News.