It was a love affair long before we knew what love was. They were golden, dripping with a heavenly juice, fleshy and aromatic. As kids we didn't understand why we could gorge on them just once a year, but were happy just to be able to dig into them. The perfumed 'Alphonsos', the green 'Dasheharis', the succulent 'Chausas' and the golden skinned 'Langdas' (I am still intrigued why its called a 'langda' which means crippled), gleaming in their jewel tones - red, yellow and dark green.Decades later, the mango still has such a magnetic hold on my generation. Is it because it is so much more than a mere fruit? It represents a rite of passage, a time of giddy childhood, of endless summer days and life stretched into infinity - an unending field of gold, an abundant orchard of luscious mangoes dangling from countless shady trees....
Mangoes are ephemeral - here today, gone tomorrow - so many Indians hoard them and have found ways to keep the gem-like fruits with them as long as they can. Green unripe mangoes are pickled in so many different ways, to be drawn out in the cold of winter, to be relished - summer relived. Another delicious pickled treat is mango murba - mangoes marinated in a sweet sugar sauce, with garlic and black onion seeds. It's a real comfort food when eaten with a bowl of kichdi (rice gruel) or a chappati - you can feel all's right with the world. For a full-blooded Indian, any time is mango pickle time, and a dollop of ambh achaar enhances any meal.
Where did this wondrous fruit come from and why does it have such a hold on the Indian psyche?
The earliest mention of mango, Mangifera Indica, that means "the great fruit bearer," is in the Hindu scripture dating back to 4000 BC. The wild mango originated in the foothills of the Himalayas of India and Burma, and about 40 to 60 of these trees still grow in India and Southeast Asia.
The mango is a member of the Anachardiaceae family which includes poison ivy, cashews, and pistachios.
So passionate are modern day Asian Indians about their most adored fruit, the cultivated mango, that during mango season in India, families actually argue heatedly about which of the many varieties is best for their favorite mango dishes. For the rest of us, we're just delighted to welcome mango season ( the only good thing about the otherwise sweltering heat), enjoy the luscious tangy fruit that dribbles down our chins, and leave the fistcuffs out of it!
According to M. Varadrajan, author of The History of Tamil Literature, the eye of a woman is compared to a tender mango cut in half, with the stone being the pupil of the eye. Alexander the Great was a big fan of Indian mangoes and The Mughal Emperor Babur called it "O Fairest Fruit of Hindustan."
Alphonso Milk Shake
1 medium sized alphonso or any mango of your choice
1/2 litre of skimmed milk
2 tbsp sugar (adjust according to sweetness of mangoes)
a pinch of ground cardamom
Blend all the ingredients together in a juicer/blender.
Serve chilled with cubes of golden ripe mangoes.
India is a country rich with folklore that sometimes becomes woven into cultural rituals as well as religious ceremonies, and it's little surprise that it's India's national fruit.
It is said that the Buddha was given the gift of a whole grove of mango trees where he could rest whenever he wished. From that time on the mango tree was held in awe as capable of granting wishes.
So revered is the mango tree in its home country that it has become a symbol of love.
(A symbol of the love and adoration I have for my readers/friends and well wishers. I thus offer this exotic fruit as apology.)
Offerings of mango leaves are presented at wedding ceremonies, a ritual that guarantees the couple will bear many children.
In the villages there is a powerful belief that the mango trees grow new leaves each time a son is born. To herald the new birth to their neighbors, doorways are decorated with mango leaves.
Old Sanskrit writings reveal a legend of deep love and beauty that sprang from the mango tree. It was the daughter of the sun, Surya Bai, who transformed herself into a golden lotus to evade persecution of an evil sorceress. The sorceress became angry when the King of the land fell in love with the beautiful lotus, and she burnt it to ashes. Good overcame evil when a magnificent mango tree sprang from the ashes and Surya Bai stepped out from a ripe mango that had fallen to the ground. The King instantly recognized her as his long lost wife, and the two rejoiced.
Revered not only for their exotic sweetness and juicy quality, mangoes are known for their many health blessings. They contain an enzyme similar to papain in papayas, a soothing digestive aid.
In India mangoes are used as blood builders. Because of their high iron content they are suggested for treatment of anemia and are beneficial to women during pregnancy and menstruation. People who suffer from muscle cramps, stress, and heart problems can benefit from the high potassium and magnesium content that also helps those with acidosis.
One lab test turned up rather startling results that raised mangoes to the "highest perch." Mango juice was poured into a test tube that contained viruses. Shortly, the viruses were destroyed.