The Magic of the Mango
"Whatever anyone else might say, America's new nuclear and trade pact with India is a win-win deal," argued Madhur Jaffrey in an Op-Ed she wrote for the New York Times in March, 2006.
"India gets nuclear fuel for its energy needs and America, doing far better in what might be called a stealth victory, finally gets mangoes."
And now, at long last, Indian mangoes are here, an exciting moment if you've ever tried to smuggle a mango in your suitcase from southeast Asia or have wondered what the fruity fuss was all about.
Despite the possibilities of 400-plus varieties from around the world and a world-class mango festival held every year in Coral Gables, Fla., the mango pickings in this country have been notoriously slim, usually limited to four often tasteless varieties.
"When you get your first Indian mango, perhaps an Alphonso, just hold it in your hand and admire its blushes of reds, yellows and greens," wrote Jaffrey. "Breathe in its aroma, which will reach out to you through its skin." Jaffrey is referring to the coveted "King of mangoes," whose royal flesh will grace American produce aisles any day now.
I've not yet had the imagined pleasure of slurping on an Alphonso mango, but the magic of a mango has not been lost on me.
It was a summer evening in 2000. I was in Barbados, spending time with my dear friends Gordon and Dickie Parkinson, who were like the grandparents I never had.
The sun was starting to fade, so that meant it was nearing 6, which I had come to learn as cocktail hour -- rum cocktails in a silver shaker, to be precise. Gordon and I were rooting around the kitchen for cocktail fixings, but he turned his attention to fruit instead.
"This is Julie," he said to me, pointing to a hot pink-orange hunk of fruit flesh. "She is the sweetest mango there is," he said. "Go on, taste her."
I obeyed, placing the mango on my tongue, letting it sit there for a moment. Then I let it slide down, while trying to savor every honeyed second, aware of the rare moment before me. And so I sat there in front of Gordon as he handed me slice after slice. We said not a word, as there was no time for talking, only slurping. Nectar stained our cheeks and clothes.
Gordon died in 2005, but this old dog taught me tricks I will take to my own grave.
What is about the mango that unleashes our unedited selves?
Jaffrey, a longtime cookbook writer, wrote a memoir detailing her childhood in India in the 1930s and 40s,"Climbing the Mango Trees."
In the prologue, she writes:
"My grandfather had built his house in what was a thriving orchard of jujubes, mulberries, tamarinds and mangoes. His numerous grandchildren, like hungry flocks of birds, attacked the mangoes while they were still green and sour. As grown-ups snored through the hot afternoon in rooms cooled with wetted, sweet-smelling vetiver curtains, the unsupervised children were on every branch of every mango tree, armed with a ground mixture of salt, pepper, red chilies and roasted cumin. The older children, on the higher branches, peeled and sliced the mangoes with penknives and passed the slices down to the smaller fry on the lower branches. We would dip the slices into our spice mixture and eat, our tingling mouths telling us that we had ceased to be babies."
When I eat a mango, life stands still. Nothing else matters but that moment, a moment when I'm free like a child and sweet as orange flesh. Maybe that's why I've come to believe that if we organized a World Mango Day, a day when people around the world would be handed a mango, that the sheer power of the good vibrations brought on by this fruit would bring us just a little closer to world peace.
Well, I can dream.
To eat a mango, try this:
Hold mango upright, stem end up. Feel pit in center. Place knife to left of pit, slicing the length of the fruit, from top to bottom. Repeat on right side. Now you have two separate mango "cheeks." With knife, score the flesh of each "cheek" in a tic-tac-toe pattern, but without cutting through the skin. Hold the edges of the skin and push the skin from underneath toward you, so that cubes of mango pop up from the inside out. Eat and savor. Best done over a sink, or in a bathtub, with someone you love.
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