My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
The wearisome speaker of Robert Frost’s ‘After Apple-Picking’, is satiated with the scent of apples. Let me replace apples with MANGOES! (forgetting the ulteriority and metaphoric language of Frost’s poem). Mango picking turned out to be an enjoyable task during my short stay in Cambodia. Mango blossoms start appearing by January and Phnom Penh temperatures soar high by March. We used to get intermittent spell of showers in the afternoons called ‘mango showers’, a welcome respite. It helps the growth of the mangoes, it’s believed.
Our mango tree, dotted with golden yellow mangoes!
By april-May the trees are loaded with fruits and it’s a real feast for the eyes to see the many number of mango trees along the streets and in the courtyards of most of the houses. The boughs of our mango tree bend with fruits by April. Cambodians love raw mangoes and semi ripe ones. They eat them with powdered mixture of sugar-salt and bird’s eye chillies sprinkled on them. They love this sweet and piquant treat!
The crunchy tender mango bunch on our tree
Our mango tree looking fresh after a short spell of mango showers
Reluctantly I too plucked a few mangoes and made some pickle last year. Back in Kerala we make this simple tender mango pickle with crushed, chargrilled dry chillies and shallots with a dash of coconut oil. This doesn’t stay long (and the taste wouldn’t let it too!).
quick and easy crispy tender mango mix
There’s this quick and spicy manga curry, with lot of chili powder, fenugreek powder, sesame oil and so on.
The pickling spree continued. I made pickles that last for more than an year with cut mango pieces dried in early morning sun. That’s my mother’s recipe; we call it ‘ennamanga’ (mangoes in gingelli/sesame oil). Some sounds and tastes can wave magic wand and bring back memories associated with them. It may sound like a paradox if I say ‘ennamanga pickle’ always reminds me of the seven volume novel by Reynolds ‘Joseph Wilmot’ and vice versa. Childhood memory chest is like that; you put together two things that have nothing in common. Our father used to tell Joseph’s eventful life story during dinner time, dinners spiced up with the home made ‘ennamanga’.
Tangy spicy ennamanga that always takes me back to my childhood days
Ripe mango picking is after all not a laborious task, this enlightenment dawned on me during my stay in Cambodia. My left hand and right hand, the highly enthusiastic, efficient Ms-H wouldn’t leave a single mango on the tree! She would climb on the ladder ( tree climbing is an easy task for her). Khmer have this very innovative bamboo stick with which you can pluck the unreachable fruits.
Dear H is bent on plucking the last of the mangoes
The scent of mangoes fills my kitchen!
A time consuming yet joyous chore about mango picking is sending the mangoes to friends, my husband’s office staff and other helpers. Pureed mangoes find their place in the freezer and later mark their presence in mango cheese cakes and smoothies. Kerala style ripe mango curry is another favourite dish of the family. We call it ‘mambazha pulisseri’. It’s made of ripe mango cubes cooked in a delicious gravy of coconut paste ground green chiliies, cummin seeds and thick yogurt. Oh my! Does my ‘mango tales’ look like a page from a food blog?
Ripe mangoes sprinkled with black pepper powder and salt was a favourite of my father.
Unlike Frost I’m not tired of seeing the fruit bent boughs, nor overdosed with the scent of the fruits. Yet waiting for another mango plucking season seems like a distant dream!