Takeaway

‘Tis the season of mango musings

Chandrika R Krishnan | Updated on May 08, 2020 Published on May 08, 2020

The king of fruits, whether ripe or raw, is an indicator of national happiness and fulfilment

Remember the garrulous village belle who was admonished by her portly aunt for feeding her mare when she should have been collecting raw mangoes? Mausi — aunt in Hindi — had a reason to be upset. Green mangoes were needed for that all-important achaar, or pickle. The young woman promptly set off in search of the fruit on that hot summer day, and found clusters hanging from the branches of a bounteous tree. She also found a flirtatious admirer at the same spot and Mission Mango took a rather interesting detour.

That village was Ramgarh (Ramanagara, near Bengaluru, actually). That village belle was Basanti, and the film was Sholay. Summers in Indian villages — as in the rest of the country — have become harsher, but the love for mangoes, both raw and ripe, is still the stuff of mellow emotions.

Over the centuries, mangoes have come to signal the onset of the longest Indian season. It is the time for romance, when the air is rich with the singing of the Indian cuckoo — as portrayed in Kalidasa’s verses. And it is the season for the mangoes.

The early mango season blossoms in the months of March and April, which is also the period when many Indians usher in the new year and celebrate a good harvest. Some communities mark the first day of the year by cooking unripe mangoes with jaggery, seasoned with the flowers of the neem tree, red chillies and salt. This dish, a mix of bitter, sour, sweet, saltiness and heat, is meant to represent life — which is a melange of various emotions and experiences.

This little mood lifter, available in more varieties than one can count, has always enjoyed a good rapport with chroniclers and explorers. The English word ‘mango’ is said to have its roots in the Indian mangga (Mangifera indica). It was brought to East Asia around 500-400 BCE, ferried to the Philippines in the 15th century and, in another hundred years or so, to Africa and Brazil. Hendrik van Rheede, a Dutch commander of the Malabar region, talks about the mango in his 1678 book Hortus Malabaricus. The legendary Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang, too, is said to have carried back tales about the uniqueness of the fruit. Numerous Indian folk tales have been spun around the mango. A royal courtesan in the kingdom of Vaishali was named Amrapali because she was found under a mango tree as a baby.

The king among fruits is also a motif for textile and jewellery designs, the main ingredient of lip-smacking pickles and a refreshing cooling drink; and a part of lunches and dinners across households during summer.

Apart from rewarding our taste buds, the mango is also a symbol of celebrations and wish fulfilment. In Tamil Nadu, the festival of Mangani in Karaikkal is a nod to the fruit that a fifth-century saint — Karaikkal Ammaiyar — received in blessing from Lord Shiva for her undying devotion to the god. The mango tree is also believed to have provided shade and solace to Gautam Buddha on one of his spiritual journeys. India’s beloved elephant god Ganesha holds a ripe mango in one of his hands, thus equating the fruit with a symbol of attainment.

While much has been written about the side effects of mango bingeing — the accumulation of high calories, for example — Ayurveda seems to think that the raw fruit cools the body and, when eaten in combination with other fruits, aids digestion.

I discovered the raw mango’s cooling properties through a refreshing drink of aam panna in Lucknow. It was an eye-opener for someone who’d only had green mangoes in pickles until then. As the beverage filtered down my parched throat, I felt rejuvenated.

The fruit marks the start of a meal, is the accompaniment as well as the main dish in many cuisines, and, of course, brings it to an end in the form of a delicious dessert. The mango is not just the king of fruits — it is a realm in itself.

Aam panna

Ingredients:

 (Serves six glasses)

  • 3-4 raw mangoes
  • Jaggery or sugar, according to taste
  • Water
  • 1tsp black salt
  • 1tbsp jeera (cumin) powder
  • Mint leaves (optional)

Method:

1. Boil the mangoes in a pressure cooker or pan. Peel the skin. (Alternatively, you can boil the mangoes after peeling the skin.)

2. Extract the pulp. In the ratio of 1:2 (1 cup of mango pulp to two parts sugar or jaggery) blend the pulp with the sweetener. Add mint leaves to the mixture, followed by the salt, cumin powder.

3. Strain the mixture and refrigerate.

4. Dilute it with water according to taste and serve chilled.

(Recipe by Roopa Shetty)

Chandrika R Krishnan is a freelance writer based in Bengaluru

Published on May 08, 2020

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