Mangoes and Memories

by Kaveri Ponnapa

Luscious, sweet, fragrant and seductive - I play out the mango season every year with Langras, Dasheris, Safedas, Chausas, Neelams, Alphonsos and all that the market has to offer, lingering over the individual flavour and character of each, reminded of all the different parts of the country where I once lived. Memories come flooding in, and the days are filled with fruit to eat, and so many different mango treats stretching well into the rains.

But with all these pedigreed choices before me, my heart always yearns for the tiny, wild mangoes from Coorg. They grow on towering trees that soar towards the sky so that you have to tilt your head back until your neck aches, to gaze up at the plump, miniature fruit that hang down, like some sort of enchanting and delicious decorations. Many of these enormous, solitary trees were historic and geographic landmarks, growing right outside ancestral homes. Some of them were almost mythical in character, like one prolific tree that has been supplying endless mangoes to the families of an entire village, for generations. Sweet, with just the right piquancy to startle your palate, we always looked forward to these early summer treats.

The summer heat in Coorg builds up, and settles in layers over the valleys. The sky is taut, and a metallic light spreads over houses, trees and coffee estates. Cicadas creak deafeningly, like some crazed, gigantic piece of machinery, running on and on. Rainstorms hover, trying to catch everyone by surprise, bursting suddenly over the landscape. And wild mangoes ripen.

At my husband's family home, a wild mango tree grew at a turn in the road that led to the coffee estate. During the season, my mother-in-law and I would wander down once a day, to see whether it had decided to toss any of its ripe fruit down for us. Burst, ripe fruit lay scattered on the ground, scenting the air with sweetness mingled with spice. Many fruit survived the fall, though, and we would collect the offerings gratefully, and carry them back to the house, some for our kitchen, and some to share.

One of the most rewarding dishes made from these mangoes was mange mor pajji, best described as spicy-sweet curd chutney. Rounded little saffron-coloured fruit floated in a thick dressing of whipped curd, with cunning twists of garlic, green chilli and a bite of mustard, all hidden behind the sweet, slightly peppery flavour of the mangoes. This is a dish that I love with a passion, and on many occasions, I simply spoon it into a bowl, and eat it by itself at the end of a meal.

We would squeeze the skin of the mangoes gently, then peel them with our fingers, extracting every last drop of the juice to add to the mange mor pajji. It could be eaten with a Coorg Mutton Palav, rich in flavours, or Coorg Ghee Rice. The spicy-sweet, cool and creamy mixture complemented the rice perfectly, and at the end, you could sit immersed in your own thoughts, and suck on the seed in companionable silence.

Thank you for visiting this page. If you read something that you enjoy, or see an image that you like, please take a moment to write a response. Do look out for the recipes of all the food featured here in my upcoming cookbook.

Image Credits: Nithin Sagi
All Food Styling: Kaveri Ponnapa


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