Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Mangoless Mangoes.

The mango season is just getting underway here in sunny Queensland, and if the early samples are anything to go by, a lusciously sweet and sticky time we are going to have of it this year. It occurred to me that I have not dedicated a post to this most delicious of all fruits, a fruit which compensates somewhat for the heat and humidity we suffer during summer in this state.

The mango (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) is ‘a sweet orange-fleshed drupe which is much eaten as dessert, especially in the tropics, and is used in its unripe state to make chutney and jam.’ It is the fruit of various species of the genus Mangifera, the most common of which is Mangifera indica (the Common or Indian mango), and which is native to India and Myanmar.

The OED gives several other definitions of the word mango. Two of these have nothing at all to do with food, but they too much fun not to share with you. A mango may also be
- ‘a dealer in slaves, esp. in prostitutes ( a 19th C usage, perhaps deriving from an ancient Greek word indicating ‘means of charming or bewitching others’ or perhaps from an Indo-European word ‘mangonel’, meaning to deceive.)
- In Ireland in the 19th C it was also ‘a substance used in the bleaching of linen’(perhaps related to ‘mangle’)

There is a third use, in evidence since the last half of the seventeenth century. A mango may also be ‘A pickle resembling that made of green mangoes; (later) spec. a pickle made of whole fruits stuffed with spices; a whole fruit stuffed and pickled in this way.’ This gave rise to the verb ‘to mango’, or ‘to pickle as green mangoes are pickled.’

The only mangoes to reach Britain in the early days were not the ripe variety, for obvious reasons, which gave rise to this last usage. A nineteenth century article explains it all:

It is much the fashion in this country to imitate the Indian mangoes as they are pickled at Bombay, namely, by being gathered green, cut open, the stone taken out, and bound together with string. Young melons are usually employted for this purpose, though they have not in taste the most remote resemblance to the flavour of the mango, which, when ripe and of a good species, is the most delicious as well as the most wholesome of fruits, and when unripe is more like the unripe apple than any other of our European fruits, And this similitude is so strong, that in India we have ourselves often had tarts made of the unripe mango to resemble the apple tarts of England. The apple is therefore the best fruit to pickle in imitation of the Bombay pickle ….
The Magazine of domestic economy, London 1839

The above magazine then went on to give a recipe for pickled melons, but today I give you a recipe for another common alternative – cucumbers – from a century earlier.

To Mango Cucumbers.
Cut a little slip out of the side of the cucumber, and take out the seeds, but as little of the meat as you can; then fill the inside with mustard seed bruised, a clove of garlick, some slices of ginger, and some bits of horse-radish; tie the piece in again, and make a pickle of vinegar, salt, whole pepper, mace, and boil it, and pour it on the mangoes, and do so for nine days together; when cold, cover them with leather.
The Compleat Housewife, or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion, E.Smith, 1728

Quotation for the Day.

The number of mangoes that a practiced person may eat with impunity is astonishing.
Sketches of India, 1850


Judy said...

Green bell peppers are sometimes called mango peppers in the USA. Where that came from I don't know. Maybe an old Southern term, as my parents were from Southern stock.

The Old Foodie said...

Interesting. I had a couple of emails too, on the same topic. I guess it came from their use in pickles, as in the 'cucumber' and 'melon mangoes'?

Jo Bottrill said...

Great post. Did you know that Chawton House Library have recently released a beatufiul gift edition of the book, see

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Jo - I didnt know about the new edition - thanks! Sounds great.