The best thing about an Indian summer is the Mango. And the best way to eat it is to squish it and suck out the juice or to peel off the thin skin and then chomp into it with the juice dripping down your chin and down your arms. That’s the way we used to eat mango as children and when we were really small, my mother would make us eat them bare chested for fear of staining our clothes.( Mango stains are hard to remove ).Many things have changed since Bombay became Mumbai. For one there are many more buildings and much less greenery which means that our summers have become hotter and muggier and sultrier. And somehow the taste of the mango has also changed from that sweet cloying softness to a slightly acidic tinge. This is largely due to the fact that most of the mango are artificially ripened with packets of chemical to generate heat rather than the old fashioned way of laying out the raw mango in beds of hay.
It used to be quite a process – ripening mango. My mother would order crates at a time and the first crate was actually given a heroes welcome. Then we would make some space for the precious cargo in a corner of the store room or kitchen, lay out a thick bed spread over which we would make a bed of hay. The mangoes would be laid out reverentially, in neat rows and a generous amount of hay between the layers. As the last bit of hay was laid on the last layer we would tiptoe out of the room praying that they would ripen soon.
Every morning my mother would check on the mangoes and turn them around if required . The first ripe mango was actually kept in front of the small shrine in my mother’s room and we would wait greedily for her to cut it up and offer it to us. Once the first mango was thus blessed and sanctified, we were free to eat the mangoes as and when they ripened.
OUr breakfast was a mango each and for lunch we had pulped mango which we ate with hot chapati. For tea again we had mango and repeated the pulped mango and chapati for dinner. During the day when we felt hot we’d have panha, a refreshing squash made from raw mango and sometimes we’d even have a mangophool or a raw mango milkshake. And when my mother felt extra generous, she’d give us a genuine mango milk shake with alphonso mango and vanilla ice cream.
The pleasure of mango is captured for the rest of the year by making it into pickles and preserves . You can find the recipes in my book ” The Fragrance of Mango Blossoms”