Mango Techniques and Coconut Graters

 

When I was a kid, the yearly calendar was a blur. I couldn’t predict when Christmas came, nor when mango season fell. Christmas arrived when my mom set out the plastic stable and snowman poster, and mango season was here when plates of fleshy ripe mangos appeared at our dinner table. My mom, all smiles, would point out her find and we would contemplate the fruit that were sometimes as long as my forearm.

A small orchard bordered our yard in town, a food source to which we’d given more thought to if we didn’t already have plenty to eat from the local open-air markets. As it was, we had a regular supply of fresh pork, chicken, and produce that made all the work of harvesting and preparing fruit unnecessary. Besides, the variety of mango from the trees that lined each side of our yard was not great for eating. When green, they were slightly sweet, meaning they weren’t the kind for slicing thin and plunging into fish sauce. I don’t remember them ripe, but if they had been as succulent as the market harvest during mango season, we would surely have gorged on them for weeks. The ones we brought from town, golden yellow and giving off a scent like warm honey, were the capstone to our evening meals.

There was a technique to peeling the thin, tough outer skin before we could sink our teeth into the sweet fruit. My dad had refined the approach and would demonstrate: hold the paring knife toward the sharp tip. Start at the top and make parallel scoring lines from top to bottom all the way around the bulbous dessert. Finally, pull the skin off in strips to reveal the gleaming prize inside. We were then free to partake in any way we wished. Normally, this involved burying our faces in it, taking bite after copious bite, juice running down to our elbows. When the feasting was over, all that remained were pale seeds tufted with fibrous hairs, but still we scraped patches of yellow with our teeth, hoping to be rewarded with one more luscious morsel.

Our yard produced decent enough coconuts, but it seemed we ate them only occasionally. I remember one day when my siblings and I came across a tough old brown nut, a little smaller than a basketball. In the way of children, we decided we had to have some coconut right then, and so we were throwing the fruit as hard as we could onto the concrete patio, trying to penetrate the thick husk and get to the wooden shell deep inside.

We’d been hard at work for a while when the house helper decided to intervene with a little experience and common sense. She retrieved her machete, squatted on the ground, and began hacking: Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! I was hoping for immediate results, and although the heavy blade sank inches deep into the fibery husk, and Pii Liam would turn the knife to pull up the protective layer with a little cracking sound each time, it took ages before we saw enough of the round, textured brown kernel emerging to know we were getting somewhere. Still, she worked away, until finally, like a newborn displayed to rapturous exclamations, the naked seed was revealed for the admiration of all bystanders.

The coconut’s milk and meat vary by stage. If you catch the coconut in its youth, while it’s green, the milk is sweeter, the meat soft and eaten with a spoon. I was frankly disappointed in an old brown coconut’s milk–-drying up, a tad sour. The flesh of the aged coconut is hard, and we could almost break our teeth trying to bite the rind of white flesh from a fragment of wood shell. So once the maid had exposed enough of the shell to thwack a drinking hole for us from a dark indentation at the top, and we’d taken turns sampling the beverage, she finished hacking open the kernel to deal with the hard white meat.

This process required a grater, a long wooden one with teeth mounted at one end. She’d straddle this outdoor appliance, one half of a meat-heavy shell in her hands, and scrape the seed’s interior against the teeth to produce a mound of fine, damp coconut gratings. No doubt there were a variety of delicious ways she could use those, but we turned our attention to other things unless her projects involved us directly. We’d ride our swings, build hiding places, and play in our pile of bricks until presented with the next opportunity for a long, involved snack.

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There are 7 comments.

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  1. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    I seem to recall that mango season in Khon Kaen was in Feb/Mar. Am I remembering correctly? I do remember correctly your description of eating them with the juice running everywhere. So delicious.

    • #1
  2. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    I keep having the feeling that it was February. So my mom must have told me that in more recent discussions.

    • #2
  3. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    I learned to handle a mango from a Mexican woman I worked with when I volunteered to tutor ESL students.  Slice it near the middle around the pit, score the flesh in a cross-hatch pattern then pop the fruit out by bending the peel inward.  Then you had all these luscious cubes and she put Tajin seasoning on it.  Wow.  Mango, chile, lime, salt.  However, I remain intimidated by mangoes in the grocery store.  Not quite sure how to pick good ones, and not quite sure how long to hold them until they are ready to eat.

    • #3
  4. Hammer, The (Ryan M) Member
    Hammer, The (Ryan M)
    @RyanM

    Oh, Thailand. I was wondering!

    I also wonder what a really good fresh mango tastes like. We often they to find them here but I have no clue about how the season translates to the cold-storage fruit that makes it’s way to WA.

    • #4
  5. Hammer, The (Ryan M) Member
    Hammer, The (Ryan M)
    @RyanM

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    I learned to handle a mango from a Mexican woman I worked with when I volunteered to tutor ESL students. Slice it near the middle around the pit, score the flesh in a cross-hatch pattern then pop the fruit out by bending the peel inward. Then you had all these luscious cubes and she put Tajin seasoning on it. Wow. Mango, chile, lime, salt. However, I remain intimidated by mangoes in the grocery store. Not quite sure how to pick good ones, and not quite sure how long to hold them until they are ready to eat.

    Hercule Poirot showed me.

    • #5
  6. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Hammer, The (Ryan M) (View Comment):
    I also wonder what a really good fresh mango tastes like.

    Hot off the tree is best.  But there are dozens of kind of mangoes.  Julie mangoes are the best, I think; or perhaps called Philippine mangoes.  My wife planted a seed and now we get mangoes every year.  It’s flowering this morning.  It does provide a pretty good breakfast (with coffee) for a couple of months.

    • #6
  7. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Hammer, The (Ryan M) (View Comment):

    Oh, Thailand. I was wondering!

    I also wonder what a really good fresh mango tastes like. We often they to find them here but I have no clue about how the season translates to the cold-storage fruit that makes it’s way to WA.

    According to @she, the mangos we get in the western hemisphere are nowhere as good as the ones in the far east.

    • #7
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