Mango: Fruit of the Gods

 

The high of summer in Cambodia is marked by the Khmer New Year in mid-April. It’s a time when the entire country collectively sweats. Women in their fine silk and lace go to the monasteries and welcome the New Year in the searing heat. However, underneath all the sweltering heat, there is a very heady, sweet tropical aroma lingering in the air; the peak of the mango season is almost upon us.

Mango is the quintessential tropical summer fruit. I’ve mentioned before on this page that I grew up on an orchard. To be precise, I grew up on a mango orchard, and many childhood memories are associated with this fruit. With the arrival of spring in late January, the blossoms would bloom on the mango trees. The sweet fragrance of the flowers would attract insects. We’d gather dried leaves and grass around the bases of the trees and light fire to keep the insects away. By late March, as the temperature begins to rise and the budding mangoes continue to grow, there is a slight change in the air and so arrive the “mango rains.” Mangoes begin to fall from the trees, marking the arrival of the pre-monsoon rainfall. These “mango rains”, also referred to as “summer showers,” are just light sprinkles in the afternoon, but sometimes they do turn into several hours of downpour. But without the rains, the crop won’t thrive; the rains help in the early ripening of the mangoes. After the rainfall, we would gather all the fallen green mangoes and pickle them whole. Khmers love eating sour fruits, especially mangoes, pickled or fresh. If you ever visit Cambodia, you’d see fruit vendors selling sour fruits on every street corner, all over the country. We eat those fruits dipped in a mixture of salt, sugar, and chili. Our pickled mangoes never lasted until the next season.

As the high summer arrives in mid to late April, mangoes begin to ripe. We’d pluck them and gather them according to varieties. There are a few dozen Khmer mango varieties and they are just as good as those you’d find in India, the birthplace of the fruit.The most prized variety by Khmers is svay keo chin.

A quick Khmer lesson: Svay is the Khmer word for mango. Keo means glass/crystal and it refers to the majority of mango varieties as well as women because of their exquisite shape and curvature. Svay poum sen is probably the most fragrant of Khmer mangoes. When they are ripening on the trees, you can detect that heady fragrance a mile away. It’s also the only mango I can tell by scent alone. My personal favorite is svay khos rdauv (out of season mango) and just as the name implies, this particular variety bears fruit out of season. This is how Khmers have mangoes year-round. Although, recently, Khmer mango growers are getting another crop out of the svay keo rmiet variety in October/November.

Mangoes have been cultivated in Cambodia before fifth century BC, but as mentioned above, the fruit is native to India. There are two species of mango, one from the Indian subcontinent which has flushes of bright red new growth and bears the mono-embryonic fruit of high color and regular form. The other species is from Southeast Asia. Its poly-embryonic fruit is pale green and has an elongated kidney shape. Khmers grow mangoes from seeds, inarching, and epicotyl grafting. The seed normally develops in three weeks. Seeding mango requires relatively low maintenance and will bear fruit in three to five years. Recently epicotyl grafting is becoming quite popular among Khmer growers because the trees bear fruit very early, but there are drawbacks. The trees are small, half the normal size, prone to diseases, and they die quickly.

Growing mangoes requires a frost-free climate. Blossoms and small fruits die if the temperature drops below 40℉. Young trees can die if the temperature drops below 30℉. Mango trees thrive in summer heat and wilt in summer fog. They grow fast with sufficient heat. The canopies can be rounded, broad or uptight. They are large trees that can be as tall as 132 ft. Mango trees can live for hundreds of years. There are trees that are more than 300 years old, and still bearing fruits. The taproot descends as deep as 26 ft down with profuse, wide-spreading feeder roots and anchor roots penetrating into the soil. Mango leaves are pinkish red and quickly change to dark red while young. Khmers eat the young leaves. They turn dark green as they age. Leaves are born in clusters parted by a length of naked stems bearing no fruit. These naked stems mark successive flushes of growth. Each flush of grown leaves will harden off to a dark green color before the next flush of growth begins again. Mango blossoms are small and greenish-white in color. They appear at branch terminal panicles. Each blossom has five petals, with a slightly sweet fragrance. Several flowers in each panicle are perfect, most don’t produce pollen and are incapable of producing fruit. Mangoes grow at the end of the stems, sometimes with five fruit to each stem. The fruit takes about four months from flower to ripen. The quality of the fruit is dependent on the scarcity of the fiber. Khmer mangoes hardly have any fiber.

Mango is a symbol of fertility in Hindu mythology. The blossoms are used in the worship of the Goddess Saraswati. The fruit also symbolizes eternal love. Hindus believe mango blossoms can stir a feeling of such visceral nature. Kamadeva, the God of Love, is said to possess five arrows, one of which is a mango blossom that is believed to be a powerful missile, certain to turn women into love-struck creatures, drenched with desire. In Shakuntala: the Ring of Remembrance, a Sanskrit play by Kālidāsa and translated to English by Barbara Stoler Miller, there is a scene with a maid plucking a mango bud and offering it to the Love God, indicating its potency:

Mango-blossom bud,
I offer you to Love
As he lifts
his bow of passion.
Be the first
of his flower arrows
aimed at lonely girls
with lovers far away!

Also from Kālidāsa, the Gathering of the Seasons: A Poem in Six Cantos, translated into English by Chandra Rajan

Sprays of full-blown mango blossoms – his sharp arrows,
Honey-bees in rows – the humming bowstring:
Warrior-Spring set to break the hearts
of Love’s devotees, is now approaching, my love.

In the Khmer myth of Nandi the Bull (Lord Shiva’s mount), pregnant women are forbidden from eating green mangoes as they bring great misfortune.

Both mango fruit and leaves are featured in many dishes in Khmer cuisine, one of which is ngiom svay (mango salad). It is the most loved of the Khmer salads and consists of shredded green mangoes, carrot, sliced shallots and a variety of herbs tossed with Khmer fish-sauce dressing and topped with crushed roasted peanuts. We make this salad with a variety of proteins: dried shrimp, pork belly, sun-dried salted fish, fresh shrimp and smoked fish. During the hottest days, the simplest of dishes consists of ripe mangoes with grilled sun-dried salted fish and rice. My family usually made mango fruit leather when we had a surplus at the end of the season. Making mango fruit leather requires only mango pulp and a few hours of your free time.

Try this perfect summer fruit the next time you come upon it.

There are 23 comments.

  1. Scott Wilmot Member

    Very interesting post.

    I started my career with Exxon many many years ago working on the Khorat Plateau in Thailand. I loved working there and it was especially fun during mango season. The fruit is so delicious by itself by my favorite way to eat them was mangoes and sticky rice. Yum. Another favorite was a spicy green mango salad very similar to what you show above.

    • #1
    • February 28, 2018, at 2:52 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Old Buckeye Member

    I think the ones I like are what you are describing, @LC. They’re smaller (fit in your palm) and yellow, not the larger greenish/red with orange flesh. I hadn’t seen them in local (Mississippi) stores until last year. I like them with lime juice and a drizzle of honey.

    • #2
    • February 28, 2018, at 4:05 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. She Thatcher
    She

    Absolutely lovely, thanks. I grew up in Northern Nigeria, and we had mango trees all over the place. There is nothing like walking out your door, and picking a fresh, ripe one right off the tree. It’s a completely different fruit from the one in the grocery store. (That’s also true of bananas.)

    People say the same thing about really fresh, straight-from-the-tree, pineapple, but I’ve never tried that.

    Mangoes, yum. My mouth is watering.

    • #3
    • February 28, 2018, at 5:06 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    I always learn interesting things from your posts, LC.


    This conversation is part of our ongoing Group Writing Series under February’s theme of “We Need a Little Summer.” In March, our theme will be Feats of Strength, and can cover anything you might think of as a form of strength. Our schedule and sign-up sheet is waiting for you. But do you call? Do you write? Do you ever visit home and claim a date?

    • #4
    • February 28, 2018, at 5:50 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  5. Arahant Member

    She (View Comment):
    There is nothing like walking out your door, and picking a fresh, ripe one right off the tree.

    For me, that was figs when we would go down to Big Mamma’s house. Nothing like home-grown figs. But I wouldn’t turn down a mango.

    • #5
    • February 28, 2018, at 5:51 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. ST Inactive
    ST

    Ricochet sentence of the month:

    Making mango fruit leather requires only mango pulp and a few hours of your free time.

    • #6
    • February 28, 2018, at 7:11 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  7. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Inactive

    Hello, LC! A wonderfully informative and flavorful post…Now, I’m hungry. :)

    • #7
    • February 28, 2018, at 8:09 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. Doug Watt Member

    When we lived in India we had a mango tree in the backyard, as well as grapefruit, and lemons. We also had mongoose in the backyard. The servants wanted to get rid of the mongoose, but my mom made sure they stayed because the bathtub drained out through a hole in the side of the house. A neighbor had a party at his house, and after the party ended he found a cobra in the house as we was closing up the house for the night.

    • #8
    • February 28, 2018, at 8:36 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. WillowSpring Member

    Posts like this are why I love Ricochet! Thank you @LC – I love these posts.

    • #9
    • February 28, 2018, at 8:39 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. KentForrester Coolidge

    Before reading your post, LC, I didn’t know a mango from a mongoose. But now I consider myself a mango maven. (“Expert” would have worked better there, but it didn’t alliterate like “maven.”)

    By the way, my wife just got back from Hawaii, and she brought back with her little jars of mango butter and mango jam. I’ve been spreading the mango butter on my English muffins in the middle of the night. My wife is starting to complain that she’s not going to get any mango butter.

    Kent

    • #10
    • February 28, 2018, at 9:43 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Columbo Member

    • #11
    • February 28, 2018, at 1:25 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. Western Chauvinist Member

    Is it true mangoes won’t ripen after they’re picked? I’ve been having a terrible time finding anything but green mangoes in the groceries — even the Whole Foods!

    • #12
    • February 28, 2018, at 1:43 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Thatcher

    Quick poll, how many read the title too quickly and though they saw:

    Mongo: Falsely Thinking Guy

    • #13
    • February 28, 2018, at 2:04 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Michael Minnott Member

    I lived in Brazil for a year back in 1988-89. They grew mangoes in the area where I stayed, so I was able to eat them fresh. No comparison to the ones that get imported and sold here in the local supermarket. I still remember the taste and smell (or at least I imagine I still do).

    • #14
    • February 28, 2018, at 3:46 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. Percival Thatcher

    Michael Minnott (View Comment):
    I lived in Brazil for a year back in 1988-89. They grew mangoes in the area where I stayed, so I was able to eat them fresh. No comparison to the ones that get imported and sold here in the local supermarket. I still remember the taste and smell (or at least I imagine I still do).

    Mom had a lot of mangoes when she lived in Mexico. She said the same thing.

    • #15
    • February 28, 2018, at 3:48 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  16. La Tapada Member

    What a perfect post and subject to end the February summer topic!

    I spent some of my childhood in the Peruvian Amazon. Mango trees were dotted all around the community. They sure make a LOUD noise when they fall off the tree and hit the corrugated tin roof.

    • #16
    • February 28, 2018, at 3:57 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. TempTime Member

    @lidenscheng, we planted our Haden mango tree a year after we bought our home in Miami. In Florida, a mango tree in the backyard is fairly common, although many folks don’t like them due to their large size. There are so many varieties here and everyone seems to have a favorite — personally, I’ve never tasted a mango I favor over the Haden. Currently our tree is completely covered in flowers, I expect to see the little green fruit appear in March, and by June we will be giving them away!

    I am wondering, what is the common name of the mango variety grown in Cambodia, or are there many varieties? I’ve only ever eaten ripe (sweet) mango fruit, not ever the immature green fruit or the leaves. Your post has inspired me to experiment with the green fruit and leaves this year. Pickles sound like a good idea. Any favorite recipes? Thanks.

    • #17
    • February 28, 2018, at 4:53 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Sheila Johnson Member

    That was…delicious, thank you. I remembered inching on my back on dry grass between rows of my mother’s tomato plants. I had a bowl for collecting, and a salt shaker for quality control.

    • #18
    • February 28, 2018, at 5:06 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  19. LC Member
    LC Post author

    TempTime (View Comment):
    @lidenscheng, we planted our Haden mango tree a year after we bought our home in Miami. In Florida, a mango tree in the backyard is fairly common, although many folks don’t like them due to their large size. There are so many varieties here and everyone seems to have a favorite — personally, I’ve never tasted a mango I favor over the Haden. Currently our tree is completely covered in flowers, I expect to see the little green fruit appear in March, and by June we will be giving them away!

    I am wondering, what is the common name of the mango variety grown in Cambodia, or are there many varieties? I’ve only ever eaten ripe (sweet) mango fruit, not ever the immature green fruit or the leaves. Your post has inspired me to experiment with the green fruit and leaves this year. Pickles sound like a good idea. Any favorite recipes? Thanks.

    @temptime There are many varieties, but the main one is called Cambodiana. I posted a mango salad recipe on the You Will Need Group several months back.

    • #19
    • February 28, 2018, at 10:31 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Arahant Member

    LC (View Comment):
    I posted a mango salad recipe on the You Will Need Group several months back.

    https://ricochet.com/members/lidenscheng/activity/564110/

    • #20
    • February 28, 2018, at 10:40 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. LC Member
    LC Post author

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    Is it true mangoes won’t ripen after they’re picked? I’ve been having a terrible time finding anything but green mangoes in the groceries — even the Whole Foods!

    Mangoes continue ripening after being picked unless you pick them too young.

    Just cover the mangoes with a cloth and keep them in a dry place. They also ripen faster if you add warm stones.

    • #21
    • February 28, 2018, at 10:41 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. LC Member
    LC Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    LC (View Comment):
    I posted a mango salad recipe on the You Will Need Group several months back.

    https://ricochet.com/members/lidenscheng/activity/564110/

    Thanks!

    • #22
    • February 28, 2018, at 10:41 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Cow Girl Thatcher

    Oh my!! Now I need to run to the store and buy mangoes!! What an interesting, informative post. My daughter-in-law’s parents live in Miami, and once sent us a box of mangoes from their backyard tree as a thank you for something. WOW!! So sweet and delicious! But, I’ll eat them, anywhere, anytime! Thanks for telling us all about this awesome fruit.

    • #23
    • March 1, 2018, at 8:02 AM PDT
    • 2 likes