Mangoes are a part of Malayalis’ collective memory. With the fruit flooding the market Anasuya Menon gets a feel of this sweet season

Summer always smells like mangoes — a sweet, sticky smell that floods the markets by mid March. The smell that formally declares the arrival of vacations, sweltering days and pickled childhood memories. In the middle of another mango season, business is ripening in Kerala and menus, sweetening.

Alphonso is the queen this season, too, because it is the sweetest, says Vijayan, a sales person at the fruit stall at Panampilly Nagar. “It is the most loved for its taste,” he says, pointing at the heap of blushing fruit with a taut, golden yellow skin. At Rs. 160 a kilo, the Alphonso is one of the more expensive varieties. But as the season wanes, the prices will fall and towards rains, they would come at remarkably moderate rates.

Kerala’s own Chandrakkaran, the bite-sized green variety, too is available in plenty. At Rs. 140 a kilo, they are far from cheap, says Sheeja, who runs a stall on the Kaloor-Kadavanthra road. Except for a scatter of pomegranates, her cart is dominated by mangoes. “Prices are not a problem these days. People are willing to spend money on seasonal fruits. Increasing health awareness could be one of the main reasons,” she says. Though most of the varieties she sells are cultivated in Kerala, hers come from Bangalore. “They are fresher… I think.”

The bigger retail chains display their bounty in a more organised manner with little blackboards announcing the names of the varieties with the price.

Alphonso and Chandrakkaran are closely followed by Priyoor (Rs. 120), Banganapalli (Rs. 110), Thamboor (Rs. 100), Sindhoori (Rs. 99) and Moovandan and Urmani at Rs. 80. The Totapuri or the Kilimooku is the least expensive at Rs. 65 a kilo.

Many of the mangoes in the market are cultivated in Kerala. However, some varieties such as Banganapalli and Sindoori come from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Each variety has its own standout features in terms of colour, texture and flavour. Each is relished in a differnt way. In Kerala, for instance, the Chandrakkaran is used for making pulissery and the Moovandan variety is generally savoured with salt and spices.

Mango on the menu

Though courtyards may have shrunk and fewer households have their own dear mango tree, Malayalis do not compromise on their summer menus, which still happily revolve around the mango. “It is the most versatile fruit, if you ask me. There are just so many things you can do with it,” says homemaker Radha S.

She explains: “Tiny, tender mangoes (kanni manga) in brine is one of the most basic, but best appreciated nibbles. Even children love it. With slightly bigger mangoes, one can make a simple pickle. Sundried mangoes, sometimes mixed in jaggery, can even be eaten as dessert. These stay up to a year,” Radha says. Her list doesn’t end there. Chutneys, avial, sambar, juices, payasam and even a spinach dish are part of her repertoire.

Mangoes almost always smell of childhood. Artist and writer Bara Bhaskaran still fondly remembers the gigantic mango tree that stood upright in the courtyard of his ancestral house at Mangad in Kasaragod district. “The tree was extraordinarily tall and its canopy resembled a dark cloud. The women of the house boiled water under its shade, perhaps why the leaves took on an ominous black hue. In my memory, the tree has borne fruit just once and the mangoes were as big as coconuts. The whole house smelt of mangoes,” he says. Coming from a “mango belt”, he says the fruit occupies an integral place in the cuisine of the area. One of his favourites is the green mango, which is cooked with dried prawns and jackfruit seeds. “It is usually made during the early monsoon, from mangoes left over by the summer,” he says.

Before the digital age, the trees and fruit provided immense entertainment for children, too. “We used to make lion’s heads out of seeds and have numerous mango felling competitions. Also, the trees were perfect hiding places,” Bhaskaran recalls.

When Nature is showering mangoes upon us, why not feast on them? “There is one school of thought that says mangoes generate heat and are not ideal for everyone. But I recommend seasonal fruits. Mangoes are nutrient-rich. While raw mango has Vitamin C, the ripe ones are loaded with beta-carotene,” says consultant nutritionist Gayathri Ashokan.

The question then is would you eat it raw, sweet, spicy, dried, pickled, curried or cooked this summer?

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