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Missing mangoes

September 26, 2012

By JAY REED

Thump. Roll, roll, roll, roll. Bang! 

Did you ever wonder what a mango sounds like? Well, now you know. 

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, those were the sounds of countless mangoes moving towards their ultimate destiny: my mouth. In that fair land across the sea, we had our own mango tree that grew just outside our front door. As the fruit ripened, it would fall to the ground (thump), tumble like a tiny football down the steep driveway (roll), and crash into the metal gate at the bottom (bang). Almost every morning during mango season, we would have a little pile of them waiting for us at the bottom of the hill. 

Before I had my very own tree, I was very much a mango novice. I heard a folk song once that mentioned this mysterious fruit — the singer described it as good, but messy. The song turned out to be quite accurate. I experienced it firsthand as I sat with a sheikh under his very own tree, the juice running down my arms and chin. Another friend commented that he always needed to floss after eating one. I can also testify to this, now that I have eaten legions (It’s worth the effort). Mango juice was often offered when we went into homes to visit. Golden-orange and thick, it was available in the tiniest of groceries. A notch above that was the juice shop version: fresh fruit blended with a little evaporated milk. Cold, frothy and refreshing.  Even colder, especially in the blazing hot coastal city where one little shop served it homemade every day, was the mango ice cream. Man, I miss my mango tree.

There were other trees in the garden, too. 

The guava tree, which graced the garden near the back door, made more noise than the mangoes. Daughter was a big fan of the guava in those days — she couldn’t get enough. 

Son was another story. 

He seemed to have an aversion to any fruit or vegetable that contained lots of little seeds in it, as guavas do. Where Daughter would run to the guavas, Son would run from them, lest he re-experience his previous meal in reverse.  (Unfortunately, Son inherited a strong gag reflex from his father). 

The fruit bats in the neighborhood were also fond of them. This is how we learned the sounds of the guava. As the bats nibbled nocturnally, a guava would often fall from the tree. But instead of the gentle thump of the mango on concrete, the guavas usually fell gong-like onto a set of giant sheet-metal water tanks that sat under the tree, the tone and volume of the impact determined by the level of water in the tank.  Our bedroom window was just a few feet from the upper branches of this tree.  What a way to wake up.

The mulberry tree was much quieter. About the only sounds we got out of those little purple berries were the chattering of the neighborhood rug-rats who would scale our walls to steal a mouthful, or the extremely rare exclamatory shriek of The Wife when Daughter (who loved them) would enter the house and apply purple hand-shaped stains to all she touched. Or foot-shaped, it varied. Also on the subject of mulberry sounds, the local word for the fruit was “toot”, and that’s all I have to say about that. 

Mulberries were more about sight than sound — they made a big mess on the sidewalk. And the birds that ate them…well, you can probably figure out that mess all by yourself. But they were tasty and made nice syrup for pancakes. I miss that tree a little bit, too. 

It was kind of exciting to have a couple of coffee trees in the yard, but they made no noise at all. They didn’t produce enough beans to make a decent cup of coffee, so I didn’t even hear the noise of my grinder. But I still thought it was pretty cool to have a coffee tree. 

The other quiet trees of note produced one of the most intriguing fruits of all time, the pomegranate. Who knew I had been entrusted with the care of what is now the super-est of all super fruits? I remember my first pomegranate, brought to school by one of my elementary school teachers. I don’t remember the subject of the lesson per se, but I do recall being taught to pick out the little juice nuggets from the honeycomb-ish innards, pop them between my teeth, swallow the juice and spit out the seed. Imagine my surprise the first time I had a fruit salad that included pomegranate kernels, and realized people were eating the whole thing. Huh. The Wife says she was told they would make you regular. I wouldn’t know — I still spit them out. In that far away kingdom we also had a pomegranate-flavored soda.  Know what it tasted like? It tasted red. That’s it. The universal flavor of red. Now, pomegranates flavor everything from iced tea to the cashews I got on my birthday, and are thought to cure everything from athlete’s foot to Alzheimer’s. If I had known at the time that I had two anti-oxidant factories growing in my private garden, I might have hooked up a hose to the musical tanks under the guava trees and watered those babies a little more often. 

These days, back on this side of the pond, I don’t have a single tree in my yard.  Nothing. Nada. The shade of the giant pecan trees from the big house on the hill does creep onto our property, but that’s about it. As for other fruit sources, the sum total of my attempt to raise a black cherry tomato plant this summer was a half dozen. I miss my mango tree.

Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at eatsoneate@gmail.com.

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