If I had to pick a noun to describe my summer, it would be: mango. Before coming to India, I was a passionate mango-advocate, preferring mango ice creams, sorbets, and fruits whenever possible. After arriving here though, I realized how much I had yet to learn about the sweet seasonal fruit.
Mangos are the saving grace of Indian summers. Bursting with flavor, sweet as nectar, and cool to the touch—ideally having been chilled in the refrigerator—only mangos that can bring me a few minutes of juicy relief, the perfect antidote to the Hyderabad heat.
Perhaps the most surprising part of mango season is the sheer abundance of the fruit: mangos are available on every street corner, atop each produce cart, strewn across blankets laid out by the bus stand. They are are not restricted to the market—our neighborhood is home to several old trees, each providing a bountiful harvest. These trees can become a site of discord, as passerby readily avail themselves to the fruit without permission. Luckily, I don’t have to succumb to such temptation as my grandparents’ home has access to a mango tree. Though technically in our neighbor’s yard, the branches cross into our property—using some ingenuity and a long wooden pole, we too can collect buckets of mangos to be shared with family and friends.
In the summertime, mangos accompany every meal—breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a minimum consumption quota, so to speak. If we run out of mangos by dinnertime, Tata makes a late night run to the market; after all, we can’t risk having an incomplete meal. There is no need for desserts all season—despite my keen sweet tooth, my appetite stays satiated.
Not all mangos are sweet however—and as it turns out, the tart fruits too have a purpose: they get pickled. I helped Ammama make mango pickle, a laborious process that is an annual ritual in Telugu households. After a week’s worth of work—cutting, cleaning, mixing, marinating, packing, and storing—we ended up with over fifteen kilograms of spicy mango pickle, enough to last the extended family for the year.
I couldn’t help thinking back to the last summer I spent in India, the summer of 2004. I was 9 years old, on the cusp of turning 10, and still learning how to navigate two languages effectively. After I woke up from a nap one afternoon, Ammama called me into the kitchen to have a late lunch. She spooned some pickle onto my plate—“Avakaya pachadi, your favorite,” she told me. “No! I only eat mango pickle!” I cried, confused and still in my post-nap stupor. “Meera, that’s the same thing…” she explained.
Thirteen years later and look how far I’ve come—I can (theoretically) make my own avakaya pachadi!
One evening, after returning from visiting relatives, I gasped: we were out of mangos and the markets had closed. “How can we have dinner?” Ammama pulled out a few of our garden mangos—but they were still unripe. I was working through my disappointment when Ammama went outside to finish up some chores and came across a heavy box wrapped in twine in the outdoor shed—“Meera, bring some scissors!” she yelled. We cut open the delivery—a surprise from my uncle in Tirupati—to find almost thirty perfect fruits.
Now that is some mango magic.