Flavors at Home: Missing Family During Mango Season

May is mango season in Miami, and Urmila Ramakrishnan's parents have 14 trees in their backyard. (Sundaram Ramakrishnan)

In light of the shelter-in-place order, many of us have resorted to cooking at home, revisiting old recipes and getting creative with our pantries. Instead of our usual Flavors Worth Finding column with recommendations from restaurants, KQED staffers are sharing the meals they’ve been making at home to find some comfort and grounding during uncertain times.

It’s mango season in Miami, a three-week period where all the trees are weighed down with hundreds of mangoes. Driving down Old Cutler Road in Coral Gables, you’ll see fallen mangoes picked over by an assortment of animals. 

The backyard of my parents’ house is a paradise of tropical fruits. You’ll find fruits my mom grew up eating in Malaysia, like longan, jambu and lychee. There are starfruit, passionfruit, orange, apple and avocado trees all hiding in plain sight in this little mini forest, an ode to my family’s past and present. And, of course, there are mangoes. So. Many. Mangoes. 

mangai thokku
Urmila's father, Sundaram, making mangai thokku. (Sundaram Ramakrishnan)

When calling my parents to catch up, I often interrupt some sort of mango adventure: My dad filling up giant, plastic storage boxes of the red-orange fruit, collecting addresses to send mangoes to friends and family and prepping kacha (unripe, green) mangoes to make mankgai thokku (a Tamilian mango pickle), or my mom pulping and freezing super-ripe mangos for ice cream. 

mangoes on a counter
Mangoes getting prepped to ship to friends and family. (Sundaram Ramakrishnan)

My mom’s birthday was recently, and to my surprise, my brother (who is not the cook or baker in the family) attempted a mango-upside-down cake. I called in via video chat to watch her blow out a solitary candle, cut the cake and take a bite. I’m not sure why, but during this quarantine, I’m missing my family more than usual. It’s not like I would typically be taking a flight to see them at this time, but there is a sense of displacement and loss. Perhaps it is the classic case of wanting what you know you can’t have. 

More Quarantine Cooking Stories.

Sponsored

Three days later, a package arrived with my mom’s curvy handwriting scrawled on a USPS priority box. I cut it open with the knife end of a wine key to find a box full of mangoes, the new family heirloom. 

mangoes in a box
A box of mangoes from Urmila's parents house in Florida. (Urmila Ramakrishnan / KQED)

Cutting into a mango from my parents’ backyard is a piece of home—a piece of my family and where we’ve been to get to where we are. Biting into that sweet mango flesh with a hint of salt brings me back to the times I was there, armed with a makeshift mango picker—best described as a cross between a broom handle and a makeshift lacrosse cradle—to reach heights of just-ripe mangoes while standing tip-toed. My brother would even attempt to climb the low hanging branches. It’s a memory of measured adventure. A treasure hunt of fruit. A longing for family. 

usps boxes
Boxes of mangoes ready to be shipped to friends and family. (Sabita Roy)

 

 

 

 

As I pulp and prep my own mangoes for the freezer, I think of my mom and how many plastic freezer bags she must have used to store her harvest for the year. I dream of mango kulfi and ice cream, which I will eventually make from the pulp. I scour the internet for desserts that will do these mangoes justice. 

I don’t know the next time I’ll see them, but getting a fruit care package means being able to connect through mango lassi, ice cream and sharing recipe inspiration. 

Mango Ice Cream

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

14 oz heavy whipping cream

5-6 cardamom pods, freshly crushed and ground, shells discarded

30 oz mango puree

In a blender, combine the mango pulp, cardamom powder and sweetened condensed milk. Pour into a late bowl and set aside. Using an electric or standing mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipping cream into the mango mixture and pour into a loaf pan or a sealable glass container. Freeze for a minimum of three hours, until the ice cream is set.