Some of my most precious memories in life are those that were spent listening to the words of our former President Shri. Abdul Kalam. His messages, often simple spoke about sustainable living in a doable manner.
During one of his talks here in Coimbatore, he laid emphasis on the importance of planting fruit trees. That message stayed with me and wherever there is an opportunity to plant a tree, I do my best to ensure that it is a fruit bearing tree that is indigenous to our region.
The great scientist/environmentalist’s logic was quite matter of fact. With population on an increase and agricultural land on the decline, planting a fruit tree will pave the way to make food available in a manner that will combat hunger along with extreme poverty. So, imagine if we all planted native fruit trees, we will be then contributing to an eco-system that bears seasonal bounty while preserving the natural bio diversity of the land.
Take the mango tree for example; Most of us wait for the mango season and devour as many varieties as we can get our hands on. For me it’s not just about celebrating the ripe mango, we also enjoy the versatility of the green mango in our daily diet. That way we get our mango fix without an excess intake of the sucrose, fructose and maltose that is naturally prevalent in the ripe fruit.
Experimenting with the raw mango can be fun. The taste too differs based on the variety. Some are so tart that we need to add sweeter ingredients like carrot to balance the sour taste. While others have the right blend of sweet and sour (killimooku) which go so well with a smear of red hot chilli powder and a lick of natural salt. We are blessed to have two majestic mango trees around our home which are easily many decades old. These beauties bear fruit like clockwork starting from the end of March until early June.
The fruit grows big enough to fill a long human hand and the skin stays green with a hint of blush at the crown. The flesh inside is off white with a stain of pale green and is perfect for our summer lunches comprising of maanga saadham, maanga kolambu and the family favourite aruthu maanga urugai. Yum!
Over the years this bounty of fruit has inspired me to concoct dishes other than the South Indian must haves. That’s how my chilled mango salad came into existence. An impromptu lunch plan with my mother had me raiding the pantry for ingredients, the outcome of which resulted in thin juliennes of green mango, carrot and onion doused in lemon with fresh mint leaves, a bit of jaggery and chaat masala. It’s one of the most refreshing sides to a summer lunch and has found firm footing in our summer lunch menus. The sweet and sour Gujarathi chunda made by my mother is an equally favoured treat.
Another fun idea is the green mango granita. That came about when we made fresh aam panna, that tangy drink which is a must try on the streets of Mumbai. Flavoured with palm sugar, black salt and spices of choice, it makes for a delicious seasonal cooler. I’m not a fan of cardamom so my green mango drink is flavoured with mint or roasted jeera powder.
To make an aam panna granita, just freeze the mixture and take it out when semi-frozen and scrape it with a fork. Return it to the freezer and continue the same process twice (takes about 3-4 hours). Serve it chilled in a glass goblet with a sprig of fresh aromatic mint as a garnish. How fortunate are we to be able to plan an entire meal with just one seasonal ingredient thanks to the many varieties.
As we travel down Nanjundapuram road that was home to many farms not so long ago, one can still spot the thick boughs of elderly mango trees with branches laden over with fruit.
How many people pay attention to it is something I always wonder! Remember, these too were planted to line the roadside by our forefathers who thought beyond their own needs. Do people appreciate this wealth of produce that our trees willingly provide us? Or does it have to come wrapped in expensive paper and cost a bomb thereby burning a hole in our wallets before we sit up and take notice? It seems to me that at this point, the choice is still ours to make. Enjoy produce only when season so farmers don’t have to resort to unhealthy measures to ensure availability throughout the year.