With June hurtling toward July we can be in no doubt that the season is summer, the calendar is clear on this even if our weather has lagged behind it. In the absence of locally provided sunshine I have travelled ‘East’, to Southall, in search of a little exoticism and the delights of the Subcontinental summer mango season.
Southall Broadway represents a London outpost of the Punjab, straddling India and Pakistan, religiously diverse but united here in a celebration of its own culture and of colour, sparkle, entertainment and good food. Streetside vendors of freshly made syrupy orange and yellow jalebis (the highly addictive instant sugar fix) abound no matter what the time of year as do the clothing, slipper and bangle sellers and film and music merchants who line the streets alongside other outlets for food and trinkets and household goods, their shops often turned inside out onto the pavement.
It is a place tailor made to cater for the celebration no matter what kind: births, marriages, religious festivals, life in general - nothing much escapes the desire to offer a friend a box of mithai (sweetmeats) to mark an occasion, and the big names - Royal Sweets and Ambala - and the independents will vie for your custom in these alone. The Broadway seems permanently bedecked and bejewelled, garlanded, perfumed, full of life and ready for a party.
Mango season here is extra special. It comes upon us fast and furious. For this brief moment of high summer the pavement stalls are supplemented by mango sellers with boxes of fragrant fruit piled high in front of them and will be gone again before we know it.
These mangoes, these kings of fruit, come in different sizes, colours, flavours, levels of ripeness, sweetness, names, but the stall holders will guide you in your choice. How sweet would you like them? One teaspoon or two of sugar sweetness in your mango? (or for those with a highly developed palate a one and a half spoon version exists as well), what level of juice are you looking for? how many would you like in the box? (size of mango is important to some).
After some discussion, I plumped for Pakistani Chausna - small, deep orange fleshed, exceptionally juicy, well flavoured and the full two teaspoons sugar content.
Our mango seller sang for us (the honey mango song, tune and lyrics of his own devising I am guessing) offered samples of all the varieties at his feet, and advice on how best to enjoy them too. We were cautioned, as Westerners likely to imbibe alcohol with almost anything it seems in the eyes of those who do not partake, to lay off the hard stuff in the presence of this extreme sweetness - the two will not mix to good effect apparently - and I abstained, out of politeness, from arguing my case for probable sobriety when managing a mango, a task that requires full concentration and has no use for further distraction.
The thing about buying mangoes by the greedy box load though (and the vendors will use all their charm to persuade you to buy multiples) is that there is a danger of running out of capacity to eat them before their aromatic splendour turns into pungent reminder of their presence. For this reason, while you need not shy away from over indulgence in the naked fruit, do have your contingencies ready for preserving a few when you must admit defeat.
Mango flavoured ices are one popular and refreshing way of capturing this very special flavour. Here is my recipe for a mango sorbet in case you should find yourself with a mango surfeit as the short season reaches its July peak. I used about 12 small mangoes, roughly a box and a half.
First make a sugar syrup. Put 350g sugar in a heavy based stainless steel saucepan and add 600ml water. Dissolve the sugar over a very low heat stirring gently with a metal spoon - the sugar is fully dissolved when you can no longer see, feel or hear gritty sugar crystals. Raise the heat and allow the syrup to boil for about a minute. Remove from the heat and leave to cool fully (provides about 900ml of syrup - enough for just under 1kg of mango flesh).
Next, remove the mango flesh from the skin and the stone. Imagine the large flat stone centrally located inside the mango and cut the flesh filled sides away from it with a sharp knife (bear in mind that the stone is at least 1cm thick at its widest), scoop the flesh out of these two 'cheeks’ with a small spoon. Pare the skin from the remaining flesh around the stone and cut the flesh away leaving any difficult fibrous bits that cling (anything left on the stone is now officially a cook’s perk to be eaten, unobserved, straight off the stone while leaning over the kitchen sink).
Blend the mango flesh into a smooth purée in a food processor or using a food mill. Put the purée into a measuring jug (or weigh it on a scale).
When the sugar syrup is fully cooled, add an equal volume of syrup to the quantity of mango flesh (if there is 300ml of mango purée, for example, add 300ml of sugar syrup). Mix together and then taste for flavour. Freezing will dull the flavour so it should taste sweeter than you would like at this stage; if you want to sharpen it, add some lemon juice (I added the juice of a whole lemon). You can also add a shot or two of vodka if you don’t mind an alcoholic hit but more to help prevent the sorbet from freezing solid - just don’t say you weren’t warned of the potential consequences if you do so!!
Freeze in an ice cream maker,if you have one, according to its instructions, or in a freezer proof container if you don’t (put it in the freezer and take it out every 30 minutes or so and beat with a fork until you are happy that the ice crystals are evenly distributed and the resulting mixture is as smooth as you want it).
“In my opinion, there are only two necessary requirements concerning mangoes. Firstly, they should be sweet and secondly, they should be plentiful!”
~ Mirza Gahlib (Indian poet and mango lover)