Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mango Memories

AS ALWAYS, my trip to Dupax last February was another trigger-happy camera-clicking occasion. As always, too, the associated long walks along the roads and trails that had been part of my childhood were a delightfully delicious time-travel experience.

This particular time, however, my encounters included a patch of ricefields surrounded by mango trees in glorious bloom, a geriatric mango tree whose branches are full of promising yellow flowers, and another mango tree that was heavily laden with fruits.

Here's my photo documentation of them:

A mango-rich landscape beside Abannatan Creek across the new Dupax del Sur Municipal Nursery. (Feb. 20, 2012 photo by charlz castro)

An old mango tree on the road to the old Dupax Nursery.
(Feb. 20, 2012 photo by charlz castro)
Had I not seen and photographed these trees, my memories associated with mangoes would not have been resurrected.

Nourished by Mangoes

WHEN MY SISTERS and Castro cousins and I were growing up, mangoes formed a huge part of our nourishment and Vitamin C intakes. This was, of course, in addition to the guavas, bananas, tamarinds, pomelos, sarisay, anonas, santol, duhat, sapang, bignay, and many more fruits that our part of Dupax used to have plenty of.

Yes, we had mangoes for breakfast. We had mangoes for lunch. We had mangoes for supper. And we had mangoes for between-meals snacks.

You better believe it also when I say that, in my case, I even had to sleep with mangoes. This was during the pamujbuj (fruit-picking) season for mangoes when we had fruits so many my father had to use the space under my bed not only to payutuwon (ripen) them but also to keep them away from being attacked by kanet (ants), gandaw (mice), and leyoj (houseflies).

A heavily-laden mango tree and a carabao under it in I-iyo.
(Feb. 16, 2012 photo by charlz castro)
We had a lot of options to choose from on how to eat ripe mangoes. One was to hold the fruit on one hand then use the other to remove its soft pealing one bite after another until what is left of the juicy golden meat is the single large seed that you continue to lick and nibble at until it turns white.

Another was to slice the fruit on one side of the flat seed then carve the meat of the resulting half (called aping in Isinay; literally "face") into several squares or triangles, then bite off the chunks as slowly or as fast as you can, depending on what it takes so that you can have chance for the other half or for the syrupy seed.

We mixed mango with rice, along with a pinch of salt, and a plateful of that concoction was enough for one happy meal. As we say the past tense of "Bon appetit!" in Isinay, mayat podda oy nar!

Mangoes would already be part of our diet -- both as snacks and as part of the regular meals -- starting when the fruits are still green and sour or even before the fruit's stage that Isinays call naungutan (nakabbutan in Ilocano; when the seed is already covered with a fibrous and tough skin).

As a merienda, we would bite green mango and dip the chunk in salt made hot by red lara (siling labuyo). Or we sliced the fruit and put them in a bowl and shake them along with bagoong or inasin, again flavored to taste with siling labuyo. This method of eating the fruit would reach high fever, so to speak, when the mangoes go in marasaba up to mara-itluj stages, meaning when the fruits are almost ready to be harvested and their inner parts are now a pale yellow-green like ripe bananas and soft like boiled egg, and their taste would  border between sour and sweet.

I remember that during mango season both Papa and my Uncle Ermin were fond of using green mango as major ingredient in making the Isinay side dish called inlasap. They also used it as seasoning for most food items that needed sour flavor such as the "jumping salad" (live river shrimps the preparation of which is called kilawen in Ilocano and binesej in Isinay). They also used shredded green mango to make freshly picked edible fern (pa-u in Isinay, paku in Ilocano) or roasted rattan shoots (tangpat in Isinay, barit in Ilocano) more delectable.

Sliced green mango was also used to make our versions then of sinigang na bangus, inlangeyan an dalaj (sauteed mudfish), and daludal ti aba (gabi runners) more delicious. Womenfolk used green mangoes, in particular the injured and thus rejected ones during harvest, to make garapon (large candy jars) of buro (fruit preserve using salt and water).

If you ask what was my favorite mango-flavored dish then, I'd say it's a toss between the jumping salad and Papa's inlasap that consisted of scraped green mango that he mixed with salted shrimp paste (inasin in Isinay, aramang in Ilocano, bagoong alamang in Tagalog, balaw in Bicol).

A Mango Heritage of Sorts

ONE WAY or another, you could call me and my sisters and cousins "mango children." I guess that because Dupax was (and is still now) a mango paradise, many kids in town at the time were in that privileged mango-rich situation too.

But I recall then that we were luckier -- mango-wise, that is -- than many of my contemporaries. This was because our house was only a stone-throw away from Pitang, that meadow-like narrow plain near the western hills of Dupax del Sur that siren poto^ (in the days of old) was a communal grazing land for carabaos and had plenty of freely growing mango trees.

Aside from spending summer under its mango groves, Pitang was where I would bring my cousin Nelson Castro to chase birds and dragonflies, gather firewood, and climb guava, aratiles and tamarind trees when we were young. That was long, long before we both became foresters.

We were also lucky because, alongside the mango-endowed wilderness of Pitang, we had a huge and prolific-fruiting mango tree of our own. The tree was the most prominent feature in that semi-wilderness piece of land near our house that my parents used to call "Solar" but which later, because of that mango, my sisters and I referred to as "Mangga."

One memory I had of that tree was Papa going to it in several early mornings to build a smoky pile under it using the giyun (cogon) and shrubs he cut the day before. I would later learn that the smoke-creating activity was called mangasu^ in Isinay (agsu-ob in Ilocano), and it was meant to induce the mango tree to flower as well as to drive away insects that would nibble at the flowers and the tiny fruits later.

I would also learn later that that mango tree was of the carabao variety (manggang kinalabaw in Tagalog) and that our harvest from that tree averaged 20 tiklis (kuribot in Ilocano, kaing in Tagalog; bamboo basket for loading fruits) each fruiting season.

It's unfortunate that only a study table (given as gift by my father) now remains of that tree after we lost it to a strong typhoon when I was already starting a family in Baguio. But one memory of it still lingers in my now senior citizen mind:

One morning, my sister Arlyne and I followed our father to the solar where he was tending his pigeon pea (iris in Isinay, kardis in Ilocano) plants, and our little eyes caught sight of the countless fruits hanging from the tree's low branches. In short, my sister (who was around five at the time) and I (not yet seven) found the fruits so irresistible that before we knew it we were already picking as many as we could, using as container Arlyne's dress upturned on the front in what they call sab-uk in Ilocano.

I recall the fruits were still small -- the size of a pandesal -- but we were kids and we only stopped picking them when we heard Papa's thundering voice. I also remember we never even got to taste the fruits we harvested as Arlyne dropped them all on our way home to Mama.

On the side of my cousins (Elnora, Nancy, Nelson, Ellen, Ninfa, and Emma), Uncle Ermin's ricefield in Manggayang used to have a large and also prolific-fruiting tree on one side. That mango tree and our own tree both gave us extra supply of fruits that we let to ripe under our beds, as our fathers were inseparable brothers ever since they lost their ama when they were kids, and they both shared the harvests of their trees especially when one's tree happened not to bear many fruits for the year.

Indeed, we must have inherited our love for mangoes from our fathers.

Children of the Mango Groves

UNLIKE TODAY when we only get to taste mangoes when we buy them from the market, when we were small, mangoes in Dupax were practically free. Yes, libre -- as in you could go near a tree and if the owner is there, you can ask for a few fruits to munch on the spot (minus the salt, as it was prohibited to use such under a fruiting tree) and even to take home.

There were no SM plastic bags or market sando bags yet at the time. So we either put the fruits on our pockets or on our caps. Or we used the multipurpose jute sacks (langgotse) that we always carried mainly for padding the firewood we would gather from the forests further up in the hills.

When the mangoes are in the maraitluj (like an egg) stage, the owners would now forget being generous and would even eye our baris (slingshot; saltik in Tagalog, pal-siit in Ilocano) with suspicion, especially when the sprayers are watching and estimating how many tiklis of fruits would be soon be harvested.

So we would pretend to just pass by to rest under the trees, but actually we would look for fallen, fully ripe fruits under the cogon and shrubbery in the periphery of the fruit-laden tree.

The golden nuggets would often be naam-amon (full of fruit-fly maggots) or at times naruyruy (made soft from the fall; nalamog in Tagalog), but still they would still be useful and, in fact, being naturally ripened by the sun up there in the tree, they tasted more heavenly than the ones forced to ripe in the house.

We called such mango foraging activity as mammung si mangga. And among my sweet memories of those days was the fact that the activity forced me to learn how to whistle.

How that thing happened is a story worth telling in a separate post. But suffice it to tell for now that when I was little I was ribrib. I have yet to ask the Isinay for this, but ribrib is Ilocano word for a kid whose milk teeth are visibly brown and "eroding" due to too much eating ininti (sugar). Thus, because I had incomplete front teeth, I was sawaw and could only pass on a whispering air when I would attempt to whistle.

At the time, all males be they young or old, are supposed to know how to whistle. For boys, specially, we needed to whistle "wheee-whit-whit-whit-whit!" repeatedly to summon our dogs when we went playing outdoors. We had to whistle, too, to call the wind to blow during kite-making and -flying season (around November to April, summer season in our part of the Philippines). If we didn't know how to make the whistle, we would find extreme challenge making our kites take off to the sky.

And we applied such "whistle technology" when we went to hunt for fallen mango fruits (or often to wait for them to fall!) under the trees growing wild in that part of Pitang that older folks used to call Gatchalian and later Bautista (both referring to the owners of the place).

Indeed, while during kite season I would hitch on the collective whistling forces of the other kids to summon the wind, it was altogether a different story with the mangoes. You see, as a self-appointed leader of a small group of mango-infatuated kids in our neighborhood then, I was forced to learn how to whistle when we wanted the wind to come, preferably in full force as in a typhoon (puwo^ in Isinay, bagyo in both Ilocano and Tagalog).

(As a footnote, the group included my cousin Nelson, now Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer of DENR Zambales; Jude Calacala, now a globetrotting seaman; and my nephew Ramiro, who went on to become a tree-climber each mango season and tree-owners want help in the spraying and later in the harvesting.)

And what in the world is the connect between the whistle (usisiw in Isinay) and the gale-force wind and the mangoes?

So that the mango branches would manyojyoj (shake) -- and in doing so the reddish-yellow fruits, especially the ones hanging up there in the tree where they could not be reached by our bali-ve (projectiles), would stop teasing us mango-loving kids that they could not in any way be harmed by our puny slingshots.

And so that, at the end of the summer day, the sweet, luscious, and glorious fruits would go to our mouths!

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