Mango Walk is a Jamaican folk song that refers to a mango orchard. We inherited a small mango orchard with the farm my father bought in the De Kaap Valley. He mainly grew cotton and later turned to maize and cattle. The mango trees were there, however, and needed to turn a profit to justify their existence. They were never irrigated nor sprayed, yet produced fruit in abundance.
The best option, my father found, was to pick the fruit while green and send them to the markets in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) where, I understand, they were purchased for the preparation of chutneys and achar (a type of mango pickle) in particular. Picking them was a messy business and we were all roped in to assist, coming away with hands and arms sticky with the milky white sap from the broken stems.
One morning we were sure my mother was going to die: her face and hands were swollen beyond recognition; she could barely speak and breathed with difficulty. I was still very young, so remember only the frightening spectre of my dear mother looking like a complete stranger, and my father using his tiny hacksaw to cut through her wedding ring to remove it from her swollen finger – isn’t it odd what memories lodge so firmly that they take root, not to be forgotten? The upshot of this was that we now knew that my mother was allergic to this sticky mango sap. This meant that she couldn’t even tie the labels onto the filled pockets before they were taken to the railway station in Barberton. This task was often assigned to me.
A lone mango tree grew on the margin between two of the lands in front of our farm house. I have no idea of its varietal either, other than it produced large, fleshy fruit that wasn’t as fibrous as those in the orchard. This tree was verboten to everyone as these were ‘eating mangoes’ that my father would watch with a hawk eye until they turned just the right colour. Only once he had tasted the first of the fruits and declared them to be at the peak of perfection could the bounty be shared.
He used to skin his mango with a tiny silver pocket fruit knife and cut off small slices to eat, one taste at a time – unlike the rest of us, who sank our teeth into the juicy flesh, quite oblivious to the yellow juice smearing our faces and running down our arms. Then, we would reach for another one … and another. To this day, mango juice remains among my favourites.
Another mango tree was saved from the annual harvesting of green fruit. This solitary tree grew on the bank of the dam not far from the farm house. It too fruited in abundance, yet one had to be quick to partake of its bounty. This is because there were no restrictions placed on it and any one – workers and family alike – could pick its fruit at will. I spent hours sitting in the lower branches of this sturdy old tree when I was young eating the fruit; watching tadpoles in the water below; or observing birds in the surrounding trees and grass.
The plump ripeness of mangoes for sale transports me back to a sun-drenched childhood in a flash – a true Mango Walk!