Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of Childhood in India
Madhur Jaffrey – pub: Ebury Press
Madhur Jaffrey first came to my attention in the 1980s, initially as an actress in the Merchant Ivory film ‘Heat and Dust‘ and then through her popular Indian Cookery Series on the BBC. I still have and use the book which accompanied the series called, simply, Indian Cooking along with a second book, beautifully illustrated with colour plates as well as recipes, called A Taste of India and a slim booklet produced by the BBC for the series Flavours of India containing a few ‘taster’ recipes from the full length book.
Climbing the Mango Trees, a delightful autobiography containing black and white family photographs and a large number of recipes, tells of Madhur Jaffrey’s childhood in India around the time of Partition. In this very readable book she introduces us to the world of her Indian childhood with its joys and sadnesses and shares many stories of the wonderful foods the family enjoyed. She describes how she grew up as part of a large and wealthy extended family who lived in very close proximity to one another, bringing a long lost age back to life. In particular Madhur Jaffrey shares memories of meals with her readers, from everyday dinners, lunches, breakfasts to foods eaten on special occasions, such as mass catered family weddings or picnics. Many anecdotes in the book centre on the smells and flavours that take Jaffrey back to her childhood, such as the tart but spicy flavour of unripe mango, eaten straight from the tree and dipped in salt, pepper, red chillies or roasted cumin. She tells of picnics in the foothills of the Himalayas with sultana and mint stuffed meatballs, ginger and coriander flavoured cauliflower and spiced pooris, a type of puffy bread, eaten with hot green mango pickle. Partition brought changes as the political map was rewritten. Schoolfriends and their foods disappeared as Muslim friends fled the country, taking with them their Keema dishes of spiced ground meat, to be replaced by the incoming Pujabis who introduced Tandoor ovens with their distinctive way of baking bread and roasting spiced meat.
At the back of the book are 32 family recipes and I hope to try many of them out at some point including: Potatoes with Tomatoes, Lamb with Spinach, Maya’s Meat with Potatoes, Bimla’s Chicken Curry, Everyday Cauliflower, Carrots with Fenugreek Greens, Savoury Biscuits Studded with Cumin Seeds and Fresh Limeade.
This was a book that I enjoyed very much. Part biography, part food memoir, it taught me through the eyes of a young girl much about life in a country going through extreme change, but also the need to value that which cannot be altered: the enduring importance of family bonds and of shared food in keeping memories alive. If you are fascinated by India or its cooking I hope that you too will enjoy climbing the Mango Trees in company with Madhur Jaffrey.
Listen to Madhur Jaffrey talking about her Indian childhood. You Tube link: