“My grandfather had built his house in what was once a thriving orchard of jujubes, mulberries, tamarinds, and mangoes. His numerous grandchildren, like hungry flocks of birds, attacked the mangoes while they were still green and sour. As grown-ups snored through the hot afternoons in rooms cooled with weeded, sweet-smelling vetiver curtains, the unsupervised children were on every branch of every mango tree, armed with a ground mixture of salt, pepper, red chilies, and roasted cumin.”
Is your mouth watering yet? Reading Climbing the Mango Trees is as much a culinary expedition as it is a childhood memoir. Madhur Jaffrey’s upbringing as a child of a higher-caste family in India is fascinating for it’s social and historical details, but the icing of the autobiographical cake, has got to be the food.
A food writer/actress by profession, Jaffrey knows how to appeal to our all our senses with a flair for entertainment. I enjoyed the stories of her family and her childhood. With her grandparents firmly at the center of the large household, Jaffrey grew up in the same dwelling as aunts, uncles and numerous cousins. As a reader, we get a glimpse of the challenges of navigating the egos of a large family, as well as the cultural and religious differences of her private school classmates. When India becomes an independent state, with a separate Muslim state called Pakistan, those differences have a large impact on India as a whole, and on the young Madhur Jaffrey. It’s these insights that make this memoir especially appealing to me.
Her stories, interwoven with her memories of the wonderful meals she enjoyed, make this a delectable read. I’ll have to keep my copy of Climbing the Mango Trees shelved with my cookbooks now because Jaffrey includes over 30 family recipes in the book. I am eager to try them!
3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2005