The great green pepper ‘mango’ mystery - The Packer

The great green pepper ‘mango’ mystery

02/07/2014 10:07:00 AM
Amelia Freidline

Amelia Freidline, Copy EditorAmelia Freidline, Copy EditorMy grandparents were born in 1935 — the same year as Elvis and Julie Andrews — and grew up in a small town in southeast Kansas.

My grandpa has a lot of great stories and anecdotes to tell, and I first heard what’s now one of my favorites when we were cruising down the streets of their childhood hometown in his pickup truck.

“When I was growing up, we used to call green peppers ‘mangoes,’” Grandpa said as we drove by a corner grocery store his family used to frequent.

“I didn’t even know they were called green peppers until I was in the Navy.”

Grandpa worked on a submarine tender in San Diego and helped stock the subs’ food supplies.

When he referred to green bell peppers as mangoes at work one day, his native Californian crewmate looked askance.

“He said, ‘Those aren’t mangoes. Those are green peppers,’” Grandpa said. “‘Mangoes are a fruit.’ Well, I’d never seen a mango before.”

When I asked him why they called green peppers mangoes in the first place, Grandpa said, “I don’t know, that’s just what everyone called them.”

I thought the origin of Grandpa’s “mangoes” would remain a mystery until a few weeks ago when I was flipping through a cookbook of my mom’s.

She grew up in the south-central Kansas town of Hutchinson, where the state fair is held. No state fair experience was complete without a visit to the Our Lady of Guadalupe cafe for some authentic Mexican food.

I was browsing through the recipes from the cafe’s cookbook when something caught my eye — an ingredient list that included “mango (green bell) peppers.”

“Hey Mom!” I called. “This cookbook calls green peppers mangoes like Grandpa does.”

While most of the recipes calling for green bell peppers referred to them as such, there were quite a few that called them mango peppers.

And it made sense to me.

As green bells ripen they often sport red-gold splotches, and mango varieties such as keitts or tommy atkins can have a similar appearance. I thought maybe someone in southern Kansas once upon a time saw a mango and made the connection to ripening bell peppers.

Mystery solved? Not quite.

A recent Wall Street Journal article sent me on a mango rabbit trail, which lead me to Wikipedia and this illuminating factoid:

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February, 07, 2014 at 01:12 PM

Thanks for solving the mystery!

Denise Donohue    
DeWitt, Michigan  |  February, 19, 2014 at 05:50 AM

Great sleuthing, and very interesting!

Southern Illinois  |  September, 02, 2014 at 01:25 AM

We always called them Mango's too in Southern Illinois.

South Florida  |  October, 18, 2014 at 12:26 PM

First pizza I bought based on the word "mango" came as a surprise to me. I love g.b.peppers, so I didn't argue ... but I never knew the history until now. Thanks!

Lenoir City, TN  |  January, 11, 2015 at 06:12 PM

I grew up in the Dayton, OH,area where my mother always called green peppers mangos. Many years after I had left home I decided to try to trace her usage of the word. I went to visit her mom who was in a nursing home near Lebanon, OH. I took grandma to the lobby for a visit. I asked her to name a green pepper without my actually using either "mango" or "green Pepper" but by describing the fruit itself. She struggled to try to figure out what I was asking her to say. A stranger sitting in the lobby nearby visiting her mother interrupted and asked, "are you talking about a mango?" BINGO! I realized that this was not an oddity of my mom and/or her family but was actually a regional usage. My wife who was raised in Knoxville, TN, could never understand why I had always confused mangos with green peppers.

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