The great green pepper ‘mangoMy 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:

"When mangoes were first imported to the American colonies in the 17th century, they had to be pickled due to lack of refrigeration. Other fruits were also pickled and came to be called ‘mangoes," especially bell peppers, and by the 18th century, the word ‘mango" became a verb meaning "to pickle.""

Case closed.

Now excuse me while I go eat the cucumbers I mangoed last summer.

Looking for more from Amelia or more unique produce stories? Try these: 

 

 

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Submitted by Christopher McCulloh on Tue, 04/03/2018 - 12:33

It goes even deeper than that though.

According to the 1828 Noah Webster "American Dictionary of the English Language" a mango is defined thus:

> MAN'GO, n. The fruit of the mango tree, a native of the East Indies, of the genus Mangifera. It is brought to us only when pickled. Hence mango is the green fruit of the tree pickled.

The so-called "Bell Pepper" is actually (according to Wikipedia) "a cultivar group of the species Capsicum annuum." "Bell Pepper" is (again, according to Wikipedia) "The most commonly used alternative name of the plant family, "chile", is of Mexican origin, from the Nahuatl word chilli".

Again, according to the 1828 dictionary:

> CHIL'LI, n. A Mexican plan, Guinea pepper.

> CAP'SICUM, n. Guinea Pepper.

> GUIN'EA-PEP'PER, n. A plant, the Capsicum. The pods of some species are used for pickles.

So, quite literally, some variant of the so-called "Bell Pepper" was used to pickle mango, and thus, the Mango Pepper is quite actually literally a pepper historically used to prepare/preserve Mangos; therefore rightly referred to as a "Mango Pepper" (rather than the colloquial "Bell").

Thanks to refrigerators, Mango Pepper is quickly becoming a confusing and obsolete name. But after writing all this, I'd sure like to try a peppered Mango.