A mango and a green pepper walk into Central Pa. bar.
The bartender yells, “Hey, YOU! Git outta here! We don’t serve your kind!”
The tropical fruit says (in her best Robert Di Niro voice), “You talkin’ ta ME?”
The bartender says, “No, I’m talkin’ to the mango.”
If you’re not from Central or Northeast Pennsylvania you probably don’t get this joke.
About twelve years ago, in my first summer as a homeowner in Unionville, Centre County, my then-new neighbor Ellen Solt shared with me her recipe for salsa. I was not only touched by her neighborliness but I was impressed with the recipe, which included “2 mangoes” along with the standard tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, etc. “How positively hip!,” I thought. Most of my “town” (State College) friends were foodies and mango salsa was then all the rage. They would never believe that the trend had already made it over Purdue Mountain.
I made Ellen’s salsa and proudly shared it with her and her husband, Rod. I still remember the looks of puzzlement—even suspicion, I thought—on their faces; they kept looking at each other as they tasted my salsa, then looked at me, at each other, again at me, nodding slowly. Clearly, they thought either I was a bad cook or I was crazy, and in my crowd being a bad cook was definitely worse.
A full year later, I was sharing the story with another neighbor, Cathy Spahn, who had offered to let me process tomatoes for sauce using the Victorio strainer that was semi-permanently affixed to her backyard picnic table. It was Cathy who kindly explained to me where mangoes came from, that they were—at least in the context of many a Unionville salsa recipe—GREEN PEPPERS.
DictionRY.COM defines a mango as “the oblong, sweet fruit of a tropical tree,” “the tree itself,” or in the “Midland U.S. (chiefly the Ohio Valley), a sweet pepper.” While all of my Unionville neighbors knew of mangoes and mangoes, no one I knew from Blair County had heard of a green pepper being called a “mango.”
In a September 2010 article for the Winston-Salem Journal, Richard Creed gives some historical background on the homonymous edibles:
“I have learned that [referring to a green pepper as a “mango”] occurs or has occurred in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Illinois and Missouri. Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary says that it is a Midland usage, mostly in the Ohio Valley. . . . Mangos (the real thing) that were imported into the American colonies were from the East Indies. Transport was slow. Refrigeration was not available, so the mangos were pickled for shipment.
Because of that, people began referring to any pickled vegetable or fruit as a mango. A 1699 cookbook refers to ‘a mango of cucumbers’ and ‘mango of walnuts.’ And it came to pass that anything that could be pickled was a mango. One of the most popular dishes was bell peppers stuffed with spiced cabbage and pickled. The dish became so popular that bell peppers, pickled or not, became known as mangos. In the early 18th century, mango became a verb meaning to pickle.”
COMING SOON . . . my recipe for Mango-Mango Salsa