Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Name This Plant: Mango

Strangely enough, despite living in Samoa for two years and spending three months eating all the mango and sticky rice in SE Asia, I had never seen a mango tree before. I am not sure why I found how they grew surprising.

The entire time I was in Samoa, I didn't eat a single mango. During training, another member of our group discovered that he was allergic to mangoes by developing a full-body rash and swelling. He itched everywhere. In one commiserating session, he compared his allergies to my boils and we both came to the conclusion that we would rather have my boils than his allergic reaction. They told us in training that the mango tree is in the family of poison sumac and poison ivy. Though I am not allergic to poison ivy, I decided I didn't want to take the risk.

However, by the time we got to Thailand, I was over my fear. It was probably the mango and sticky rice that did it. Seriously, best food item ever. Sweet. Salty. Delicious. We ate it I think just about every day for breakfast in Chiang Mai.

I wasn't totally free of the mango allergy. As it turns out, it's the skin of the mango that is the problem. As long as I ate peeled mango, I was usually ok. However, if the skin had rubbed against the flesh or if it wasn't skinned well, I would get what I called mango lips. Aesthetically, mango lips are great. My lips would swell a little and take on a redder hue. Looked great. But they also had a strange rough texture and itched. According to Wikipedia:
The skin of unripe, pickled, or cooked mango can be consumed, but has the potential to cause contact dermatitis of the lips, gingiva, or tongue in susceptible people.
I am a susceptible people. Just like I am one of those lucky few that have a reaction to doxy. Lucky me.

Cale's family is from rural southern Indiana near the Kentucky border. Apparently, they referred to bell peppers as mangoes when he was growing up. It had never occurred to him that was unusual until we were listening to a Way With Words where an Indiana listener called in to ask why her family calls bell peppers mangoes. Wikipedia explains:
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".
Fun mango facts!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Name This Plant: Fig

A photo posted by @seereeves on

I was a little disappointed to learn this was a fig. Cale and I were at the grocery store when I happened on them. I wasn't sure what they were, but decided with Ramadan just around the corner this must be what a fresh date looks like. Somewhere inside of that thing was the date I was used to seeing. I was super excited to do a timely, Ramadan-themed Name This Plant.

As it turns out though, fresh dates don't look much different from the ones you see in the grocery store.

*I can totally see how a date is hiding in there. It's not really hiding that much.

There were, however, no dates hiding in those figs. And figs aren't really the traditional food of Ramadan. So there goes my timely post.

Figs, which this post is actually about, are native to western Asia and the Middle East. If you thought it was a fruit, you were totally wrong. According to Wikipedia:
Although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig is actually the infructescence or scion of the tree, known as a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds are borne.
Also, the bits on the inside that you are eating are called druplets, and that is a fun word.

Figs are one of the oldest plants to be cultivated by humans (older than wheat and other grains), and fig leaves are an ancient/historical way for people to clothe their genitals. Just ask Adam and Eve. Figs are actually all over the old and new testament. They are both famous for being one of the seven plants that feed people year round in Deuteronomy and infamous for being the plant that couldn't feed Jesus, so he cursed it. Damn you fruitless fig tree!

It's not just the Christians and the Jews that are big on fig. Buddha apparently became enlightened under a type of fig tree, and it is mentioned throughout the Qur'an as well.

And who can forget the Fig Newton?

"Fig-Newtons-Stacked" by Evan-Amos - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.