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CLIMBING THE MANGO TREES by Madhur Jaffrey Kirkus Star


A Memoir of a Childhood in India

by Madhur Jaffrey

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2006
ISBN: 1-4000-4295-X
Publisher: Knopf

A beloved food writer recalls her youth through the lens of cuisine.

Jaffrey (Market Days, 1995, etc.) grew up in India during the 1930s and ’40s, the fifth child of two doting, well-heeled parents. Her family was Hindu, but embraced certain touches of Muslim culture: The women wore both the loose culottes favored by Muslims and long, traditional Hindu skirts; at school, Jaffrey studied alongside both Muslim and Hindu children. Her story has no clear narrative arc and no tension that requires resolution, but the meandering is pleasant. Almost every vignette includes a description of food. When she was born, her grandmother spelled out the word Om in honey on her tongue, and Jaffrey’s first name translates to “Sweet as Honey.” Summer afternoon thirsts were slaked with fresh lemonade or a mixture of fruit syrup and water. Monsoon season brought its own sweet treats of chilled mango juice and “pretzel-shaped jabelis” dipped in milk. A long bout of chicken pox was made bearable by her grandmother’s chutney. Even Partition had culinary consequences: Hindus who headed into India from what became West Pakistan introduced Delhi to Punjabi food, including the terrific paneer dishes and tasty tandoori specialties that are now staples of Indian restaurants. Punjabis also loved dairy products; they made the richest yogurt, and the creamiest lassi, a cool yogurt beverage. As an adult, Jaffrey went to college and then moved to England to study drama. Not until she landed in London did she really begin to appreciate her mother’s cooking. She wrote home, begging for instruction on preparing the delicacies of her youth, and soon airmail letters thick with recipes began to arrive. Fifty pages of those recipes round out the text.

Readers will lap up this mouthwatering memoir and hungrily await a sequel.