I was surprised at the fact that I stumped two of my faithful readers, the ones I was positive would come up with the name of the mystery utensil in the last post. It was no surprise to see one of my Cuban friends, and former bridge partner, get it right. I am sure there was a beautiful sterling set in his family, very similar to the one in the photo above. What I would love to know is how Donna got it right, Please tell us, for they are very rare these days and not many people have ever used one, least of all, seen one.
I am sure that by now you have scrolled down (and cheated) and found out that the mystery object is.....A MANGO FORK!
The reason my friend Val and I are familiar with them is our Cuban heritage. Mango forks, of the style pictured above, were made and used in Cuba as early as 1900. If you were wealthy, you probably owned a sterling or Mexican silver set for use at the table when fresh mangoes were served for dessert.
Although I found out that a US plate manufacturer made them as early as 1924 (Washington Post article, June 26, 1924) I don't think many people in this country used them. In the early 1900's mangoes were considered by some to be "unsafe" and were rarely imported. When they were, the fruit was of poor quality. (The Literary Digest August 22, 1903).
It seems mango forks were a Victorian dining implement that was created for a delicacy that only the wealthy could afford at the time, or were thought to appreciate. Victorians were known for their one-upmanship at the dining table. The wealthier they were, the more exotic the food being served. The more silver they had for the exotic foods, the more light was reflected in the room.- Cooking Down Under
I couldn't find much else written about the mango fork or where they were first invented. But I did come across the copy of a British patent in 1884 in a silver forum. Notice the fork is very similar to the utilitarian form used in Cuba and Victorian England
Antique mango forks, are very hard to come by these days, mainly because when they do show up for sale, they are usually classified as something else, Maura Graber has been hunting them for years and found many old ones in Amsterdam described as a cake fork or prikker. She wrote a self published book, Let Them Eat Cake: …the Strange Saga of the Mango Fork & The Unique Dining Habits of the Dutch. It makes sense to find mango forks in Holland, given the Dutch history in the East and West Indies.
|Maura Graber's collection of Dutch mango forks via Cooking Down Under|
While mango forks were also made in Germany, Spain, France, Russia, Austria, Mexico, Cuba and the US, they tended to be fairly utilitarian looking. The Dutch forks, however, were highly decorative. Some feature windmills or have very ornate handles. Some include detailed embossed picture above the tines.
|Maura Graber Collection via Cooking Down Under|
Notice the mango forks in the middle of the picture. They are French, made by Cristofle.
As you can see, the ones I bought on E Bay are the more utilitarian looking forks, similar to the French seen on the photo above. They were described as Victorian and silver plate. They came from a dealer in Texas, which probably means they were owned by someone in Mexico, where they have always been popular. As a matter of fact, most of the old ones that come to market as sterling are usually Mexican silver (top photo). Mine are signed BOKER, a German manufacturer and they are old, but definitely not silver. They were probably plated but the silver is long gone.
|Photo on E Bay of the Boker forks I purchased|
A little shine but not much else.
The Mango Fork.
From The Washington Post of June 26, 1924, via The Old Foodie
THE MANGO FORK
In “Fruit Recipes” published nearly twenty years ago, one of the things said about the mango is this: “The fruit is truly exceedingly juicy ….but where the mango grows in the greatest luxuriance and it is properly understood and used one may procure the regular mango fork, a three pronged affair of which the middle prong is long and projected, so that the fruit will not slip.”
This was the kind of fork on which the first mango I had in Havana, Cuba, some weeks ago, was served, at a place where they ate and drank fruit, and forthwith I went hunting for some of those forks. The first I found were made by one of the leading makers of plate in the United States, but I kept up my quest to get the Cuban make and succeeded.
The Spanish buccaneers probably ate mangoes. In a 100-year old book on the West Indies, written by a woman, which I read some years ago to learn about the foods there, it speaks of the great variety of fruits and says of the mango: “It is certainly the most abundant. This fruit hangs in such thick clusters that the fruit of one tree is immense. There are many varieties, but the small ones are the best.” A small, delicate yellow one is mentioned, a coarse green one, etc.
Outside the tropics the mango is now mostly eaten by epicures, and two budded varieties, mulgobaa and Haden, are spoken of as the aristocrats of the family. “To the connoisseur these two varieties combine all the delicious flavors and aromas of the peach, apple, pear, cantaloupe, and pineapple, and, in addition, a delightfully spicy flavor all their own.
|Mango fork from Rubylane.com origin unknown|
HOW TO USE A MANGO FORK:
Insert fork into stem end.
With knife, slit skin from top to bottom, then peel skin like a banana.
Slice the fruit from the skin. or eat it like a popsicle The latter is definitely not done at the dinner table!!
I must say that although I came up pretty much empty handed, this is one of the most interesting subjects I have ever researched and it brought fond memories of my grandmother and her mango forks. If I remember well, she used to salt the mango before eating it, something I found extremely odd.
There isn't much on the Internet about mango forks, but I have ordered a couple of books that hopefully will enlighten me further on the subject. If you have any knowledge about their history, please share it with us.
Even though I wasn't expecting much from my purchase via E Bay, I did get the pleasure of watching Madame Mere use her mango fork with dexterity after lunch. A real pro! Nothing stumps this lady. By the way, I only paid $25 for the forks and consider it money well spent, silver plate or not.
Stay tuned for the recipe that sent me in search of the mango fork.
Images 1 and 3 EBAY
2, 4 and 5 Lindaraxa
6, 7, 8 mangofoirk.com