Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mystery Object Revealed

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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 DutchIt 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

17 comments:

  1. Bravo Lindaraxa! This was an excellent post on what to me remained a mystery object until your big reveal. You certainly had me stumped. I enjoyed discovering the history behind the mango fork and I shall never view the consumption of another mango in quite the same light again. Now, off to find me a fork.

    I should hurry up and post on my mystery fork soon, so stay tuned. What fun and games we shall have!

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    1. I am dreading this contest...I am sure I am going to get beaten to a pulp! but let the games begin!!! lol

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    2. Oh, let me tell you, my fork is no where near as "unusual" as your mango fork, so chances are you'll know what it was used for. The mango fork is such an exotic thing and very likely never made it to the UK. In fact, I do not remember seeing mangos at all growing up.

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    3. Au contraire, you might very well find one in an antique shop in the UK. Remember the Raj! those Victorians had a utensil for everything. Now that you know what you are looking for you might come across one, probably labeled as something else like an olive picker lol.

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  2. Love these forks. My MIL salted cantaloupe & I imagine salt would be good on a mango as well. We have continued her tradition.
    Sam

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    1. Well, in a way it makes sense, it would bring the sweetness out, I guess. Have to try next time I have one. How is the trip going? glad you stopped by. Miss you.

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  3. Well that is indeed a surprise. I eat mango twice a week, but I peel it, halve it and dice it, before placing it into a bowl, usually with yoghurt and half a sliced banana, for breakfast, eating with a spoon. I watched and learned the peeling and dicing from a street vendor here quite soon after we started living here. It's quite a messy operation when they're ripe and juicy, (mostly), so best accomplished from chopping board to bowl as described, with the need for a good hand wash before consuming, (with alacrity).

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    1. It seems the mango fork did not make it to the Far East in those days. Wonder if they used them in India during the Raj. They are getting resuscitated in Australia where I saw some new ones for sale in stainless. and apparently they are still used in Mexico, even in the streets. Oh well, you will have to hunt one down in the UK when you next visit. You will make quite a splash with the street vendors! As a matter of fact, why not get them copied in your neck of the woods and start a business?!!!

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  4. Oh shame on me! I was known for years as "the Mango Girl" at the St. Lawrence Market for my habit of buying a mango every day for lunch when I worked nearby.

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    1. Well, there you go, Mango Girl...you learn something everyday!

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  5. Mangoes are ubiquitous here, especially a small local green kind, but I have never seen a mango fork before; I envy Ms. Graber her fantastic collection. I was in a specialty kitchenware shop today, but they had never heard of them.

    My own method of preparing mangoes is to cut off as large slices as possible without peeling, then running a dull knife between peel and fruit. Much better-looking and less wasteful. I will be on the lookout for a mango fork, because holding the fruit while slicing is slippery and dangerous. Thanks for introducing me to these.
    --Jim

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    1. Jim, I thought for sure you would get it seeing that mangoes are all over the place in Taiwan and that part of the world. I looked up the top producers of mangoes, 1. India 2 China 3 Thailand 4. Indonesia 5. Pakistan 6 Mexico 7 Brazil 8 Bangladesh 9 Nigeria, 10 Philippines

      I have been to all except 8 and 9 and never seen one! and you are right, they are really handing for cutting the fruit so as not to get a slippery mess. Go hunting, and tell us what you find!

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  6. I started to say it was a dingle hopper...
    I inherited some of these forks in some silver from my Aunt Rubye

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    Replies
    1. Hi Donna,

      Any idea where she would have gotten them? Was she from the South? don't mean to pry, just fascinated by the places these things turn up!

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  7. A lovely post Lindaraxa! Thank you for taking me right back to memories of home! Although I never used a mango fork growing up in Honolulu ( I may be just a tad prejudiced since I believe all mangos inferior to the ones grown in Hawaii) , I'm now excited to buy these beauties since I eat a lot of mangoes (unfortunately most are from Mexico since I live in CA). Lee in Sillycon Valley

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  8. Thank you. Take advantage of this year's crop from Mexico, The ones I got were outstanding. I am biased like you but for the ones from Florida. Haven't had a Cuban mango in 54 years!

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  9. We lived in Honolulu for 4 years and were always amazed when the fruit ripened how they would be all over the streets and people would just kick them out of the way! We never came across any mango forks and were told that the best way to eat them was standing over the sink as they were so juicy. Thank you for this very interesting post.

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