Mrs. Emlen’s Pickled Mangoes

January 3, 2012

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) published recently Ellen Markoe Emlen’s collection of 19th-century recipes.

Discovered among a cache of Emlen family documents, the staff at HSP couldn’t resist exploring the handwritten cookbook’s tattered pages — first as conservators, then as cooks, and finally as editors when they decided to publish a facsimile of the cookbook late last year.

The cookbook’s deteriorated condition reveals it was a much-used and useful reference by the Emlens. The home-made cookbook is very organized and even includes a table of contents, writes Tara O’Brien, chief conservator at HSP, who became the cookbook’s editor too.  “It would seem that Mrs. Emlen collected many recipes and made a project of writing them all down, be they for baking or pickling or something as simple as boiled coffee. There are food and wine splatters and other recipes added to the pages. The book was used so much that the spine was broken.”

Noted within the table of contents is a whole section devoted to pickles. In the old days, many vegetables were preserved as pickles. The Emlen cookbook has a recipe for mango pickles. But Mrs. Emlen doesn’t mean mangoes, the fruit grown on trees. Cooks of that era and even in some areas of the country today are referring to green bell peppers!

Culinary historian William Woys Weaver explains away some of this confusion in his book, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening.

“Many Americans call bell peppers “mangoes” in reference to their former use in mango pickles, a recipe that traces ultimately to India. To mango something meant to stuff and pickle it with a mixture of spices and shredded cabbage.”

In his book he refers to 18th-century Bull Nose peppers, forerunners of modern-day bell peppers, but much smaller and possibly packing some heat. There’s a recipe for mangoing Bull Nose peppers in the 1838 edition of  The Virginia Housewife, he says.

It’s not known when or from whom Mrs. Emlen may have acquired her recipe for pickled mangoes, but just a couple of pages later in her cookbook she has posted a similar recipe for pickled peppers. She also has two recipes for Pepper Pot Soup, but more on this another time.

•        •       •

More clarification about mangoes from Houghton Mifflin’s International Word Origins:
… Prepared Indian style, a mango is not just an ordinary pickle but an experience. Saroj’s Cookbook from present-day India has a recipe for Spicy Mango Pickle that starts with three mangoes chopped into chunks and adds mustard, fenugreek, aniseed, turmeric powder, a half cup of salt, and a half cup of red chili powder, topped off with a cup of oil. According to Saroj, “This pickle will not go bad for over a year even at room temperature…

Because mangoes were first known to Americans in this pickled form, mango was sometimes used to mean any pickled fruit, even if not from the mango tree or from India. An American recipe from 1847 noted in the Dictionary of American Regional English calls for “melon mangoes” to be stuffed with horseradish, cucumbers, green beans, nasturtiums, onions, mustard seed, peppercorns, cloves, and all-spice before being pickled. Muskmelon, cucumbers, and green peppers were all made into “mangoes.” Even today, in the middle United States, green peppers are sometimes called mangoes or mango peppers.

 •       •       •

The Emlen family has a long and distinguished history in Philadelphia. The first George Emlen was one of Philadelphia’s earliest settlers, arriving from London around 1682.

Mrs. Emlen was born Ellen Markoe in 1814, married George Emlen in 1840, and had two children. She died in 1900, just a few months after her granddaughter and namesake also died. Husband George died in 1853 at age 38. George Emlen was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, a leading member of the Philadelphia bar, president of the Law Academy of Philadelphia, president of the Board of Controllers of the Public Schools, and secretary of the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania.

Anita Mc Kelvey © 2011-2016 The Philadelphia Pepper Project

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One Response to “Mrs. Emlen’s Pickled Mangoes”

  1. ilcorago Says:

    Hurrah! You’ve inadvertantly solved a DANCE history mystery for me. I have a postcard from about 1913, when the tango was introduced to the U.S. as a new and exotic dance. The little poem under the graphic of two tango dancers reads: “What dance is fast and slow by turns, And seasoned like a mango? I mention that because it’s warm. You guess? – you’re right! – ‘THE TANGO.'”
    I knew that mangos weren’t widely eaten in 1913 here, it seemed odd they they would be “seasoned.” The answer of course, is that the reference is to the pickled mango pepper! Thanks!


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