Mệ was our paternal grandmother and by no stretch to the imagination was she your typical grandma. Yes–she was loving and caring but she was also quite feisty and sometimes “crass”. She chewed trầu cau (betlenut), drank beer, taught me black jack, and could build the most intricate and ornate Lego buildings that were freaking awesome.
And because of all of that, I loved her dearly.
As the youngest of 5 (with a fairly significant age gap between my next sibling), I spent a lot of my childhood with Ôn (our paternal grandpa) and Mệ. They would play with me, sneak me extra candies, and shield me from my folks when I was about to get busted for doing something really stupid.
Lately I find myself reminiscing a lot on my times with Mệ —especially the times that we would eat mangoes together. I would sit on the floor next to her watching her peel the long strips of skin off the mangoes. Then we would devour the fruit and gnaw on the seeds with the juices dripping down our faces. Of course she would tell me some type of funny story throughout the entire process, stopping only to open her mouth wide to let out a huge bellowing laugh. When we were finished, she would hurry me off to go wash my face before the juices left my skin itchy. They were wonderful times and I can’t help but to smile when I remember her this way.
Shortly after Ôn passed away, Mệ moved back to Việt Nam and my frequent trips to the motherland began. With each visit, she and I would still sit on the floor and enjoy some special item together…..măng cụt (mangosteens), mít (jackfruit), nhãn (longan) or whatever fruit that was in season. The roles changed a bit during those times as I prepared the fruit for us while she inquired about my day. She was obligated to remind me, her American-born granddaughter, to not eat the street foods or ride on the xe ôm (scooters). Of course I obediently said “yes” and then would later jump on a scooter & head to the nearest food stall with my cousins. But the small “white lie” was expected. She knew she had to caution me and I knew I would have to verbally comply. But inside, Mệ knew that exploring the streets of Việt Nam was the only way for me to really become acquainted with my country.
My family says I inherited a lot of Mệ’s features, which always makes me smile. I think it’s because of this and my memories of Mệ that I feel I’ll always carry her spirit with me. And for the rest of my life, I know that every time I eat mangoes I will always think of her.
From Ice Cream & Sorbets: Cool Recipes
Makes One Quart
½ Cup Sugar
½ Cup Water
2 Pounds Ripe Mangoes*
3 Tablespoons Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
2/3 Cup Heavy (whipping) Cream
Prepare a large bowl or pan of ice water.
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water, bring to a boil while stirring, and cook until the syrup is clear. Immediately place the pan in the ice bath and stir the mixture occasionally until it cools to room temperature.
Peel and dice the mangoes, discarding the seeds, and purée the mangoes in a blender or food processor with the juice and syrup. Transfer to a container and stir in the cream. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 3 hours.
Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a container, cover, and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.
**It’s important to use really ripe, but not browned, mangoes for the fullest flavor. There are also many varietals of mangoes but I prefer the Ataulfos as I think they are the most fragrant and flavorful.