I first realized that “mango” might mean anything other than the fruit, Mangifera indica, when reading John and Karen Hess’s The Taste of America. This fascinating polemic – which is largely about why American food is bad – includes several chapters on the development of cookbooks in America. Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery (1796) includes the recipe “To Pickle or make Mangoes of Melons”. (This cookbook, the first one both written by an American and printed in America, is also available via Project Gutenberg.)
“Mango” became a generic word for pickled foods in England and America, at least, thanks to the major means by which mango-the-fruit journeyed from its areas of cultivation in India and South-East Asia. The OED’s earliest attested use of the word in this sense comes secondhand from Peter King quoting John Locke in his Life of Locke (1679) on the riches and varieties of London: “Mango and saio are two sorts of sauces brought from the East Indies.” Locke wrote that the worldly edible variety of London comes from Bermuda oranges, Cheshire cheese, and Colchester oysters, in addition to the East Indies. (p. 134)
A mango might be made with walnuts or cucumbers (1699), melons (1728), peaches (1845), musk-melon stuffed with horseradish (1859), or green peppers (1940). Although its earliest instances were English, by the last two centuries, it seems to have become purely an Americanism. (Now a very obscure one if it is still used at all.)
A mango may not be a pickle any more, but it is still, in the U.S., in Ohio and Indiana, a name for green peppers. Pickled Mangifera indica passed its name onto pickles more generically which, by 1948, had passed their name on to the most frequently-found version of them in the region, pickled green peppers; similarly, “pickles” have acquired the generic meaning of “pickled cucumbers” in the U.S. today.
© S. Worthen 2009