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A Hundred Mangoes In A Bottle: Why I never celebrated Mother’s Day with Mom

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One day, during a chat with Monica Bhide, my writing teacher I told her a story of how I spent my summers as a child. I told her all I remember from those days was how I helped my mom make mango jam. There was no end to the mangoes that had to be peeled, mashed, squashed into a thick pulp. It was so tedious and took time away from playing. I was a child then. It’s a wonder I did not develop a dislike to mangoes, but instead grew up loving them like no other fruit. Perhaps it was my mom’s guidance and showing me how to enjoy making the jam that taught me to appreciate this marvelous tropical fruit. With that, Monica urged me to write an essay on the process. I took her advice and started to scribble a few lines. Then with much regret I stopped writing and went back to Monica. I told her “There’s something I just realized now. I can’t write the essay. I forgot to do something.”

“I forgot to ask Mom for the recipe,” I said sadly.

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Ever the optimist and the inspiring spirit, Monica urged me even more. “Then write about your regret. Write about the experience, how you felt and what you saw.” And like a hand that held me virtually through it all, I followed my writing teacher’s advice.

I finished the essay, 800 words and shoved it in a drawer. The Mango Jam essay stayed in the drawer for a long time. I never told Monica even if she urged me to submit it to major media publications. I was too shy. I felt unsure. Who would want to read about an outdated method of cooking mango jam in a third world country, which had NO recipe to begin with, I thought to myself.

Fast forward to early spring 2012. The Doreen G. Fernandez Food Writing Awards announced a call for submissions. I gasped. Doreen was my hero. She was the doyenne of Philippine food writing. As a child, I used to help my mom clip her newspaper columns “Pot Au Feu” from the ‘Manila Chronicle’ and dutifully pasted them on mom’s recipe scrapbook. I was in elementary then. I could barely whisk a soufflé, but reading recipes and food essays fascinated me. It also brought me closer to mom. We used to pore over Doreen’s writings together, while Mom would give me her own advice on food, family and love. On hindsight, it must have been Mom’s way to prepare me for life’s lessons later on when she could no longer be with us.

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When Mom passed away a year before I got married, I carried on her tradition of clipping recipes from magazines, watching cooking shows on TV, collecting cookbooks. When I got married, I was on my own in the kitchen, as a new bride trying to remember all that Mom taught me.

But one thing was elusive all these years. It was the Mango Jam recipe. No matter how many mangoes I had, how sweet they were, how ripe or how plump the fruit, I could never replicate the mango jam the same way mom used to do it. Worse, I felt awful in all those years I never asked her for the recipe.

One day, after a gazillion attempts, hours of stirring, the thick, rich, golden jam finally tasted just like Mom’s. I was in my American kitchen now. I was no longer in Tarlac, the town I grew up in. This time, I did it right. Perhaps it took a million trial and errors. Or maybe I used the right copper bottom pot. Or was it the wooden spoon I used? The right temperature? You know what I think? Mom was right there, in spirit, next to me, showing me how to do it the right way, from memory. I knew she was there. It was the painful longing for her that jabbed at my heart that moment. It happens when thoughts of Mom overcome me and tears engulf me so badly, my eyes blur, glasses get foggy and I have to stop for a moment to catch my breath. Forgive me, I digressed.

But this is what Mother’s Day is all about to me. I never had one with Mom. We never really celebrated Mother’s Day in the Philippines. I never celebrated Mother’s Day with my own mom.  It was only a celebration that came around in the later years (after she died), perhaps brought on by the commercialization of the event by greeting card companies and retail stores (with all due respect to these industries). But yes, Mother’s Day is indeed a ‘western concept’ and as a Filipina, it was an event we only read about or saw in the movies. I have no regrets, though. Mother’s Day was celebrated all the time when I was growing up. We didn’t need Mother’s Day, we had summers of making mango jam. Nothing else made me closer to Mom than those memorable days. Nothing ever will.

For the complete recipe of my Mango Jam and my award winning essay “A Hundred Mangoes In A Bottle” head on over to Positively Filipino, an online magazine that celebrates the Philippines and its lovely people. And for the life story of my mom Lulu Reyes Besa, head on to “Lulu’s Fifty-Peso Gift” which I wrote.

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Author’s update: My late mom, Lulu Reyes Besa inspired me in everything I did. It is because of her that I wrote this lovely essay “A Hundred Mangoes in a Bottle”, that has won two major awards : the Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award (2012) and the ‘Plaridel Award’, First Prize from the Philippine-American Press Club (October 2013). Read the essay again in this feature of PositivelyFilipino.com.

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25 Comments

  1. I love this post… i think this is my favorite post in your blog… beautiful!
    Yes you had those summers making mango jam, who needs Hallmark when you have moments like yours???

    Happy Mother’s Day!
    Malou

    1. Thanks, Malou! So kind of you. Have a great Mother’s Day, too. I was just thinking of you today and wondering what your Mom’s day is like, too. Enjoy, my friend 🙂

  2. This is such a beautiful post and I love the (award-winning!!!!) mango jam essay, too. Now all I want is mango jam! Happy Mother’s Day 🙂

  3. Gorgy post Betty Ann! I know your mom (she was stunning) is beaming down with LOVE and PRIDE! She’s no doubt thrilled that you have recreated the mango jam to perfection!

    We’re having a Mother’s Day brunch today where I have to promise NOT to cook.

    I cook for my mom all the time and her Mother’s Day request is always to keep it simple — no fuss, no mess — so we can spend time together. Our Jewish roots kick in and we get a spread of smoked fish, bagels, cream cheese, etc. ENJOY your American Momma’s Day with your family!

    1. Thanks, Jackie! What a wonderful tradition you have with your mom. Happy for you to have the chance to celebrate with her. Thanks for the RTs, the sweet comments and all the good wishes. Love you, my dear diva friend 🙂

  4. Dearest Betty Ann,
    You made me teary eyed with your heart rending narration of how you finally wrote “A Hundred Mangoes in a Jar”. I miss our parents and our beautiful and happy childhood where there was much love and tenderness towards each other, unlike the materialistic world of today.
    Thumbs up and keep the fire burning for the family…US!!!
    Love you, Dang

    1. Thanks, Dang. You are so sweet. At first I was at a loss for words, didn’t know how to write a “Mother’s Day” post when I never celebrated it with Mom in the first place. I had to look deep inside my heart to find the right things to say. Glad you like the narration. Yes, like you, I miss our parents every single day 🙂 Hope you had a wonderful Mom’s day with the family!

  5. Hello fellow mama. What a beautiful anecdote about your mother, am teary-eyed. I also just read the article on mango jam making that won you an award. I wished I could have met your mother when I get to visit Tarlac one day. You are very lucky to be this wonderful woman’s daughter and am sure everyday is a celebration of that. Thanks for sharing. It means a lot to me. Have a great day today withi the men in your life!

  6. What sweet post, we shouldn’t need a holiday to celebrate our mothers we should do it daily. How nice to finally get her mango jam recipe right, I want to give it a try soon it sounds delicious. Happy Mother’s Day to you!

    1. Thanks, Suzanne. Totally agree, we don’t need a commercial holiday to celebrate Moms all over the world. We can do it in our own special way, any day. Let me know how your mango jam turns out. Would love to hear about it. So nice of you to stop by 🙂

  7. This is such a sweet post and a perfect tribute to your mom for Mother’s Day. With this, your sons also get to know how wonderful their grandmother was and to think of her when they enjoy your mango jam! 😎

  8. What a great story of your life, and I love listening people connect with food this way…you did it and you did it beautifully. Your mom would be very proud of you! Mango Jam looks wonderful!

    1. Thanks, Sandra. I’m touched by your kind words to an essay that started out as literally “nothing” but turned out to be packed with memories. What a treat to have you blog-visit 🙂

    1. Thanks, Nami. This was truly an emotional post and yet was the easiest to write because it just came from the heart. Hope your Mother’s Day was sweet, as well 🙂

  9. What a beautiful tribute to your mother, and to the Filipina heritage embraced by your wonderful words, Betty Ann. Thank you for sharing! Brilliant teacher is Monica, and brilliant student are you!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Ronnie. This was one of the hardest essays to write. For every sentence, a tear… for every rewrite, emotions just flowed. But what a treat to have you visit the blog ~ thank you for the encouragement 🙂

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