Keeping mangoes for after summer — Aamshotto

From the heaps of mangoes harvested, and brought into homes, ladies of the house picked out those that were a bit too soft or injured from falling off the tree. Then, the mangoes were washed, peeled, and the flesh cut into small pieces.

The leftover flesh was squeezed by hand, juices oozing out and accumulating into the large pot. The grassy fibre, if present, was strained, to ensure a smooth finish. Over the wood fire of an earthen stove, the pot full of mango pulp was then stirred and boiled, until the juices dried up, and a thick puree was formed.

Sometimes, to bring a bit of variety, spices like ginger, chilli, fennel etc. were added to it too.

The sauce was then spread onto flat surfaces like rattan (chalnis), or even the backs of large cooking pots, and left in the sun until firm and dry. Another day, another layer was added over the first, to once more, dry under the scorching sun until the leather became a rich dark brown, and bearing the crisscross patterns of the woven chalnis, each layer a slightly different shade.

Layer upon layer of textured, aromatic, mango goodness. Once ready, sometimes mustard oil or such was lightly coated over to help preserve it better.

Keeping mangoes for after summer — Aamshotto
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

This is how sun-dried, semi-hard Bengali treat loosely translated as mango leather, more commonly known by the local names of aamshotto or aamta, became part of our childhood stories — a way of carrying the sweet bounties of summer into the following months.

The entire process appeals to all the human senses like the sight of the leather drying, glistening in the sun, aroma wafting while it cooked and dried, and the instant punch of the sweet smell of a ripe mango whenever one ate it.

Aamshotto is thus not always homogenously sweet, and each layer of the leather can be a bit different from the other. It also thus comes in variants thus — sour, sweet and sour, sweet, and spiced.

It is a fairly simple preparation, although time consuming, yet the love, attention, and care that goes into the preparation, traditionally for the consumption by the family, is what made this treat extra special to many of us.

Perhaps created once to preserve the bountiful mango harvest leftover from direct consumption, it still remains intrinsically tied to our rural agrarian heritage, a constant of the typical homestead of every village scene. However, like all skills, making aamshotto has become a source of women empowerment and livelihood enhancement of many women in the rural areas of Rajshahi and Rangpur, who otherwise might not have had such access to an income generating activity.

Women in the mango producing regions used to do this as a leisure activity, after having taken care for their regular house chores, but increasing market opportunities means that now they intentionally buy mangoes to make aamshotto with, and sell it during the season. Enterprising individuals can make over Tk 10,000 from aamshotto.

Women generally sell it to the wholesale intermediaries, who go door to door to collect the finished product for the home-based makers. The prices these ladies get are variable every year and may change even during the season, depending on the harvest of the mango itself, and the demand for aamshotto on that particular day.

Jomela Khatun, of Shibganj, reported that she has been selling aamshotto as a way to contribute to her home expenses for a few years now, and earned about Tk 15000 last year (not a bad sum for a rural homemaker doing it on the side!) and sold nearly 70-80 kgs then.

According to her approximated calculations, this leaves with a net profit of about Tk 100-80 per kg of mango she worked with. She and her neighbours also make aamchur, and some sweet achars to sell.