Battle Mandram: A family history

Judy Cromwell is a longtime friend who frequently comments on my recipes. She agreed to share her Mandram recipe and contributed this bonus description of her family’s tussles with this dish through the decades.

Chef Otis’ interest in recreating southern salads from his childhood brought to mind a southern salad prepared by my family as I was growing up in Long Beach CA. Chef and I discussed Mandram, a relish-like salad that originated in the West Indies at some point before 1900 when my grandfather moved to SoCal from Central Alabama.

Here is the original as made by my mother, and subsequent versions of hers and my Uncle Nip’s. They were competitive with one another, and here Battle Mandram raged.

Mandram – Childhood Version circa 1947 and before
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and rough chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled with a paring knife, seeded, and rough chopped
1/4 red onion, rough chopped (less if the onion is really strong)
1 green pepper, seeded, inner white parts removed, and roughly chopped
Apple cider vinegar
Vegetable oil to taste
Salt and pepper

Mix all together. Salad can be refrigerated or left at room temperature until serving.
Comment: Way too much vinegar. As a kid, I picked out the vegetables.

Mandram – Uncle Nip’s Version circa 1976
Years later, after my mother and uncle retired, they began to experiment with the recipe. The first change I remember was from my Uncle Nip — the addition of chopped, canned Ortega chiles. In all honesty I don’t remember ever eating this version, but it sounds delicious, similar to salsa fresca.

Mandram — Mom’s Updated Versions – Globalization of Groceries Version circa 1980
No. 1 Then my mother began making it with rice wine vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar. Thank God she did this. The mild, sweeter vinegar was a blessing to the recipe. Now I was able to eat the whole thing, vinegar and all. When I was growing up there was no rice wine vinegar in the supermarket. Culinary globalization at its finest!

No. 2 Once hothouse cucumbers began appearing in the market, they replaced the old fashioned fat, seedy cucumber. This truly transformed the dish by increasing both flavor and crunch, although my mother continued to use both varieties, for no reason in particular that I know of.

No. 3 When Vidalia and Maui became available, they replaced the red onion. What these babies lacked in beauty and crunch they replaced in flavor. So delicious!

Mandram — Nip’s Update circa 1984
I believe that my Uncle Nip also made a version with scallions. My mother made this for us once but I didn’t care for it. The white part of the young onion was too strong and had the same adverse effect as did the apple cider vinegar. The green parts would be delicious, with perhaps a bit of sweet onion also included.


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