Some of my earliest memories from my childhood in Hawaii are of watching my grandfather pick mangoes from the huge tree in their yard. It stood taller than the house. He used a long bamboo contraption with a burlap sack at the end to catch the thick-skinned fruits that had turned from dark green to dusky reddish-gold as they ripened. The harvest usually filled several brown paper grocery bags.
Later, when my mother and father bought a home on the east side of O’ahu, they planted a cutting from that tree in our backyard, and my father patiently nurtured it. These would be Piri mangoes, my mother explained, which meant they would be especially delicious. In Hawaii, there are two main types of mango: Haden, which tends to be firm and fibrous, and Piri, which is sweet and tender. We were a Piri family.
Right around the time I hit middle school, our mango tree was big enough to start bearing fruit. Not the bags and bags that my grandparents’ tree produced, but a respectable amount. My father spent hours patiently covering the clusters of green fruit with paper sacks secured with twist ties in order to prevent the pesky bulbul birds from getting at them.
Anyone in Hawaii can tell you that during mango season, if you’re fortunate enough to have a tree, it’s impossible to eat all the fruit before it goes bad. You give away sacks of it to your neighbors (if they don’t already have their own bounty to contend with), and you get creative with the recipes.
I think the very best way to eat fresh mango is chilled and sliced. That’s it. You take a paring knife and peel the thick rind like you would an apple. There’s a large stone pit in the center of the mango which makes it tricky, but we’d just cut slivers off from the outside, working in, the juice running down our hands. If you can’t eat mango fresh, here are three of my favorite recipes.
This mango bread is sort of a Hawaiian classic. It’s also the closest I could find to my Nana’s recipe, which likely resides in the custody of one of my relatives. You can fancy it up with raisins, chopped dates, or chocolate chips, but I’m a purist.
Hawaiian-Style Mango Bread
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 cups chopped mangoes
- 3/4 cup salad oil
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat oven to 350. Sift dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir in sugar, coconut, and walnuts. Add eggs, oil, and vanilla, and mix until well combined. Pour into greased 9×5 loaf pan and bake for one hour or until the bread begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
This next recipe is from an old cookbook that my calabash Auntie Muriel edited. Calabash basically means honorary in Hawaiian pidgin and refers to someone who is so close to your family that you might eat from the same big poi bowl. Anyway, the recipe.
Crumb Crust Mango Pie
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- ¼ cup flour
- 4 ½ cups sliced mangoes
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- 9 inch unbaked pie shell
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 cup flour
Combine first four ingredients and toss lightly until well-blended. Pour into pastry-lined pan. To prepare crumb topping, cream butter and sugar. Cut into flour. Sprinkle over mangoes. Bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes.
This last recipe is for pickled mango – a sweet-savory treat Hawaii expatriates (yes, when we move to the mainland, we feel like we’re in a foreign country at first) miss desperately. My father always had a couple of jars in the fridge and just thinking about it makes my salivary glands activate.