Here on the Big Island
By Kelly Moran
It’s mango season, the height of the season, in fact. Trees all over the Big Island are full right now; and a Mango Festival was recently held at the Keauhou Beach Resort, in Kona.
Mangoes grow on trees that are native to South and Southeast Asia, but are now cultivated in every tropical country, even in Africa. Left alone, mango trees can grow to 100 feet, producing fruits that are tiny and practically un-harvestable. So, in commercial orchards and in most folks’ back yards, they’re kept pruned to a reasonable, eminently reachable height.
There are many, many varieties of mangoes that show up in local farmers’ markets, including one that’s so elongated it’s called a “cigar.” (A poster showing 63 varieties of mangoes can be seen or purchased at: www.fruitlovers.com/MangoPosterHawaii.html)
But two varieties are the most abundant here: the large “Hayden” and the small “common” mango.
Hayden mangoes have rinds that are dark yellow to red, and flesh that’s a bright orange. They tend to grow best in drier microclimates, like Kona in West Hawaii. These are the fruits most people like to eat fresh, in desserts such as Thai sweet rice served with mango slices, and in sweet-hot condiments like mango salsa.
“Common” mangoes prevail where there’s more rain, which we have in Hilo. They’re smaller than the Hayden, and have a greenish rind and a yellowish flesh. They get sweet when they’re ripe, but not as sweet as the dry-climate varieties, and a small number of them ripen with an off-flavor that’s pine-y, like turpentine. Still, many local folks prefer those small mangoes: they pick them before they’re ripe, to make mango chutney, or to marinate them in soy sauce and spices for a savory-sweet treat.
Then, there are also the less common dwarf “Julie” mangoes, which grow in my orchard at my farm in Kamuela. The fruit of the “Julie” tree is small, averaging less than a pound in weight at maturity. Skin color is green with some crimson blush. The fruit has a somewhat unique shape that is ovate with a distinctive flattened side. The flesh is juicy and not fibrous, with a deep orange color and a very rich flavor.
There are competitors for the title, but many people consider mangoes to be the best-tasting fruit in the world. Some people, however, can not or should not eat them. If you’re hyper-sensitive to poison ivy or poison oak, eating a mango may give your lips a red rash, locally called “mango mouth.”
All mangoes have a big seed inside, aligned with the fruit’s longest dimension and shaped like a flattened clam shell. To release the flesh, make two slices with a knife, one on each side of the seed. Set those “halves” aside while you trim away the strip of rind from around the seed and slice off (or gnaw off) as much as you can of the fruit that’s clinging to it. Then take each half and make tic-tac-toe with the point of the knife, ideally without piercing the rind. At that point, most people turn each half-mango inside-out, so that the big chunks separate themselves, and then peel or slice them off.
Lately, though, I’ve been doing something different. I take a big serving-spoon and scoop out the flesh from each half in one big piece, which I can then cut up either as neat chunks or as thin slices. This technique also yields a little extra juice!