Every year around this time, I start to think about mangoes. When I was growing up in Hilo, it seemed that every house had a mango tree…but not us. We had everything else: lychee, mountain apple, tangerine, longan, liliko`i, Hawaiian cherry and peah, which was what we called the avocado, but no mango. And yet, that didn’t bother us because each summer, my auntie who lived in Pālolo Valley on O`ahu sent boxes of mangoes to Hilo. Her small house was on a small lot on the side of the valley and my memory of Kalua Place always includes her overloaded Pirie and Haden mango trees in back. If we were visiting her during mango season, we fell asleep listening to the rustling of leaves and the plopping of overripe mango as they fell through the branches and landed in her yard.
We knew how hard it was to pick these mangoes. In Auntie’s yard was a long bamboo pole with a cloth bag fastened securely at one end under a hook fashioned from a wire clothes hanger. To prevent bruising, the mango picker would go after only one mango at a time. The long pole was aimed, hook above the fruit but bag below, then one yank and the prize dropped into the bag. If by chance other mangoes fell from the disturbance, whoever was helping with the picking had to run and try to catch them all before they hit the ground. Mango picking is serious business, but this part with the ground crew scrambling, was always hilarious.
Every summer Auntie sent boxes of those perfect fruit to Hilo, wrapping each mango in newspaper and packing them carefully so they wouldn’t roll and bump against each other during the shipping. I remember the excitement of hearing that the mangoes had arrived, and then riding with my father to Lyman Field to pick them up.
When we finally got the precious cargo to our house on Lono Street, everyone gathered round while my parents carefully unpacked the mangoes, handling them with greater care than the finest crystal. As they unwrapped and sorted them into piles to be shared with other Hilo relatives and friends, we admired and appraised each, one by one. “This one ripe gotta eat now. Oh but kapu that green one – I goin eat ‘um with shoyu and vinegar!”
Back then, the Big Island was loaded with mango trees, but in my mind, there was nothing like the Piries and Hadens that arrived every summer from my auntie’s house in Pālolo Valley.
Because mangoes make a big mess when they rot on the ground and invite swarms of fruit flies, many trees sadly, have been cut down, and nowadays in summer, we don’t see mango trees heavy with fruit everywhere in Hawai`i the way we used to. But up here in the Northwest we can easily find those delicious mangoes that come from Mexico, so here is a favorite cake recipe from my good friend Michele in Hilo, to help us remember those abundant mango summers in the Islands.
2/3 cup crushed cornflakes
Combine mixtures 1 & 2 and let stand for 20 minutes. Pour into a 9” x 11” cake pan and sprinkle evenly with topping. Bake at 350º for 35 minutes, but use toothpick test. Should be moist but not wet.
Mango Sauce: Peel and slice green mangoes. Cover with water in pan and cook until fruit is soft. Add sugar to taste. Bring to boil again, cool and serve cold. Looks like applesauce.
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