By Denby Fawcett / Special to the Star-Advertiser
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 01, 2013
DENBY FAWCETT / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER
Mangoes were the star of a recent dinner, which included mango salsa, left, and mango cream pie.
This summer more than 200 mangoes dropped into our garden from my neighbors' tree. As I write, more and more mangoes are falling, about a half-dozen Hadens a day.
When strong gusts blow, it's a mango bonanza. I gather up about a dozen wind-blown orange beauties to haul into our kitchen.
The irony is that we once hated this mango tree; its branches block our satellite TV signal and scrape on our roof, disturbing our sleep. We hoped it would die, this tree that is now giving us so much joy and so much life.
The first thing I do when I arrive home, day or night, is patrol the sides of the house hoping to find more freshly fallen mangoes. In the pre-dawn darkness before leaving for my exercise class, I slip out with my flashlight to investigate, eager to locate any fruit that might have dropped during the night. Discovering a mango is endlessly thrilling, like spotting a beautiful egg during an Easter egg hunt.
Every morning we eat the tree's nutritious fruit with blueberries and kiwi fruit in big bowls of Greek yogurt, or we spoon sliced mangoes on French toast. At sunset, we mix its puree with rum to make mango mai tais or daiquiris. For weekend dinners, we add chunks of mango to lentil stews and combine mango slices with red onions and vinaigrette for a refreshing summer salad. We bake mango bars and mango crisp.
I love beating the other predators to the fruit. When I hear a mango drop on our roof, then a rolling sound as it slides off, and finally a thump when it hits the ground, I stop whatever I am doing and run outside to snatch the mango before the mynah birds and red-vented bulbuls get it.
I must also beat the lizards, quick to leap on the fruit to slurp out the juice with their skinny tongues. My other competitors are armies of determined ants and an occasional shy garden rat.
The tree's owners are Ron and Yvonne Malandra, former probation officers from Orange County, Calif., who moved to Diamond Head when they retired. The Malandras wanted to chop down the tree because of Yvonne's mango allergy, but they kept postponing the execution.
The tree was a pitiful specimen, hidden behind a wall in back of their swimming pool. It scattered a mess of leaves in both our yards and produced only a few malformed mangoes.
That is, until this year.
THE TREE'S bounty has saved me from a summer I expected to be dreary, with no money to travel anywhere. Now, instead of climbing mountains in Tanzania, I am fighting with geckos and insects for fruit.
When I feel guilty about getting too many mangoes — some of the best seem to always fall on our side of the fence — I invite the Malandras over for a mango dinner party. We celebrate with mango martinis and mango tonics, gathering under our banyan tree for a feast of wild salmon with mango salsa and mango cream pie, cooked by my husband, Bob Jones. The attire for the evening is "mango," meaning anything orange.
My windfall has prompted me to be generous. Brown paper bags are piled full of mangoes to give to friends.
When I started to post pictures of the mangoes on Facebook, my "friends" began bartering with me. For three perfect mangoes, wine importer Phyllis Horner traded me two bottles of moscato, a sparkling, sweet Italian wine she said would pair perfectly with the fruit. My hula classmate, Pam Jenkins, traded me a bag of avocados from her garden.
I entered two of my prettiest foraged mangoes in the Moana Surfrider resort's best mango contest. The judges noted my free-fall mangoes were very sweet, but I lost the contest nonetheless. I was up against 45 competitors from all over Hawaii, some of them commercial growers.
The mangoes have saved us money. I feel smugly superior when I see shoppers buying mangoes at the Saturday farmers market for $4.97 a pound. Candy Suiso's Makaha Mangoes are featured at Whole Foods Market for $5 a pound. In the old days it would have been shameful to go to the market to buy a mango. You always received them from friends.
Writer Kaui Philpotts says mangoes are expensive today because fewer trees are planted each year and more are cut down. She says today's busy young families don't want to tend mango trees; they consider them messy and the dropped fruit smelly.
Also, many mango trees have been removed to make way for new houses.
Mango grower Mark Suiso says it is sad to think of frazzled parents chauffeuring their children through mind-numbing traffic to soccer games and piano lessons when they could be kicking back under a mango tree enjoying the summer, making family memories. As Suiso says, "Everyone has a mango story."
Now I have my own mango stories. And in case you are wondering whether the Malandras still intend to chop down their mango tree, they decided to let it live. After the tree's dazzling show this summer — I like to think of it as an eleventh-hour effort by the tree to save its life — the Malandras are waiting for an encore.
So am I.
Denby Fawcett is a veteran newspaper and television journalist. She co-authored "War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam" (Random House, 2002).