Images by Jonas Maon
Mango trees are not endemic to the islands, but they’ve been around long enough to have earned a special place in Hawai‘i hearts. The first of their kind are believed to have arrived around 1820, brought by several different sources, including a captain who toted trees from Manila aboard the brig Kamehameha. Since then, numerous varieties of the fruit have developed that are unique to the state, such as the golden glow and the mapulehu. Mango trees can now be found in nearly every neighborhood, and when the season, which runs from June through September, is successful (meaning that no gusty winds or heavy rains arrived earlier in the year when trees begin to bloom), the fruit is abundant—so abundant that there is even a local children’s book based on the theme, titled Too Many Mangoes, about two young siblings who have to lug around mangoes from their grandfather’s tree to give away.
For Melissa Bow, the flavor-savvy founder of Via Gelato, the sweet and sour taste of pickled mango made by her grandmother, who got the fruit from her own tree in Saint Louis Heights, is a vivid memory. “People who were of my grandma’s generation, they grew trees because they were poor,” Bow says. “It was a way of making the most of your land.” Her grandmother cut down the tree when maintaining it became a struggle and her children weren’t up for the task, something Bow believes is a common but unfortunate occurrence. These days, Bow gets mangoes for her shop’s sorbet from Candy Suiso of Makaha Mangoes, whom she meets up with on the west side.
Though foodies fawn over Bow’s gelato, made with local ingredients whenever possible, she didn’t receive formal culinary training. Instead, her education included dining with her extended Chinese family growing up. “I have a lot of aunties who don’t cook, but they pride themselves on being able to order a good meal,” she says. “To them, ordering a good meal means that you have things of all different kinds of textures, things that work well with one another, things that have components of every single taste group.”
One of Bow’s favorite types of mango is pirie, described by the Makaha Mangoes website as “soft, sweet, rich, no fiber,” with a slightly turpentine aroma. “I love the piries because it has some acidity to it,” she explains. “For me, and a lot of people from Hawai‘i, they’re picky about mango because they’ve had it their whole lives.”
Encountering the fruit, that blushing child of the summer sun’s rays, makes for memories that resurface like clockwork every season: hefting a mango picker to harvest high-hanging fruit with family, or leaving a couple dollars at a neighbor’s makeshift roadside stand – the scent of mango filling the car as you drive home. In her mango recipes, Bow celebrates the aromatic, fleshy fruit at its freshest. Follow her lead and whip up a mango sorbet for your next dinner party. (For a twist, add li hing mui or simply use the mix as the base of a cocktail.) Alternatively, dish out Bow’s deceivingly simple summertime mango cheesecake, which has an irresistible macadamia nut shortbread crust and is decadently topped with slices of the fruit’s golden, floral flesh.
Via Gelato is located in Honolulu at 1142 12th Ave. For more information, follow Via Gelato on Instagram @viagelato.
•1 stick salted butter (room temp)
•5 Tbsp. powdered sugar
•1/4 tsp. salt
•1 tsp. vanilla
•1 c. flour
•1/2 c. diced macadamia nuts
•3/4 c. sugar
•1-1/2 c. heavy cream**
•1 packet gelatin*
•1/4 tsp. salt
•8 oz. cream cheese
Macadamia shortbread crust:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. In a mixer, cream butter, powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add flour and whip until the dough is fluffy. Add macadamia nuts. Put the dough into a pie plate. Flour your hands, then press the dough to cover the pie plate evenly. Bake for 30–45 minutes until fragrant and golden.
Cheesecake filling: While crust is baking, whip sugar and 1 cup heavy cream until stiff. Dissolve gelatin* in small amount of ice-cold water. Heat 1/2 cup heavy cream and salt in small saucepan. Add gelatin (it should be jelly-like). Stir until dissolved. Place saucepan in an ice-water bath to cool. Whip cream cheese until smooth. Add the cooled gelatin mix and whip together. Fold in the previously made whipped cream.
Combine: When crust is cool, fill with the cheesecake filling. Top with fresh mangoes sliced about 1/4-inch thick. Layer from the outside and work your way in. At the middle, use smaller slices cut about 1/8-inch thick.
*Gelatin is optional, but helps the cheesecake stay firm. If you wish to leave out, just make whipped cream and whipped cream cheese, then fold them together.
**If leaving out gelatin, recipe requires only 1 cup heavy cream.
Find the mango sorbet recipe here.
This story was featured in our Charm Issue.