On the US mainland, we may not think of mangoes as having a season, but for those who live in the tropics around the world, mango season is something to mark on the calendar, not to be missed. There is no fruit as seductively luscious and velvety as a ripe mango, which bears no similarity to the stringy, astringent store-ripened varieties available in most US supermarkets year-round.
I lucked out and caught the beginning of mango season on a recent trip to Hawaii’s Big Island. While others headed for the beach, I made a trek from our hotel on the sunnier Kohala coast to visit Hilo’s farmers market. The beach could wait, but I couldn’t miss the weekly market.
The two hour drive (each way) was well worth it. Driving on the Big Island affords vistas you can’t find anywhere else; it’s truly a mini-continent, with the terrain changing every ten minutes you drive. Hilo is on the foggy, misty, Eastern side of the island, close to Volcanoes National Park. It is home to the University of HawaiÊ»i at Hilo, the Merrie Monarch Festival of hula, and the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation. Hilo’s climate is that of a tropical rainforest, which means it rains most days of the year. It’s reportedly the wettest city in the United States and one of the wettest cities in the world.
All that rain makes for excellent growing conditions. The market was a bounty of Hawaii’s spring crops– mangoes, papayas, bananas, ginger, and warabi (Hawaiian fiddlehead ferns). Flowers which are exotic and expensive on the mainland were in wild abundance at the market– orchids, anthuriums, and bromeliads. There was also a selection of only-in-Hawaii prepared foods, which included poi, the fermented taro paste, and musubi, the sushi-like snack often topped with Spam. The musubi at the market was offered in an impressive variety of toppings beyond Spam, including hot dogs and a California roll-inspired version topped with imitation crab and avocado. For dessert, I sampled for the first time a beloved Hawaiian-Japanese confection known as mochi. You may be familiar with the Japanese sweet of sticky rice balls sometimes filled with sweet red bean paste. In Hawaii, sweet rice flour has found its way into many other recipes, including a cake-like temptation known as butter mochi. Besides the chance to check out what’s in season, a visit to the farmers market was a great chance to mingle with the locals and enjoy impromptu performances of slack key guitar.
Take a stroll with me through Hilo’s Farmers Market. There’s dessert at the end.
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Hawaiian Mango-Coconut Milk Cake
In honor of the too-short mango season, I have made a coconut milk enriched version of mochi topped with mango. It will remind you of the Thai dessert of mango and sticky rice, or perhaps of a fruity blondie. Back home in California, I am taking advantage of the Mexican mango season right now, which allowed me to purchase heavenly sweet red mangoes for 33 cents each at my local supermarket.
Note: store cake at room temperature.
1 pound box mochiko (sweet rice flour)
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla
1 12 oz can coconut milk
1 very ripe mango, sliced, juices reserved
1. Mix together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
2. Add all other ingredients except for mango and whisk until well combined.
3. Pour batter into a greased rectangular baking pan.
4. Place mango slices on top, then drizzle over any remaining mango juice. If desired, use a knife to swirl batter slightly to created a marbled effect.
5. Bake in a pregeated 350 oven for an hour, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Let cool in pan, then slice into squares.
© 2011 Linda Shiue, with aloha