Mad for Mangoes: Savoring a Backyard Tradition

Jul 15, 2016

Red, gold, and green mangoes harvested at Mark Suiso's Makaha Mangoes farm.
Credit Molly Solomon

Summer is upon us and that means one thing for fruit lovers: mango season. HPR’s Molly Solomon paid a visit to an O‘ahu farm to learn more about this local treat.

On a one acre-plot of land, Mark Suiso has made the most of his backyard in Mākaha. That’s where he tends dozens of mango trees, some planted by his father more than 60 years ago. His business, Makaha Mangoes boasts more than 70 trees and 12 different varieties.

“These are really award-winning mangos,” Suiso said pointing to a Rapoza mango. “It gets really big and red, but it’s really sweet. It melts in your mouth.”

Credit Molly Solomon

The branches are heavy with ripe fruit, and Suiso gets to work. He’s already got a kiddie pool filled with ripe mangos on the back of his cart.

Talk to Suiso about mangoes for long enough and you’ll swear you’re talking about wine. “It’s flavor is just -- wow -- it’s got a really rich taste. You taste some sweetness to it and there are all these other rich tastes that come after it. There are these after notes that come in, like coconut for this one.”

Suiso says Hawaii mangoes are much more than just Hadens and Piries. The different varieties grown on the islands now stretch into the hundreds. Horticulturist Don Marín, advisor to King Kamehameha I is credited with planting the first tree at the corner of Vineyard and River Street in the 1820s. The fruit took off and became a staple backyard crop for many local families, including the Suisos.

“A lot of these trees are legacy trees from people’s grandparents. They planted these back in the 1950s and 60s when there was this huge influx of homeownership,” he said. “Back at that time, people planted the tree and then figured out where to put the house. Having a fruit tree in the yard was really an important part of having a home.”

Mark Suiso shows me around his backyard farm. Many of the trees were started by his father more than 50 years ago. He continues to experiment with grafting and creating new varieties.
Credit Molly Solomon

  Suiso says so much of growing up in Hawai‘i is growing up with mango. As a kid, he’d spend summers climbing the family mango tree, picking ripe fruit and eating it over the kitchen sink.

“I grew up with having mangoes trees in the backyard, and I just thought everybody did,” Suiso said. “And over the past 15 or 20 years, I’m finding that’s not the case.”

That’s part of why Suiso started his mango farm, to revive the backyard mango. Besides being an integral part of local culture, Suiso argues there’s also a social value to sharing mango.

“I use it for currency. I call it mango diplomacy,” said Suiso, explaining that the right mangoes, can go a long way in Hawai‘i. “When you have a sick friend in the hospital, you bring a box of mangoes to that room, your friend will get the best care. I don’t care how many boxes of manapua, or how many boxes of Cinnabon, or how many boxes of manju you bring—they will take second seat to the person who brings mango.”

Back in Suiso’s kitchen, he pulls out a paring knife and washes the sap off a medium-sized mango that’s just turning a shade of red-orange. This one’s the Exel, an award winning fruit that took top honors for best mango two years in a row at the Mangoes at the Moana event in Waikiki.

“Try this,” Suiso said, hanging me a plate of juicy, golden slices.

Simple, sweet, and slightly chilled. Suiso’s right—nothing beats it.