One day a neighbor drove by our farm and stopped. I watched as he hoisted his boy over the fence and the little man ran to the mountain apple tree for some drops. With as much as he could carry, he was smiling and running back to his dad for his triumphant boost up with an armful of treasure. Something’s you just watch and enjoy without saying a word.
Many keiki have grown up eating mountain apples or Ohi’a ‘ai in Hawaiian. I, too, look forward to the first mountain apples of the year. You can usually find me there, after an afternoon nap, looking up for the most perfect specimen – a deep red, pear shaped apple. I usually slip a few into my pockets for whomever I meet on my way to where I’m going.
Usually we have three blossoms a year on our trees. The first one, happening around mid-January is usually just a sampling. The second one, occurring in March is our biggest bloom, with the later and not so plentiful one, in June or July. It takes 2 months from flower to fruit. So, you can count the days when you see those fuchsia blooms and pinpoint when you’ll take your first bite. They are truly a hot day’s delight.
Another name for them is water apple and after you take a taste of one you will see why. Their flesh is white and almost melts in your mouth, kind of like a firm watermelon. I’ve learned my lesson, more than once, to never look up into the tree while you are eating one because they are so juicy. Each fruit contains up to 90% moisture.* They are related to rose apple, guava, jaboticaba and Surinam cherry.
I’ve seen different sized fruits and different colored ones; some pink, some white, mostly small. The Kingston variety is big and dark red. They have a thin skin that will pierce easily with a fingernail, so you have to be gentle with them. Birds like them and start little excavation sites on the best fruit. Someone once told me, pick the bird pecked ones, because they know which ones are the best on the tree. It’s true!
If you live in a humid area with plenty rainfall plant this tree. It will take 4-5 years to fruit and will grow reaching 40-60 ft. * in eight years. It will grow easily from seed and sometimes you can find the seed already germinating in the fruit. Our Hawaiian acidic soils are best for their healthy growth.
They contain 5 to 6 mg of calcium, 11-18 mg of Phosphorus (both good for healthy teeth and bones) and smaller amounts of iron, carotene (vit A), Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin (vit Bs) and Ascorbic Acid (vit C).*
When the fruit is dropping, one of my favorite things to do is make mountain apple sauce which will have a nice pink color and go fabulously with wild boar. I cut up as many that will fit, with the skin on, and cook them in a big pot over medium heat until almost the consistency of apple sauce. I take my immersion blender and make the chunks a little finer then add the same spices as apple sauce; cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, vanilla bean and clove. You can either can the sauce in a hot water bath or freeze it in 1 quart bags. They both keep considerably well.
Most likely this year, I will be experimenting with different dishes and ways of using mountain apples. If you have a recipe you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it.
*Julia F. Morton, Fruit of Warm Climates, 1987;