It is summer, that time of year when the mountain apple trees in Hawaii are laden with sweet juicy fruit. We were looking forward to more Hawaiian mountain apples from our mountain apple tree in the back yard, but feral pigs have attacked the low branches that were heavy with fruit, and actually broke two of the branches off! I wouldn't have minded so much but they only ate the ripe fruit and so all of the other unripe fruit will go to waste. I have blogged before about wild boars on the Big Island and how to attract or repel them. It pretty much comes down to this, if you have something good to eat on your property and it is not fenced in, you are fare game for pigs to invite themselves to a feast.
Luckily, we still had enough of a Hawaiian mountain apple crop to share with our friends, neighbors, and the people who work at our local post office and library. One postal clerk told me someone else had brought them pickled mountain apples. I have never tried that before but she said it was sort of like pickled mango which I love.
Exactly what are Hawaii mountain apples? Mountain apples (Myrtaceae) or Ohi'a 'ai (pronounced oh-he ah eye) in Hawaiian, are delicious apple crossed with pear shaped fruits with a thin waxy like skin. The skin is easily nicked (even from your finger nail so you have to be careful picking them) and comes in a variety of reddish, pinkish, and white hues in a solid color or mixture of these colors. The flesh is white and crunchy but not exactly like an apple or even a pear. It seems crisp but there is more juice in the flesh and has a mild sweet flavor. (If you can describe the mountain apple's fruit flavor in a better way, please share it with us in a comment.) You eat it as is with the skin on, but throw out (or plant) the marble sized seed in the center. It tastes best fresh picked or chilled.
Mountain apples from Hawaii grow on medium to large trees which can grow to over 60 feet in some places. I am pretty sure that they can be found on all of the main Hawaiian Islands. Mountain Apples commonly grow wild in the mountains (which I suppose is how they got their name) at the mid-elevation range rainforests, and make a nice refreshing treat for fortunate hikers.
Ohi'a 'ai was one of the fruits brought to the Hawaiian islands from the original Polynesian voyagers in their trek across the Pacific in canoes. The mountain apple fruit was nourishing, the tree's wood useful for building things, and the bark possessed medicinal qualities. The ingenious and industrious Hawaiian people also made a dye from the Ohi'a 'ai fruit to decorate their tapa bark cloth.
For more photographs of mountain apple fruits and mountain apple trees in Hawaii, visit Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk Project (HEAR.org)--Invasive species information for Hawaii and the Pacific.