Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mixed Plate: Ono Kine Hawaii - Green Acres (pt 1)

Aloha! Mr. Wasabi/Brock and I took some time to fly off to the tropics of the 50th state for a cousin's wedding, some family time and some much-needed rest. While I was not born in Hawaii, the entire Wasabi Prime clan on both sides are all Islanders, having been born on and lived across the islands of Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii/The Big Island. I am fortunate to have been able to experience this place for extended visits during my childhood, and have been granted a very different perspective on this place from the typical visuals of swaying palm trees, mai tais, and hula girls. For the first of a two-part post series, I wanted to focus on the aspect of Hawaii that people don't immediately think of, which is the land's ability to feed the people, and the importance of staying connected to this relationship.

A vast plantation of pineapple? Nope, just my Auntie P's backyard garden! - photo by Wasabi Prime

It's nearly impossible to lose sight of the fact that Hawaii is a string of islands, and given that isolated geography, that inspires a need for sustainability. Goods and resources tend to be more costly because much of it is barged or flown in. During the turn of the century, agriculture made the islands a valuable commodity, but the fields of pineapple and sugar cane disappeared over the years as commercial air travel became more viable, and the industry of tourism eclipsed the plantation days. A waning economy has been a reminder to everyone that a renewed focus on local resources and increased self-reliance is a valuable investment to take part of.

Baby eggplants, chili peppers, Suriname cherries in a yard, and a breadfruit at a park - photos by Wasabi Prime

Staying a few days at my aunt and uncle's home in Kaneohe, a city on Oahu outside of Honolulu, we were given access to a produce department in a home backyard. My Auntie P clearly picked up the Green Thumb talent in the family and has always used her backyard garden to its full extent. She grows tomatoes, pineapples, chili peppers, salad greens, eggplant, and various herbs. She also has a huge Suriname cherry tree which produces beautiful, sour little fruits, what she used to call "pumpkin cherries," because their exteriors look a bit like a round bumpy squash. A fortified punch of vitamin C, the large-pitted cherries are too tart to just eat on their own, but she uses them for preserves and I'm sure would probably make for a marvelous relish come Thanksgiving Day.

Auntie P was last seen carefully nursing a small bell pepper plant that she had sprouted from seeds. Given that Hawaii's warm and rainy climate turns annuals into perennials, this lone pepper plant could easily produce several years' worth of bell peppers, so it's worth the extra care. Every time I visit, I'm envious of her tomato plants, which are more like a tomato bush, as they don't die back and just continue to fruit throughout the year.

Along with the bounty from home gardens, we saw breadfruit trees growing in parks. About the size of a large melon, the bumpy-skinned breadfruit were concentrated carbohydrate sources for the Native Hawaiians. Because it's so starchy, it's a bit like a potato once cooked and can be used in similar tuber-like applications. Much like the potato, the breadfruit's myth describes the Hawaiian people's deliverance from famine: the god of war Kū, after living in secret among mortals, sacrificed himself so that his family and others could be saved from starvation, and a breadfruit tree miraculously grew from a place where he once stood. For a lot of the traditional foods in Hawaii, there are legends like these to remind people of the value of what the land can provide. Aside from providing a lush, tropical landscape, the plants and trees are a resource worth nurturing.

There remains a strong connection to the land that the locals have, and I believe this connection grows stronger and new connections are being made as people are realize how this works toward environmental sustainability. Having so many people in Hawaii descended from the plantation era and generations of accomplished farmers (my own family included), it isn't unusual to just walk outside and pull together ingredients from the yard for a meal; this mentality is truly in the hearts and minds of the people. Granted, Hawaii is a more hospitable place for year-round growing, but it's an inspiring reminder for everyone to be aware of what is readily available, versus what needs to be brought in from afar.

It ain't easy being green... unless you're in Hawaii. Then it's super-easy. Photo by Wasabi Prime

Don't touch that! The second part of this two-part Hawaii adventure is on its way! Having discussed the natural side of Hawaii, one has to reveal the unnatural side of Spam and other unique local foods that created a beloved menu inspired by resourcefulness and multi-culturalism. Next stop: Ono Kine Grindz! Mahalo!

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  1. Awesome post. I love Hawaii, have been there many times and have often felt like I should have been born there. You are lucky to have so much family there and such a deep connection to a truly unique place. And the idea of growing your own pineapples...that blows my mind. Lovely photos too, though I have to say, it's hard NOT to take a great photo in Hawaii (no offense intended!)

  2. Totally agreed -- I love that photo-taking there is impossible to mess up, as there's always something pretty to focus on! I meant to add it in the post, but all my aunt does is lop off the top of the pineapple and sticks it in the ground and in a month or so, it takes root and she'll have a new plant! I am so tropically GREEN with envy!!!

  3. Thanks for taking me to Hawaii. Nice produce at our Aunt's home. Looking forward to part 2.

  4. Nice! Thanks for the interesting post. Such interesting vegetation there, and, as always, your photos are beautiful. :)

  5. Beautiful. Makes me miss Hawaii. Thanks for such a lovely post!

  6. you got your dose of sunshine in- should make it through another couple of gray months!i sooo want to grow a pineapple, oh, and eat some amazing hawaiian salt right now. can't wait for part deux...

  7. how divine!! I've always wanted to visit Hawaii. Or anything related to Hawaii, pina coladas, and me having the excuse to just walk around all day in a bikini & sarong with an alcoholic beverage in tow =)

    Cheeky you, making us wait for the second post!

  8. The pictures are incredibly beautiful. I hope to visit... someday. Does the soil itself make planting scarce or is it just that the land is scarce and expensive? Glad you had fun!

  9. @El - the soil is very rich, but so is the land value! A lot of the places once used for farming was sectioned-off and sold off as parcels for retail or residential properties. It's made for more places for people to work and live in Hawaii, but reduced the amount of space for the state to produce its own food. Such a challening dilemma on a small chain of islands.

  10. I have great respect for the Hawaiian gods. We honeymooned on the big island, and brought back a few pieces of lava we found while hiking...Pele didn't think to kindly of that, and after a string of bad luck, we mailed the lava back to the park where it was found---all was good again.

  11. Wow! Beutiful. What a great adventure you had.

  12. Your trip sounds amazing! I am going to Hawaii in March and your photos and writing are making be increasingly excited to see some of these things first hand!

    The idea of using local ingredients is so important all around the world. I think it is one good thing that has come out of the downward spiral the economy has taken- people are thinking outside the box and looking for local resources for food.

    Thanks for making me think...


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