Edible Hawaii (January 2015)

Coming from northern states with a three-month growing season, we are impressed with the bountiful year-round harvest in Hawaii. (Actually as we write this it is 80F in Hawaii and -26F in Wisconsin, more than a 100-degree difference!)

First stop, in Liz’s honor (and because we love chocolate), the local Hawaiian chocolate company, Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory.


Really good chocolate!

The company is totally Fair Trade since the owner and two other employees do all the harvesting. They handpick cacao beans every two weeks from the 1,400 plants on the property as individual pods ripen. This is what a cacao bean looks like. They grow on small branches and on the trunk too.


Notice the similarity to Liz’s tattoo?

Next stop, Kona coffee, specifically the island’s best at Greenwell, which has been around since 1850. It started as a cattle farm with citrus plants (since the sailors arriving often had scurvy and needed Vitamin C).


Native apple banana, smaller than regular bananas.

Now it has 2 acres of fruit, 4 acres of macadamia nuts, and 60 acres of coffee plants– 65,000 trees in plantings from 500 feet to 3,500 feet elevation. Like the terroirs of wine-growing, different coffee-growing areas result in different flavors . Each tree yields 25 to 100 pounds during the extended harvest, but much of that never makes it to your grinder. It’s not a high-yield process.


Imagine picking these by hand. Be thankful that someone has done this tedious work when you enjoy your next cup of morning coffee.

The coffee beans are called cherries when they’re on the tree and they look like bright red cranberries when they’re ripe. Again, hand picking since the cherries ripen at different times, with each tree being picked 4 to 7 times a year. Recently a coffee beetle infestation has caused problems.


The fruit on the right is okay. The left has a coffee beetle.

The first step of processing is sorting in a float tank. The cherries with beetles are lighter than “good” beans so they float to the top.


Uh oh. Lots of floaters in this one.

A dry mill takes the heavy shell off the bean and then the silky inner skin. Fermenting for 16 hours removes sugar. In the drying process, beans are raked for seven days every 15 minutes on a deck in the sun with a retractable roof for night time and rainy days.


This looks like the rice drying the Chinese did on the outermost lane of the major highways in Guangdong province when Liz did her bike trip in 1999. Wonder if that still happens?

The last step is roasting, which ranges from 18 minutes to 24 minutes and 1 second for the espresso. That last second makes a big difference! Greenwell has a macadamia coffee that is made by infusing the roasted bean with macadamia oil.

This is one of the island’s free-range chickens, known as huli huli chickens. They look so quaint strutting through the brush and they do taste great as rotisserie treats, but they also wake us up too early. The ones at our house must be on Eastern Time, crowing at 2 or 3 a.m. here. (7 a.m. in DC)


Someone’s dinner later this week…

The citrus tree next to Greenwell’s tasting area has a family of 12 chameleons. One of the Greenwell workers, Daniel Swanson, has written a book about the patriarch, Carl the Chameleon. He has a sequel on the way about Carl going to school.


Apparently Carl wants to stand out from the darker green leaves.

Carl’s kids are all over the tree.


This one blends in with the branch, so much so that his neck has a gnarly appearance just like the wood.

Some take the appearance of the lichen on the branches. FYI the chameleons are not edible 🙂


Probably an adult female, not as showy as the males.

The island has geckos, also not edible, but they like inspecting the local fruit since they eat insects and nectar.


The Gold Dust Day Gecko does not come with the coffee. That’s freshly canned lilikoi butter next to the bag.

Lots of breadfruit here. Big and nubby.


These breadfruit are 8 to 10 inches long and very starchy.

Hawaii is famous for macadamia nuts, a favorite of John O’Connell. We found the Mauna Loa factory after driving past 250 acres with 250,000 trees.

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Looks just like the logo on the box or jar. Those are plumeria blossoms at the top.

The people at Greenwell Coffee told us macadamia nuts are oversupplied right now, bringing the selling price too low for profitable farming. Even so, it is the most expensive nut in the world, mostly because of the difficulty of cracking the super hard shell without damaging the nut.

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These are the mac nuts before they go to the factory.

We found someone with a roadside fruit stand. Imagine having this bounty in your backyard.


Fresh from the backyard fruit at unbelievable prices. Pomelos were popular for Chinese New Year when we were in Hong Kong–like a big, somewhat dry grapefruit.

What’s a lilikoi? You might know it as passion fruit. Very sweet and flavorful.

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The slimy, seedy insides make a great juice. A favorite of the geckos!

Gail likes the lilikoi mustard on Kauai. We didn’t find mustard here on the Big Island, but we sampled Lilikoi pasteis, just like the custard pasteis de Belem in Portugal. (Actually this was a lilikoi cheesecake.)


This is from Gypsea Gelato, run by a couple from British Columbia and California who ran a “dive aboard” business in the Caribbean and wanted to settle down with a real business. Great gelato!

Lilikoi: can’t get enough of it!


This lilikoi spritzer is sweet and tart simultaneously. How do they get out all the seeds?

Our take at the end of the day.

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The small green items are mangoes. The super large brown thing at the back is an avocado from the tree next to our guest house.

Hawaii has over 200 varieties of avocado. This Beardslee can weigh up to 40 ounces. (Ours felt even heavier!)

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We had only this guac for one night’s dinner with that one avocado equivalent to six normal ones. Welcome to Hawaii!

Tomorrow we work off all the good eating with swimming and hiking.



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