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August 2006

Sour Lemon

From Sandy Shigeta

Before I left for Hilo, one of our faithful readers asked about sour lemon. Hmmmm…sour lemon. It had been a while since I’d thought about those succulent soft and salty nuggets but at the mere mention of it, an ancient reflex immediately leapt into action and my jaw started to tighten. Guarantee the same is happening right now to those of you who also grew up eating sour lemon. Everyone from Hawai`i remembers those gallon jars of lemon sitting on rock walls and garage roofs, soaking up salt and sunshine.

I knew exactly who would have such recipes. In Hilo, Sandy Shigeta is known for many things: long-time art teacher at Hilo High School, beautiful porcelain and stoneware pots, and her passion for mui. Whenever I roll into town, I know that there will be a jar of Sandy’s prune, apricot or lemon mui waiting for me. And sure enough when I called her, she said, “Come over... I get plenny sour lemon!”

When I got to her house, I saw not only a couple of jars of sour lemon sitting outside on her rock wall, but a tree growing in her back yard where she picks the fruit to make sour lemon. They’re actually limes that we call Hawaiian limes but some fruit nuts tell us there are no such things and that they’re probably Tahitian limes. So in Hawai`i, we eat sour lemon made with Hawaiian limes that are actually Tahitian. Same ting, and here are Sandy ’s instructions for making sour lemon:

Sour Lemon

If you can find these Hawaiian/Tahitian limes, Sandy says to get the ones that are light green before they

`Ono sour lemon!
Pnoto by NWHIT

turn yellow. Scrub and put them in a gallon jar and cover with hot, boiling water for 10 minutes. This releases the oil and will help the salt penetrate the skin and prevent mold and mildew. Drain out the water then sprinkle the limes with one pound (1½ cups) Hawaiian salt. Spread plastic over the top of the jar (cut up a heavy zip loc bag) and put on the cover. Shake the jar daily for one week, shake once a week for two months, then let sit outside for one year, shaking occasionally whenever you pass it, depending on the liquid in the jar. The idea is to make sure the lemons come in regular contact with the salt water that collects in the jar; otherwise, the lemons will start to spoil. (Over this period of time, don’t be surprised if you find yourself tempted by your neighbor’s golden lemons, sitting out longer than yours. Some adults even feel a little guilty still, because as children, they cockaroached sour lemon from their cousin’s neighbor’s garage roof.)

After one year, dry lemons out in the sun or any warm place. First drain all the liquid then place lemons in a cardboard box - those Hawaiian trays beer and soda come in. Due to the salt content that can corrode, you don’t want to dry them in any metal thing and plastic retards drying. Best is the beer box and cover with that ballerina tutu netting – you know da kine – it keeps the bugs out. When lemons wrinkle and become leather hard with salt crystals coming to the surface, place them in jars and all is good. Now you can age them. Salt will continue to form over the surface if dry enough. If not dry enough, an ono but leather hard salted lemon without salt crystals will be the result. Either way they are all ono for that sore throat when mixed with hot tea or for making other ono goodies.

These lemons keep for years – Sandy has a jar that’s about 40 years old and I have an even older stash that my Chinese grandmother got in Kalapana before it got overrun by lava. It’s a family heirloom that I’ll have to put in my will so the children won’t fight over it. ~RdC

Here are some other mui recipes from Sandy:

Sandy's sour lemons, just like at the local crack seed shop.
Photo by NWHIT

Sandy’s Prune/Apricot Seed

2 pkg. seedless prunes and 2 pkg dried apricots, sliced.
1 ¼ c. lemon juice
1 ½ c. brown sugar
4 sour lemons, seeded and sliced
2 t. Chinese 5 spice (heong liu fun)
Li hing mui – wash off if salty
1 ½ t. kum chow mut (licorice)

Boil all ingredients until sauce is thick. Cool and store.

Chinese Sweet Lime

1 gallon limes
1 quart water
¾ cup Hawaiian salt
1 lb. dark brown sugar
1 Tbs Chinese molasses

Bring water to a boil and cool. Wash and cut firm, matured limes in half. Pack in sterilized gallon jar with Hawaiian salt to prevent spoilage. Add water to limes. Cover jar with Saran first, then foil, and tie. Do not use a metal lid. Place gallon jar outdoors in sunlight for about a month or in a closet for 2 years until limes change color to light brown.

Drain liquid; empty into a large stainless pot, cover with tap water, and boil for 5 minutes. Repeat 2-3 times to remove salt. Drain water. Add brown sugar and molasses to limes and cook until syrupy. Cool and repack in jars. Makes 2 quarts sweet lemon.

Kumquat/Calamandan Preserve

2 lbs fruit
2 c. water
1 T. baking soda
2 c. sugar
1 t. grated ginger
¼ lb li hing mui

Wash fruit, sprinkle with soda, toss and let stand 10 minutes. Rinse twice. Place in kettle, cover with water and boil until tender. Drain 1 hour.

Make syrup. Boil sugar and water until it froths. Check and keep boiling until sugar-water is at soft ball stage when dripped into water. Add ginger and li hing mui. Add drained fruit and keep cooking until fruit is glossy. Store in jars and refrigerate when cool.


One-Ton Chips are Back!!

By Anne (Lau) Meis

 If you grew up in Hawaii, you probably remember the popular One-Ton Chips packaged in the clear

One-Ton Chips at Seattle Christian School High School Graduation in June 2006. From left: Rian Lau from Hilo, Chuck and Anne Meis and family from Renton, Washington.

Photo from Anne Meis

cellophane bags made by the Hilo Maebo Noodle Factory. Moms used the chips to make the ono delicious Chinese Won Ton Pi Salad while we kids and teens would demolish the bag. If you were lucky, your family would receive one or two big plastic bags of the chips as omiyage if Hilo friends or relatives visited.

When I was planning my son's graduation party this June, my brother happened to mention that Maebo Noodle Factory was making the chips again. You see, on September 30, 2003 a fire destroyed the factory. Memories of eating chips and the won ton salad came to mind. "What a cool thing to have for the grad party!", I thought and asked my brother to bring some up with him. The chips were a hit!

The chips are now packaged in airproof foil bags with the familiar logo of a weightlifter carrying a barbell over his head with "One-Ton" printed on the weights. Bags of chips may be ordered online for all you locals who miss the salty sweet crunchy chips. An interesting history of the family-run busines and ordering information may be found at: www.one-ton.com or call Toll Free 1-877(one-tons) 663-8667.

No offense, but using Top Ramen noodles in a Chinese salad just does NOT do justice to the original recipe. So for all of you who have lost your recipe, here's saving you a phone call home to Mom.

Won Ton Pi Salad (6-8 servings)  

1 medium head romaine or Manoa lettuce
1 small head iceberg lettuce
¼ cup Chinese parsley (cilantro)- chopped
½ cup green onions- chopped
15 water chestnuts - thinly sliced
½ pound char siu (red roast pork)- slivered
2 cups One-Ton Chips
1 Tbl. toasted sesame seeds


1) Tear up lettuce into bite size pieces.
2) Add the Chinese parsley, green onions, water chestnuts and char siu. Chill Well.
3) Add the chips and sesame seeds JUST before serving.
4) Toss gently with Chinese Sesame Dressing immediately before serving.

Chinese Sesame Dressing (1/2 cup)

6 Tbl. Sesame Seed Oil
5 Tbl. Vinegar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp Ajinomoto (MSG) - optional
Combine in a pint jar, shake well. May be made ahead of time.

Anne (Lau) Meis was born and raised in Hilo, Hawai'i and graduated from Hilo High School.  She attended UH Hilo Campus and graduated from UH Manoa with a B.Ed, Fifth Year and a M.Ed specializing in gifted preschoolers. While in Hilo she taught at Pahoa and Honoka'a.  She now resides in Maple Valley with her husband Chuck and three teenagers. She homeschools two of her teens and is actively involved at Seattle Christian School where her eldest son recently graduated.  

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