Fresh Bamboo and Fern Shoots
By Vinnie Shishido
Vinnie Shishido from Hilo shared ukupile-a recipes last month and talked a little about the flowering bamboo. I was intrigued and asked her if she could find out more and maybe write a story. Here’s her answer:
Roch - Received the pepa and cracked up at the picture. Have not thought seriously about the bamboo flowers yet......am not a good writer but according to my research, certain species of bamboo flower once in 70 years. Some don't even flower. Something in the weather causes them to flower and most clumps die after flowering, causing severe erosion problems because bamboo usually grows on hilly landsides of gorges or valleys near a water source like a river or waterfall or both. That did not happen in Hilo. The bamboo did flower, but the clumps only had slight die back and now it's as thick as ever.
By the way this is the month for picking bamboo shoots. The Hilo weather has been perfect this year for bamboo shoots. Yum yum nothing tastes better than the fresh stuff in chicken hekka or nishime. Just last weekend my friend Richard Hirayama brought chicken hekka for our weekly get-together that he made with fresh bamboo shoots picked from a huge clump in Kurtistown where it has been raining constantly these past two months. You see the spring rainy season encourages the bamboo to produce new growth in excess so we go out and pick the young shoots easily by snapping near ground level. Like when you clean asparagus, you only eat the portion or the tips where it snaps easily. Same thing with bamboo shoots except bamboo is longer and got much more to eat. Gotta blanch the cleaned shoots the day you harvest because bamboo keeps growing even after harvesting. Then sliver the shoots into bite size pieces and put it through several water changes for 2 to 3 days. My mom says if you don't do the water exchange process, the shoots will have slightly bitter taste to them when you actually use them in cooking. Besides they get nice and white and the texture is crunchy taste is sweet not like the canned stuff.
This week Richard and Stephen Nishikawa are going to pick the shoots of the smaller "fishing rod" type bamboo. These stay green after blanching and do not need the water changing. These shoots are thinner and make excellent namasu pickles. The chiso plants are really bushy now and that’s the time to make pickled bamboo shoots. Chiso (beefsteak plant) leaves are used to make ume. They impart the flavor and red color needed to turn those salted plums into ume.
Spring is the best time for us foodies in Hilo. Farmers market here sells freshly picked bamboo shoots (takenoko) and fern shoots (kakuma). Last week I cut about a dozen fat stalks off my hapu`u in our yard. Because of the excessive rain all my hapu`u were putting out extra new fronds. I try to keep each plant down to five fronds - more than that and the hapu`u gets too bushy and shades out too much light for my anthuriums, so to maintain the right amount of light I must prune the old fronds off. This year the hapu`u is shooting too many new growths, so I harvested them for eating. Same process like bamboo, gotta clean off the excess hair, trim the stalks to 4" lengths, so they can fit into the pot and cook them 20 to 30 min. depending of how fat the stalks are. Cold water rinse and while they cool down all the time being submerged in a water bath, the fun part for me begins. You gotta peel the suckas and keep the peeled kakuma submerged in cold water that has to be changed constantly for the next 3 to 4 days, or till the runoff water turns clear. The peelings go right into our compost pile - nothing gets wasted at our place.
This week I'm making nishime with fresh takenoko and fresh kakuma, gonna throw in the fresh shiitake from the local Hamakua mushroom farm. Boy Roch, too bad you’re not there to enjoy all this stuff. That's why I can't live anywhere else......I'm a local foodie person. Everyone complains about the Hilo rains but I knew that heavy spring rain brings on the best takenoko harvest and the best kakuma harvest. My dad had his secret spots where he'd go to get stuff. I remember going along with him to catch opai from a stream in the Hamakua district and on the way back to the car we'd fill an extra burlap bag with bamboo shoots in no time at all. He also knew a good spot up Stainback Highway where you only had to walk in six to eight feet and pick kakuma, sweet poka, and maile too in just an hour or two. Took us longer to drive to the spot than we'd spend picking the stuff. Those were fun days. Now I pick kakuma from my garden or buy it at the Farmers' Market. Hey, you see you make me talk story too long already. I'd send you the nishime recipe but no sense since you can't get fresh takenoko and kakuma up stateside.
Arohas fo now,
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