In Old Hawai`i, there were large groves of coco palms. Whenever I visit Kaua`i, I stay in Kapa`a, mainly because it is one of the few places I know of left in the Islands where I can enjoy the sight of a coconut grove. If you saw the movie Blue Hawaii with Elvis, you will recall that much of the backdrop included those coconut groves on the island of Kaua `i.
The Hawaiians used all parts of the coconut tree. According to In Gardens of Hawaii by Marie C. Neal (Bishop Museum Press 1965) “The leaves were used for thatching and for plaiting baskets and fans, the midribs of leaflets made good brooms, and were used to string kukui nuts and copra for lights, to string some kinds of leis, and for pins. The textilelike fiber at the base of leaf stems provided material for sandals, for strainers, and for loin cloths. The nuts offered both foot and drink. The custardlike pulp of young nuts is especially good food for babies and can be substituted for cow’s milk. Ripe nuts, grated, yield a delicious creamy milk, and supplied Hawaiians with coconut oil for lights, ointment, and hair oil, which was scented with sweet flowers or leaves. The spongy pulp (iho) in sprouting nuts is also a choice food. Shells were used for containers, implements, and hula rattles, sometimes even for mending fractured skulls; the husks for kindling and carrying fire. The long fibers (coir) from the husks, which are resistant to fresh and salt water, were made into sennit, or cordage, either by braiding or rolling a few strands together. The hard wood of the tree trunk was utilized for fish spears, posts, furniture and construction, but it was too heavy for canoes. The terminal leaf buds and pith of felled trees were eaten raw; and the budding flower sprays were tapped for their sap, which yields sugar, wine, arrack (distilled from wine), and vinegar. Old flower sprays were used as broom. To commemorate some event, young coco palms were bent to grow in odd shapes.”
Whew! Before I looked it up in my book, I was just going to tell you how I love to eat coconut. I have fond memories of spending the day at the beach with friends, foraging for dropped coconuts when we got thirsty since none of us risked climbing those tall trees. (We were too genteel you see.) When we found a nice, big one, we looked for a rock with a sharp edge and started smashing the coconut against it to take the husk off. Once we cleaned it down to the nut, we located the three eyes where we made a precision whack with a large stone. Then with juice spilling out, we thrust it up to our mouths, sticky juice splashing all over our face, down our arms and legs. (We were thirsty!) After the drinking, we moved on to the eating. Some like spoon meat, but me, I prefer my coconut in chunks.
What can be better than sitting in your swimsuit, feet dangling in the water, watching the waves, munching on a piece of coconut?
Once you are touched by the Aloha Spirit, it does something to you…changes you forever. I grew up in Seattle but had an early introduction to Hawaiian culture through a Sunday school teacher, the late Mary Piikeanui Smith and her island heritage. After a semester of college on the North Shore of O`ahu, I returned to Seattle and was anxious to make haupia (a light coconut dessert) for my family, as I ate it almost every day in the school cafeteria. I went through packages of the mix given to me by friends but never thought to ask old my Sunday school teacher if she had a recipe for haupia. Before she passed away, she scribbled it down for me. I treasure our friendship and the great recipe she gave me!
Depending on how thick you like your haupia:
1 & ½ to 3 cups of coconut milk
Pour coconut milk into a saucepan on medium heat. Add cornstarch, vanilla, sugar and salt. Stir until cornstarch is dissolved. Cook, stirring until it boils. Turn to low heat when it thickens. Pour in shallow pan and let cool at room temperature, or in the fridge if you like it more solid. Sprinkle with coconut flakes on top. Cut into squares and serve on ti leaves.
1 ¼ cups coconut juice and water
Boil sugar and liquid until mixture almost threads. Add grated coconut and cook about ten minutes longer so that coconut absorbs syrup. When cool, fill a 9 inch pie pan which has been lined with pastry. Make several slits near center of top crust to allow steam to escape or top crust will puff up, leaving a hollow space underneath. Seal thoroughly by pressing together on edge of pan and make a fluted edge. Bake in hot oven 425º F. for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 375ºF. for 30 – 45 minutes.
Mrs. Margaret Yap, Kalahikiola Congregational Church Cook Book 1955 Kohala , Hawai`i .
1 cup butter (or 1 block butter and 1 block oleo)
Cream sugar and butter until fluffy. Add flour and then the grated coconut. Mix well. Roll in wax paper and freeze. Cut in ¼” slices and bake in 275º F. oven until light brown.
Still Many More of Our Favorite Recipes published by Maui extension Homemakers’ Council 1972.
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