Dec 30, 2012

Li Hing Mui... "The Traveling Plum"

Dried Li Hing Mui
You can purchase this product online at this site.
Originally from China, the name "li hing mui" means "traveling plum". My guess is that it is called "traveling" because this salty dried plum is preserved, making it portable and easy to use in many recipes. It has a strong, distinctive flavor, and is often said to be an acquired taste, as it has a combination of sweet, sour, salty, tart, and even tangy taste. It was made popular in Hawaii by Yee Sheong, who in early 1900, had began importing Li hing mui and various other preserved fruits from China to Hawaii. The Li Hing Mui craze was started by Yee and flourished with the company he founded, Yick Lung. Today this brand is no longer available, but other brands can be found in Hawaiian and Asian markets, and online.

Jade brand Li Hing Mui Powder
can be purchased in grocery stores
and online at this site.
Li hing mui powder can be used as a flavoring usually sprinkled on candy and other fruits notably pineapples and apples. Recently, people have also been putting li hing powder into their alcoholic drinks—mainly tequila cocktails. Many bars in Hawaii also rim their glasses with li hing powder in addition to putting it in the drink. There's a number of brands out there, but my favorite brand of li hing mui powder is the "Jade" brand. 

Checkout this website or more information about li hing mui, and a delicious recipe for "Li Hing Mui Vinaigrette".

Li Hing Mui Recipes:

Sweet Li Hing Mui 
Pineapple Chicken
6 or 8 boneless chicken 
1 can (20 oz.) pineapple chunks with juice
1 tablespoons Li hing mui powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons salt

black pepper to taste
Chinese parsley (cilantro), chopped, for garnish

Place the boneless chicken thighs into a large mixing bowl. With your hands, mix in the rest of the ingredients all over the chicken
. Place coated chicken on a foil wrapped baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Serve garnished with cilantro over seasoned rice with vegetables on the side. 

Makes 6-8 servings.

Broiled Shrimp with 
Li Hing Mui Macadamia Butter
Ingredients for butter sauce:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon li hing mui powder
1 tablespoon ground macadamia nuts
1/4 cup ground macadamia nuts for garnish

Ingredients for broiled shrimp:
24 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons parsley
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon oregano
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Make the li hing mui macadamia butter by combining all of the ingredients in a small bowl, put aside. Put cleaned shrimp in a large bowl. Add all other ingredients. Toss well to coat shrimp. Place on a shallow baking sheet. Broil on high, 7 inches from heat, for about 6-7 minutes, turning once. Toss shrimp with butter sauce and sprinkle with extra macadamia nuts. Serve with rice pilaf, sliced lemons, and steamed show peas.

Makes 4 servings.

Pineapple with Li Hing Mui
1 ripe pineapple
1-2 tablespoons Li hing mui powder

Peel pineapple and cut into chunks and put in a bowl. Sprinkle li hing mui powder over pineapple. Stir well, adding li hing mui powder to taste. I like it when the pineapple is quite reddish colored. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Hawaiian Pickled Mango with Li Hing Mui
1 gallon sliced green mangoes
2 cups raw sugar
1 cup rice vinegar
4 tablespoons Hawaiian rock salt
1/4 - 1/2 pound of seedless li hing mui (15-25 or more)
1/4 teaspoon red food coloring (optional)

Peel green mango with a vegetable peeler. Slice into thin strips and discard the seed. Set aside. Bring sugar, vinegar and salt to a boil. Continue boiling until sugar dissolves. Cool. Stir in li hing mui slices and pour over mango slices. Store in airtight container.

Apricot or Prune with Li Hing Mui
2 - 12 ounce packages of pitted prunes or apricots
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon five spice powder
1 tablespoon dark molasses
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 whole cloves
2 1/2 ounce package of seedless li hing mui

Combine all ingredients except prunes or apricots. Bring to a boil then add prunes or apricots. Cook for about 3 minutes over low flame. Store in a sterilized jar and soak for two days before eating.

Dec 28, 2012

The Beautiful Hawaiian Starfruit

Moloka'i Starfruit
Click on photos to view larger
The starfruit, known by Hawaiians as "five fingers", comes from a tree that produces fruit twice a year here in Hawaii. I have a tree that I planted in my back yard about 8 years ago (photo to the right), and it is loaded with fruit this time of year (October through November). You see people selling starfruit at our farmers market on Saturday mornings here on Moloka'i, but many people don't seem to know what to do with them other than to just eat them out-of-hand. Chefs all over the islands have discovered this beautiful fruit and are using it as a garnish, or as an ingredient in their tropical cuisine.

Starfruit, is the fruit of the species Averrhoa carambola, a tree native to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The fruit is popular throughout Southeast Asia, the South Pacific and parts of East Asia.

Starfruit has distinctive ridges running down its sides; in cross-section, it resembles a star, hence its name. The entire fruit is edible, including the slightly waxy skin. The flesh is crunchy, firm, and extremely juicy. It does not contain fibers and has a texture similar in consistency to that of grapes. 

When ripened, starfruit are sweet without being overwhelming as they rarely have more than 4% sugar content. The taste is difficult to compare, but it is sort of like a combination of apple, pear, and citrus family fruits all at once. Unripe starfruit are firmer and sour, and taste like green apples. 

Starfruit are best consumed shortly after they ripen, when they are yellow with a light shade of green or just after all the traces of green has disappeared. They may also have brown ridges at the edges and feel firm. Fruits picked while still slightly green will turn yellow in storage at room temperature, but will not increase in sugar content. Overripe starfruit will be yellow with brown spots and can become blander in taste and soggier in consistency.

Ripe starfruit may also be used in cooking. In Southeast Asia, they are usually stewed in cloves and sugar, sometimes with apples. In China, they are cooked with fish. In Australia, they may be cooked as a vegetable, pickled, or made into jams. In Jamaica they are sometimes dried. Unripe starfruit can be mixed with other chopped spices to make relishes in Australia. In the Philippines, unripe starfruit are eaten dipped in rock salt. In Thailand, they are cooked together with shrimp. The juice from starfruit is also used in iced drinks, particularly the juice of the sour varieties. In Hawaii they are used to make sherbet, while in the Philippines they can be used as seasoning. In India, the juice is bottled for drinking.

Health Notes: Starfruit is rich in antioxidants, potassium, and vitamin C; and low in sugar, sodium, and acid. It is also a potent source of antioxidants. Starfruit is safe for most people to eat, but unfortunately, it contains oxalic acid, which can be harmful to individuals suffering from kidney failure, kidney stones, or those under kidney dialysis treatment. Consumption by those with kidney failure can produce hiccups, vomiting, nausea, and mental confusion. Fatal outcomes have been documented in some patients. Like the grapefruit, the consumption of starfruit or its juice in combination with certain medications can significantly increase their effective dosage within the body. Research into grapefruit juice has identified a number of common medications affected, including statins, which are commonly used to treat cardiovascular illness. Read more.
Hawaiian Starfruit in Mango-Orange Sauce

Starfruit Recipes:
Hawaiian Starfruit in Mango-Orange Sauce
4 ripe starfruit
1 cup fresh orange juice
the fruit of 1 fresh ripe mango

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup coconut milk
maraschino cherries, halved

Wash and wipe the starfruit dry. Remove the hard ridge on the fruit with a potato peeler. Remove the seeds. Cut starfruit into 1/4-inch thick star slices (count out 3 slices per person) set aside. Place the mango fruit in a food processor, or blender. Process or blend until it is smooth and pureed. Place mango puree in a pot with orange juice and sugar, and turn heat to high until juice begins to boil. Then turn down to low. Add sliced starfruit and allow to simmer for 10 or 12 minutes, or until fruit has softened. Remove pot from heat. Do a taste-test for sweetness, adding more sugar if needed (how sweet it is will depend on the ripeness of the fruit/juice you're using). If it happens to be too sweet for your taste, add a squeeze of fresh lime juice, or a little more orange juice. When you're happy with the taste, portion out 3 starfruit slices per bowl with enough sauce to surround the fruit (it should still be warm from the pot). Top each bowl with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds or cherry halves. Then drizzle over some coconut milk and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Red Hot Starfruit Sweet Pickles
Red Hot Starfruit Sweet Pickles
Click on photo to view larger
Starfruit are usually harvested in October and November in Hawai'i, just in time to try this beautiful recipe during the Holidays. Traditionally this recipe used old fashioned Red Hots cinnamon candy and whole clove studded canned peaches, but starfruit are more festive than peaches, and more Hawaiian. These delicious candied starfruit sweet pickles are great as a garnish for a festive Holiday drink (1 part vodka or white rum, 2 parts juice from the jar, a squeeze of lime, and ice). Use them as part of a tropical dessert, perhaps served with other fruit like fresh pineapple and grapes, or serve on top of hot oatmeal on a cold morning, or simply given as a gift with a bow.

8 fresh starfruit
1 teaspoon red food coloring
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup Red Hots cinnamon candies
2 4-inch cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
1 quart, wide mouth, canning jar, sterilized

Take a knife and remove the top and bottom of each starfruit. With a potato peeler, remove tough top ridge on each of the starfruit arms. Cut each starfruit into 1/4-inch stars. Remove as many seeds as you can, they are hard like apple seeds.

Sterilize the jar and lid covered in boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Carefully remove the hot jar with a long handled wooden spoon, then pack the jar with cinnamon sticks, cloves and cut starfruit.

Available at
Click here
Stir together food coloring, sugar, vinegar, water, and Red Hots cinnamon candies in a pot over medium heat until sugar and candies dissolve, stir often.

Pour hot pickling mixture into starfruit filled jar, filling to within 1/4 inch of the top. Run a knife or a thin spatula around the insides of the jars after they have been filled to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rim of the jar with a moist paper towel to remove any pickling syrup. Top with lid and screw on ring tightly. Carefully place filled jar back into boiling water for 15. Remove jar and let sit at room temperature until cooled. Refrigerate the jar if it does not seal. Let sit for three days before serving. Makes 1 quart.

Note: Simply double or triple this recipe to make more than one quart. You can find fresh starfruit at our Saturday Farmer's Market here on Moloka'i.

Starfruit Cranberry Sauce
This recipe makes for a festive Holiday side dish, especially at Thanksgiving, served with roast turkey. Fresh starfruit is usually available in October and November here on Moloka'i. Make sure everyone gets a star with their cranberries when served.
Starfruit Cranberry Sauce
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1 (12-ounce) bag of fresh cranberries, cleaned
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon minced ginger
4-5 ripe starfruit, depending on size
1 orange, zest grated and juiced
1 lemon or lime, zest grated and juiced
3/4 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Cook the cranberries, sugar, orange juice, and ginger in a saucepan over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the skins pop open. Wash and wipe the starfruit dry. Remove the hard ridge on the fruit with a potato peeler, then cut into 3/8-inch star-shaped pieces. Remove the seeds, which are hard like apple seeds. Add the starfruit slices, zests, and juices and cook for about 15 more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the raisins and nuts. Let cool, and serve chilled. Makes 4 cups. Note: You can double this recipe to make about 3 quarts. I like to put them up in canning jars and give them to friends over the Thanksgiving holidays.

Starfruit & Cranberry Chutney
Star Fruit & Cranberry Chutney
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There are many varieties of chutney, they may be either wet or dry, and can be made from almost any combination of vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. Chutneys are usually grouped into sweet or hot forms; both forms usually contain spices, including chili, but differ by their main flavors. This recipe uses fruit that can be purchased here in Hawaii, and is usually served during the Thanksgiving holidays, however I find that it is a delicious condiment to have on hand all year to serve with roast chicken, venison, pork, or wild game. 

1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon mace or nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup golden raisins
3 1/2 cups diced starfruit, (if you can't get starfruit, use diced pears or apples (do not peel)
zest from one orange
2 bags (12 ounces each) fresh cranberries, or 12 ounces (total) dried cranberries (I like to use dried)

In a large non-reactive saucepan, combine all ingredients except the pecans, raisins, starfruit, orange zest and cranberries. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the pecans, raisins, and star fruit, cook until soft but not disintegrated, 5-8 minutes, depending on the firmness of the starfruit. Then add the orange zest and cranberries, cook, stirring frequently, over low-medium heat until the mixture has the consistency of thick jam (at least another 30-35 minutes). At this point you should taste the chutney and adjust, if needed, to your taste.

Let cool to room temperature, pack into jars with close-fitting caps, and refrigerate. This chutney will keep for three months or more in the refrigerator. Makes two quarts.

Hawaiian Starfruit in a
Pomegranate-Papaya-Orange Sauce
This is a wonderful recipe served as a side dish with pork or chicken. It can also be served as a dessert by adding a little more brown sugar.

3 starfruit
1 papaya
6 ounces orange juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

With a vegetable peeler, take the tough fibrous rib that runs along each edge, as well as the brown tips off the points of the starfruit. Slice the starfruit into 1/4" slices. Poke out any seeds with a knife.

Cut the papaya in half; discard the seeds, scoop out the flesh into a food processor or blender. Process or blend until smooth.

In a small bowl, combine the orange juice and cornstarch.

In a medium saucepan on high heat, add the orange juice mixture and brown sugar; stir until dissolved. When it begins to boil, turn it down to medium. Add the papaya puree and combine. Add the starfruit slices. Simmer for 10 minutes. Turn starfruit at least once during simmering stage. Remove from heat.

If serving as a side dish, place starfruit on individual plates and spoon the sauce over them. Top with pomegranate seeds. Makes 4 servings.

Tropical Pavlova
Pavlova is an Australian dessert with a meringue base, topped with fresh cream and any fruit you like. This beautiful version uses tropical fruit found here in Hawaii.

Meringue Ingredients:
whites from 4 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons corn starch
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 pints whipping cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Topping Ingredients:
1 pint basket Maui strawberries, rinse, hulled and halved lengthwise (2 cups)
1 (8 ounce) can pineapple tidbits in juice, drained
1 starfruit cut crosswise in thin slices
1 kiwi fruit, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise

To make meringue: Heat oven to 225˚F. Grease a cookie sheet, line with wax paper and grease paper. Place inverted 8-inch cake pan or plate in the middle and draw outline using skewer or toothpick. Beat egg whites in a large bowl with electric mixer until soft peaks form when beaters are lifted. Very gradually add sugar, beating until stiff, glossy peaks form. Beat in corn starch, lemon juice and vanilla until blended.

Using a rubber spatula, spread meringue over circle on cookie sheet building up sides to form a rim 2 inches high and 2 inches wide. Make decorative swirls on rim. Bake 2 hours until surface is dry, but not browned. Turn off oven, prop door open with handle of wooden spoon and let cool completely. (Meringue can be stored loosely covered at room temperature up to 3 days.)

Just before serving, beat cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium-size bowl until soft peaks form when beaters are lifted. Transfer meringue to serving plate: Fill with whipped cream. Toss fruit in a large bowl to mix: spoon over cream. Makes 6 servings.

Cinnamon Starfruit Compote
1 1/2 cups white grape juice
2 tablespoons sugar
4 inches stick cinnamon
4 whole nutmegs
1 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
2 cups Maui strawberries, hulled and halved
3 ripe mango, pitted and sliced
2 cups seedless red grapes
1 (16 ounce) can mandarin orange sections, drained
3 ripe starfruit, sliced

In a small saucepan combine grape juice, sugar, stick cinnamon, whole nutmegs, and orange peel. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Bring to boiling and reduce heat. Cover; simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool 15 minutes. Remove cinnamon and nutmeg.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl layer half of the strawberries, all of the nectarines, the grapes, the oranges, then the remaining strawberries, and lastly the starfruit; cover and chill. For transporting, place grape juice mixture in a covered plastic container.

To serve, pour juice mixture over fruit layers. (If outside, place bowl on ice until needed.) Makes about 15 servings.

Starfruit-Lilikoi Sherbet
4 ripe starfruit
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 lilikoi (Hawaiian word for passion fruit)
1 cup whole milk
1 ripe starfruit sliced thinly for garnish

Chop 4 of the starfruit, put in food processor and puree. Strain the pureed fruit in a fine strainer to get all of the juice out of the starfruit without the pulp. Use a spoon to push the fruit through the strainer. Whisk in the sugar, orange zest and vanilla extract. Cut the fresh lilikoi in half and with a spoon, scoop out the juice and seeds and add both to the mixture. Add the milk, whisk, then place the mixture in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and churn until frozen, about 1/2 hour. Scoop out the sherbet into a plastic container and continue freezing about 3 hours, or until hard. To serve, place one or two scoops of sherbet into 4 dessert glasses or martini glasses and garnish with a slice of starfruit. Makes 4 servings.

Starfruit and Strawberry Jam
4 cups sliced starfruit
4 cups sliced Maui strawberries
7 cups sugar
2 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
1 pack liquid pectin
1 teaspoon butter

Before beginning any jam or jelly making session you should already have your jars, lids and canning tools sterilized and at the ready. Sterilize your jars by placing them into a pot of boiling water until completly submerged. Remove them from the boiling water and place them upside down on top of a dish towel. Also dip your funnel and ladle into the boiling water and place at the ready on your dish towel. Place the flat lids into a small pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat off and leave lids in hot water. Always prepare a few extra jars and lids then your recipe calls for. You don’t want to be caught with enough jam to fill an extra jar or so and not have a sterilized jar ready.

Wash and remove any blemishes from the carambola fruit. Slice them and the remove all seeds before putting the fruit in the pot. Wash hull and slice strawberries. Sliced starfruit and strawberries. Add the sugar into the large pot with the fruit and place on the stove on a medium heat. Stir the fruit and sugar with a wooden spoon to get the fruit juices flowing. Add the lemon or lime juice and butter to the pot. The butter will help cut down on foam. Stir the sugar and fruit occasionally. Allow the sugar to melt completely on the medium heat. You don’t want the sugar crystals to burn from too high a heat at this point. Once the sugar has melted turn the heat up to medium high, carefully stirring occasionally and bring to a rolling boil. Add the liquid pectin and bring to a rolling boil once again. Cook fruit mixture for one full minute using a timer. Once the minute is up remove from the heat to your counter top. Once the mixture stops boiling and settles down skim the foam from the top with a large spoon. Using a ladle and a wide mouth funnel fill your jars leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp paper towel and put the flat lid on. Screw your lid bands on. Continue filling all your jars and process in a boil water bath for 10 minutes. Note: It's tricky getting starfruit jam to set up. There is little if any natural pectin in the fruit, so it must be mixed with liquid pectin. This jam could remain runny for at least a week, maybe two, but should gradually thicken. Makes 6 1/2 pints of jam.

Golden Star Sling
3 medium sized starfruit about 4 inches long
1-2 teaspoons honey
1 cup ice
1/4 cup spiced rum
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

With a vegetable peeler, take the tough fibrous rib that runs along each edge. cut the ends off the starfruit. Slice the starfruit into 1/4" slices. Poke out any seeds with a knife.

Save two starfruit slices for garnish, then, in a blender, process starfruit, honey and ice until fairly smooth although some small fruit pieces will remain. Add rum and pulse to combine.

Fill glasses, sprinkle with nutmeg and position starfruit slice on glass rim*. Makes 2 drinks.

*Cutting a small wedge on one of a starfruit slice's inside angles, makes it easy to position the slice on the glass rim.

Dec 24, 2012

My "Love-Child", Rustic Potato Leek Soup

Rustic Potato Leek Soup
Click on photo to enlarge

Rustic Potato Leek Soup
"Love-Child" might be going overboard, but I have to admit that this is one of my favorite soups of all time. Part of it is that I happen to love potatoes, but when you combine potatoes with leeks, onion, garlic and cream, how can you go wrong. Normally this soup is blended until smooth, but I prefer my "rustic" version with small slices of potato that have the skins left on. The Germans and Portuguese would have liked it this way. They brought the potato to Hawaii many years ago. This is a simple, straightforward soup, and is a great first course when guests stop by unexpectedly, or to enjoy by yourself on a cold day.
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, cut in half, then thinly sliced, about 1 cup
3 small leeks, split open, washed to remove any grit, then thinly sliced
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large russet potatoes, washed, thinly sliced with the peeling left on
1 bay leaf
4 cups low sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth (or enough to barely cover the potatoes)
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon mace
salt and black pepper to taste
fresh chives for garnish, chopped

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat, with olive oil. Add onions, leeks, garlic and salt. Cook, stirring, until onions are limp and just slightly brown for about 10 minutes. Add sliced potatoes and bay leaf to the pot with chicken broth to cover, stir. Continue cooking over medium low heat, stirring often for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Break up potatoes with a wooden spoon, but don't mash. Add half-and-half, and mace. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Remove bay leaf. Serve and garnish bowl with snipped fresh chives. Other garnishes might include, croutons, sour cream, crumbled bacon, grated cheddar cheese, or fresh dill. Serve with hot crusty bread. Makes 4-6 servings.

Dec 12, 2012

Hawaii's First Christmas Feast

"Island Feast"
A beautiful lithograph by Eugene Savage. This image was used as a 
menu cover aboard the S.S. Lurline,  operated by Matson Lines in 1955. 
Click on image to enlarge. This print is available for sale, click here.
Ancient Hawaiians numbered between 200,000 to as high as a million by the date of the European "discovery" of the "Sandwich Isles", as Hawaii was called then, by Captain James Cook on January 18, 1778. 

The Hawaiians during this time did not celebrate Christmas, but considered the four winter months, October through February, a time to celebrate the harvest and Lono, the Hawaiian god associated with rain and fertility. They called this period the "Makahiki" season. During these months, war was forbidden. Games were played. Special days were set aside to do chores, but the time of the Makahiki was for dancing, playing, and giving thanks. 

The highest chief of the island acted as host to Lono during Makahiki, performing ceremonies to mark the beginning and end of the festival. The chief collected gifts and offerings – food, animals, kapa, cordage, feathers and other items – on behalf of Lono and redistributed them later amongst lesser chiefs and their followers. Thus it might be thought of as the equivalent of modern Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions.

In 1786 two English merchant ships sailed into Waimea Bay, off of the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i, the day before Christmas, carrying 33 crew members each. The ships were the Queen Charlotte, commanded by Captain George Dixon, and the King George, commanded by Captain Nathaniel Portlock. 

Captain Dixon had served under Captain James Cook during Cook’s third Pacific voyage, so he was familiar with the Hawaiian Islands. Once they had anchored, Captain Portlock went ashore to visit the islands people, giving out trinkets to the women and children he met. 

The next day, Christmas day to the English, Kaua'i Chief Kiana approached the ships in a long double canoe bearing gifts of welcome. He brought the makings of a Christmas feast with him, hogs and fresh vegetables, coconuts and bananas. Captain Dixon was so pleased, he ordered the galley crew to prepare a Christmas dinner. 

A Christmas grog was made of rum mixed with coconut water. The island hogs were baked into a sea-pie, a concoction of available meats layered with hardtack and lard and baked in a large iron pot. 

The sailors probably celebrated by singing traditional carols of the British Isles. This was the first celebration of Christmas in the Hawaiian islands. It wasn't until 1862 that Christmas would become an official holiday in Hawaii. 

Today, Christmas celebrations in Hawaii include the food, customs, and traditions of all the people who have settled here from around the world.

Dec 6, 2012

Is The Hawaiian Christmas Berry Toxic?

The Hawaiian Christmas Berry
Click on photo to enlarge

The "wilelaiki" blossom, which means "Christmasberry" in Hawaiian, was introduced to Hawaii from Brazil in 1911, according to a Bishop Museum website. The beautiful red berries from this invasive plant are pictured above, but looks may be deceiving

I was once told by a neighbor that the Brazilian pepper berry, when dried, is actually the same thing as the edible pink peppercorn, which is a culinary spice. After a little research, I found out that this may not be the case at all. According to this website,, edible pink peppercorns come from the baies rose plant (Euonymus phellomanus), imported from Madagascar and are sold online by stores such as Williams-Sonoma. They said that the pink peppercorn from Madagascar is NOT to be confused with the pink peppercorn from the invasive Brazilian pepper berry (Schinus terebinthifolius) which grows in Hawaii. They also said that this berry causes allergic reactions in some people, particularly children, and can be toxic if eaten in large quantities, and are NOT recommended for consumption. 

Then I found a website that sells spices including edible pink peppercorns. They said that the Brazilian pepper plant is a closely related species to the Madagascar plant, and that these berries are also sold as pink peppercorns in some areas. As you can see, their is some confusion here.

The USDA listed the Brazilian pepper tree as a "Noxious Weed" on their website, and the University of Hawaii Botany Department website lists it as an "alien plant". Another site warns that like poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), Brazilian pepper berries are a member of the Anacardiaceae family, a family of plants that includes poison ivy and poison oak. Contact with most parts of Brazilian pepper plant can cause an itchy skin rash and sometimes inflammation and swelling of the face and eyes. The flowers and fruits can cause respiratory irritation. Just trimming Brazilian pepper berry plant, especially when in bloom, can cause these allergic reactions in many people. Ingestion of the berries causes vomiting. 

The Brazilian pepper berry is also known as Florida holly, and is considered highly invasive in Florida and Hawaii. I also read, on this site, that the Brazilian pepper berry is toxic to cats, dogs, and horses, but not to birds, who love to eat the red berries and spread the seeds wherever they go. But that's not all... the plot thickens!

I then found that a Honolulu candy company, Madre Chocolate, is not only selling bags of the dried Brazilian pepper berries for consumption, but also sells chocolate bars filled with these berries mixed with smoked sea salt. This company even asks its patrons to "Eat the Enemy and help eat these invasive plants out of existence in a delicious way". One chocoholic fan of this chocolate product is sold on it, and shows photos of all of the Brazilian pepper berries in this chocolate bar on his website. 

I'm confused about the Brazilian pepper berry, is it toxic or not? If it is, then shouldn't the Food and Drug Administration make sure that these Brazilian pepper berries don't end up in our food, or at least make sure that the packaging posts a warning? People are cooking with these berries, making tea out of it, the bees are making honey out of the flowers on the Big Island, and now a company is putting them in chocolate bars. I guess the old saying "when in doubt, do without" would be my advice until someone figures this out.

Final Note: The Hawaiian island of Moloka'i, where I live, has thousands of these invasive trees growing everywhere. If you have these invasive Brazilian pepper berry trees growing in your yard, as I do, here is a website that tells you how to get rid of them: