When you live on island, fruits and vegetables that some folks consider “exotic” are familiar items of our diet. This was brought home to me when a visitor I met remarked on her amazement about starfruit — something my own tree produces in such abundance that I now (almost) take for granted, although not with a ho-hum attitude. I still love to pluck a perfect, large starfruit and carry it in to rinse, “de-rib” and slice into juicy star shapes — mmn, ono! (good!) And fully organic.
Several years ago, when my tree started bearing well (not once a year, but twice or more), I realized the dollar value of my bounty when I saw that starfruit were selling for about $3 apiece in Denver supermarkets. Then, when we ordered luncheon sandwiches in a what was touted as a trendy café, they came garnished with three or four thin starfruit slices — wow.
The tropical fruit I’ve only recently tasted is the mangosteen, brought by a friend. At first I thought it might be an unfamiliar variety of plum, such as the green Wickson plum of which my mom was fond. But no, under the purplish, smooth skin, the flesh was a sort of watery rose color. Juicy — very. But not terribly tasty; more of a thirst quencher, tasting about how a delicate rose smells. What was intriguing to me was the way the mangosteen seeds were “packaged” toward its center, embedded in a whitish membrane. Another of nature’s marvels.
Some of you will agree with me that the mango is definitely the Cadillac (or Hope Diamond) of fruits. Maybe you, too, have been watching all the mango blossoms on trees visible along the roadways change to their first fruiting stage. Perhaps, also, you’re hoping the weather and winds don’t interrupt the ripening process that will bring those delicious and tangy globes to fruition by summer.
One generous vendor involved with the E Pili Kakou 2016 event a weekend ago brought along apple bananas to share for pick-me-ups. Another distributed paper lunch bags of rambutan, that “porcupine” fruit similar to lychee, once peeled. Where else would this happen, I asked myself.
The week before, friends had shared their bounty of green beans, lettuce, avocado, eggplant, baby bok choy and local oranges with us. We had added from our own garden starfruit, a few lilikoi (passionfruit) and late-late tangerines, kitchen garden herbs, kale and assorted greens, lemons and Kaffir limes and leaves, and some olena (turmeric) root, dug and dried ready for chopping/grating. Seeing the bowl and baskets of this produce in my kitchen — gorgeous and healthy still life waiting to be painted and consumed — I took the shortcut and photographed it instead. This, before getting out the chopping board and knife, blender, skillets and soup pots, depending.
Friday morning, being with a friend in her Kapahi garden with an incredible view of the Makaleha Mountains and, in the distance, Waialeale on a rare, clear day, her particular variety of tangerines were falling off her tree. Her starfruit tree was reaching for the cloudless sky, heavy-laden and begging pruning after harvest. How did we get so lucky? was our question to each other as we shared the tart-sweet segments of a tangerine and the view.
Health proponents encourage us all to aim to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. We might ask, how to we keep it to five? Only problem with the home orchard and garden is that, at times, there is such an abundance of bounty that it becomes hard — and sometimes impossible — to keep up with it all. This takes into consideration giving the overabundance away to family and friends, or encouraging passers-by to “Please take — FREE” by setting out a large, loaded carton of what’s ripening with a sign by the mailbox and road. And, also, donations of fruit and produce from local gardens delivered to our Kauai Food Bank. Many of us living in Hawaii experience this type of bounty and will relate to this mention of overabundance at times.
A while back, one of our North Shore youth suggested that we plant “food forests” along island roads and interchanges. Yes! I thought. Instead of landscaping plants, how about bananas and coconuts, citrus trees, guavas, starfruit and lilikoi vines along our median strips? Fruit for the taking. In some places, we hear that is happening through various “green” groups — kudos to them. Also, I learned from a golfer who plays a South Shore course that starfruit and tangerine trees, as well as bananas, are interspersed along the fairways offering their refreshing fruits, when ripe, for the taking. How sensible is that?
Anybody living on island who would like to learn how to grow edibles successfully or just learn more, adding to gardening knowhow, might want to check out the courses in gardening now available through our Kauai Community College (KCC). The results of the college hands-on gardens (veggies and herbs) are available Saturday mornings at the KCC farmers’ market. There is also a section on hydroponic gardening, and for those who “get hooked” on coaxing bounty from the land, a class to prepare for a Master Gardener degree.
Uh-oh … a huge jabong (pomelo) has just arrived to ripen on my porch.
Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, regularly instructs on the topics of history an Hawaiian culture for visitors to Kauai through Hawaii Pacific University’s “Road Scholar” program through Pacific Islands Institute. The writer is working to complete her second memoir, based on her early and recent experiences in Burma. Under DAWN Enterprises, she continues as owner and principal of TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations-Kauai, www.kauaiweddingsandbooks.com.