My friend Ken Love was in town from his Captain Cook farm this weekend and we hooked up at the KCC Farmers Market to walk and chat. Ken, a farmer and fruit expert who grows more than 20 unusual and even rare fruits on the half-acre that surrounds his home, always has a bunch of things cooking.
A former newspaper and wire service photographer, he not only operates Love Family Farms with his wife, Margy, but is active in the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers and the Kona Kohala Chefs Association, is a freelance writer and often pursues grants to carry out fruit-related research projects, such as the 12 Trees Project a few years back, which identified a dozen fruit varieties and explored ways to make them more marketable. He has created a series of impressive posters illustrating the amazing diversity of fruit varieties that grow or have grown in the Islands. (See hawaiifruit.net to learn more.)
I’m sorry this blog lacks a photo of Ken. The one we took together emerged corrupted.
Lately, he’s been working on an effort to make ‘ohelo berries more widely available. At this time, if you can find fresh or preserved ‘ohelo berries, they have generally been picked in the wild uplands; they thrive at elevations of 4,000 or more feet. For three years, he’s been helping with a project to develop berry varieties that grow at lower elevations and to learn more about how to cultivate the berries in the highlands rather than overpicking wild sources. And he’s been providing chefs with berries from federal test sites in the Volcano area, so the experts can develop recipes for use with the berries. Unfortunately, the low-level experiments have been a bust: “They’ll have plants loaded with fruit up at Kainaliu, at 3,700 feet, and the few plants I have that are still alive (in Captain Cook at 1,000 feet) are stringy and barren.”
Another effort that’s seen more — if you will — fruit is one to discover stone fruit varieties, plums and peaches, that do well at lower elevations. And he’s been playing with Australian bush tucker plants (“tucker” means food or provisions in Aussie parlance. One such is finger limes, all the range in trendy California restaurants now. The finger-shaped limes are filled with little round nodules of citrus that Ken likens to “fruit caviar” in appearance and desirability. Finger limes grow on thorny shrubs that can be shaped and pruned as ornamentals. He’s growing his in pots.
The other thing that’s keeping Ken busy is adjusting to life after finding out some years ago that he has celiac disease, meaning he can’t eat wheat products. Due to some other health problems, he’s also avoiding fal, salt, sugar and pretty much anything that doesn’t grow in the earth. (The only thing he could find to eat at the market was plain, unsalted, unbuttered grilled corn, which he savored as we walked along.)
At Christmas, he returned to the classic recipes of “Larousse Gastronimique” and made some delicious vegetable terrines using agar-agar (seaweed-based gelatin). He doesn’t seem to feel deprived. In fact, he’s been enjoying getting back into the kitchen (he’s eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new ultra-high BTU Vulcan stove). “After a while, you don’t miss anything,” he said, cheerfully. Luckily, Ken never met a fruit he didn’t like — well, he did once, but that was a fluke.
And, as always, he’s beating the drum for local produce and uncovering abuses of truth in labeling (“local” avocados with South American source stickers on them), which he writes about on his Facebook page. And he tries to help farmers battle the harsh economics that make it cheaper for grocers to sell imported fruit. “Grocers have to start paying more than lip service,” he said. (Ken is always one to call a pickle fruit a pickle fruit.)
Next blog, I’ll tell you about how we spent the afternoon.