Surprise! A bag of (lilikoi) gold is worth the work

Just lately, my husband’s been bringing home surprises.

He drives all over the island setting up and clearing away protective equipment, barriers, road signs; sometimes he’s stalled for hours out in the country while Hawaiian Electric or one his company’s other clients finish a job and he helps direct traffic, or waits to pick up the equipment they’re using.

One day, he brought me home a plain plastic bag of beautiful, slim Japanese cucumbers. They looked familiar. Did you go to Ho Farms, I asked? Huh?, he responded. He’d never heard of Ho Farms but I’ve been a fan every since I visited there a couple of years ago and ate some amazing Thai food prepared by the mom and wandered the fields with the younger members of the family.

Where’d you get these?, I asked, persisting. You know, that little egg store out at Malaekana between Laie and Kahuku?, he said. Cackle Fresh, I asked. Yeah, yeah, he said, relieved to be out from under investigation. (He’s a bit of a bear when he first gets home from work.)

Then, I knew, since Ho Farms is just a short hop away from Cackle Fresh, up a dirt road mauka of Kahuku. I’ve been faithfully paying full price for Ho Farms produce in my local Foodland, but apparently the Hos are selling the little store their excess and the price is cheaper.

Do they have tomatoes, I asked. I love Ho Farms’ multi-colored little cherry tomatoes, like little salty-sweet jewels. Oh, yeah, he said, but they’re just those little ones. Yeah, well those little ones are like $5 a pack in the grocery store, I said, so if you see ‘em there for less than that, bring me some. Now I have a steady source — at least once a week, I get these unlabelled plastic bags of treasure that come home in his depleted lunch sack. I’m asking about long beans and eggplant next.

Another day, it might be starfruit somebody brought to the warehouse. Last week, about uku million small but delicious ears of North Shore corn showed up. For what seemed like hours, I was engaged in the pesky task of cutting away the kernels to make a crispy brown butter-corn stir-fry; the cobs were just too small to make it worthwhile boiling them whole.

It reminded me of how Grandpa never seemed to quite catch on that, when he left Grandma a big basket of stuff from the garden without warning her that he was going to be harvesting, he’d be adding to her already full and well-planned workday. He’d practically tiptoe into the kitchen, drop the basket on the end of the counter and get outta Dodge fast as he could, before she could turn around from whatever she was doing, see a whole new task dropped into her schedule and start fumbling in the drawer for the rolling pin!

And then there was the sack of lilikoi (passionfruit) earlier this week! Gold! I haven’t had a steady source of lilikoi since I stopped going home to Maui so often (remember when tickets were $35 and you’d just buy a book of coupons and hop on the next flight?). Anyway, my source, a friend’s mom, has pulled out her vines as — sadly — so many older Islanders are doing. Poho!, they say, was’ time. Gotta clean ‘em all time. Bird alla time attackin’ da fruit. I don’t make jam anymore. Da kids no like deal wit’ em so…pau ka hana.

Darnit.

Anyway, with passionfruit, a little goes a very long way, the flavor is so intense. I already have a precious six ounces or so of frozen concentrate from a girlfriend. Now I’ll have about the same amount again. And I’m making lilikoi curd. I consulted my friend and Webmaster, Gil, on Maui because he’s an enthusiastic cook; asked him what he liked to do with lilikoi and he said that if he had lilikoi curd and a good English muffin (or maybe it was a bagel?), he considered himself to be breakfasting like the gods.

So, anyway, I processed lilikoi yesterday. If you didn’t grow up with passionfruit, you might be a little intimidated about how to reap the heavenly sweet-sour juice or pulp. It’s easy. Just cut the lilikoi in half, use a spoon to scrape the insides, seeds and all, into a pot, add sugar (about 1/4 cup for every six lilikoi you have), add 3/4 cup water and bring the whole thing to a boil, then turn it down and cook it for 5-10 minutes at a low simmer. Puree that in a food processor or blender (again, seeds and all; they’re too hard to hurt) and then strain it through a fine mesh screen, a tamis or a squeeze it in a few layers of cheeselcoth. Or just skip the food processor and strain, pressing on the strainer  or wringing out the cheesecloth to get the maximum juice out. There’s your puree. You can use this to make juice, jam, curd, passion fruit chiffon pie — whatever you like, if you’ve got enough. (Some people don’t put sugar in when they’re cooking the juice; they sweeten to taste when they decide what they’re going to make.)

Old community cookbooks are full of recipes for lilikoi this and lilikoi that because more people grew it than do now.

Here’s my recipe for Lilikoi Curd (it’s sometimes called, wrongly, Lilikoi Butter, but a fruit butter — apple butter is best known — actually contains no butter, the use of the word refers to the smooth texture, because the fruit is slowly cooked and then strained).

There are two main ways to make curd: In one, all the ingredients are placed together in a double boiler, then cooked over medium to low heat, stirring, until they start to thicken, then you beat them vigorously to thicken them more still. The second technique is to combine the puree, sugar and eggs and cook over slightly simmering water until they begin to thicken; then remove from heat and beat in cold butter, one piece at a time. Either way works. Here’s what I do. Taste your puree; if it’s tending toward the sweet, reduce the sugar in the recipe

Lilikoi Curd

3/4 cup passionfruit pulp (prepared as above)
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, beaten
4 1/2 ounces cold butter, cut into pieces

In a double boiler over simmering water, blend together passionfruit pulp, sugar and eggs and heat, stirring, until thickened a bit, about 2 minutes.Do not allow the curd to boil or it will scramble. Remove from heat and beat in butter, one piece at a time. Pour into a clean bowl, cover surface with plastic wrap and chill.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Store in refrigerator.

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  1. We first had lilikoi butter when we stayed at a Volcano B&B on the Big Island back in the 80’s. I thought I had died and gone to Heaven. Back then, someone on the Big Island home-made the curd and sold it in pint jars. I took home as much as my suitcase would hold. My family thought I was a little nuts because every trip to Hawaii after that meant we had to find the lilikoi butter first, then we could enjoy our vacation. And, any family member who went to Hawaii without me had to bring we back at least one jar – which became smaller and smaller over the years. I searched everywhere for a recipe and finally found one in Gourmet. Lilikoi butter is da bomb!

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