Saturday, February 09, 2013
Native Species and Canoe Foods
I had a long discussion today with Julia (above, holding a segment of sugar cane). She was giving out samples of food at a cultural festival at the Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historica Park -- one of my favorite parks in the whole world! We got into a conversation about the food plants that are native to the Hawaiian islands prior to human arrival, "canoe foods" that came with the Polynesian settlers, and foods that Europeans brought after the arrival of Captain Cook. Besides a variety of plants, the canoe foods included pigs, chickens, and dogs. Julia has wondered if eggs from the chickens played a role in cooking in pre-western-contact times -- she has been unable to find any references to the use of eggs.
Served on a ti leaf, the sample foods at the festival included coconut, taro, breadfruit, sugar cane, Hawaiian purple sweet potato, and Kalua pig (not shown). A beverage from a plant that grows up on the higher hills tasted to me like tea. While the sugar cane and sweet potato are very sweet, the taro and breadfruit are rather bland, though not bad at all. I believe that in more recent times, the way people ate these foods may have become more complex and highly flavored.
Cooking in Polynesian times was mainly done in pits dug into the ground and lined with various leaves. They thus cooked a whole animal. The pit's contents was steamed slowly over a long period of time, and thus quite soft. Other preparations included use of water heated by adding hot stones to water held in gourds, or fermentation as was done with poi. Julia described to me the use of salted fish for long sea voyages, but said she was not aware that other meats would have been preserved by salting. The stone-age Hawaiians had no pottery or metal, so there were no cook pots.
Breadfruit was available at the farmers' market this morning as shown above. I also saw some of the purple Hawaiian sweet potatoes, which are quite small and have a light-colored tan skin.
Here is Julia, getting ready to serve a sample of Hawaiian foods.