The Moral of the Princess and the Pea(berry)

We just roasted peaberry this morning, so peaberry was on my mind. Peaberry is about 5% of our harvest. When I looked over my list of possible blog topics and reference articles I’ve saved up, I saw this peaberry myths and the reality article from the Perfect Daily Grind that I meant to share. It brings up a few more nuances I haven’t mentioned in other posts relating to peaberry. And then my blog title just sprung to mind based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Somehow, in my mind, they relate.

A young woman’s credentials (claim of royalty) are tested by her sensitivity (to a pea under a stack of mattresses).

What’s the moral of the fairy tale? One blogger said: “Perhaps the fairy tale is intended to be a mockery of those occupying a comfortable position in society, whether royal or aristocratic, and their over-sensitivity to small details which the great unwashed (i.e. the rest of us) don’t have time even to notice, let alone be bothered by.”  … “perhaps ‘The Princess and the Pea’ is meant to ridicule those people who are incapable of understanding true suffering. This is seen as a sign of one’s nobility and good breeding …”

The Wikipedia entry included a commentary, “… Andersen “never tired of glorifying the sensitive nature of an elite class of people.”

Third wave, specialty coffee is sort of elitist. For those who drink this quality coffee, it’s a small luxury. Compared to my grandparents who labored hard with Kona coffee and drank Folgers instant, I’m a coffee snob. But we are far away from Californian coffee at $200+/pound.

It’s interesting to reflect how attitudes change. My mom shared that in the old days people thought of peaberry as “kuzu,” abnormal rubbish coffee. The size was smaller and there was only one bean in the berry. UH (Uncle Harold) thinks it’s a modern day marketing gimmick to claim special flavor of peaberry coffee beans. You’ll have to try peaberry for yourself. If there’s a market for it, simply because of its relative scarcity, peaberry will command a higher price.

It reminds me of the changing attitudes about lobster. In the 1800’s & earlier, these crawling, bottom-dwellers were plentiful and considered “the cockroach of the sea.” They were fed to servants, migrants and prisoners.  Indentured servants had contracts stating that they wouldn’t be served lobster more than three times in a week. Lobster itself hasn’t really changed over time, but rather attitudes and perceptions of people towards lobster have morphed. Nowadays, it’s one of the most expensive food items and you might enjoy it on special occasions. 

At this point I have to make a shout out for Kona Cold Lobsters. Years ago our good friend introduced them to us by bringing lobsters (and abalone and kanpachi) for us to share with the in-laws. We discovered one live lobster tried to make a run for it in the fridge. Don’t be misled by the company name to think Kona has its own native lobsters. You can visit their website and learn their story. We actually like to get oysters and kanpachi there rather than posh sea cockroaches. I like one of the “junk” cuts best — the kanpachi kama (collar).

So, peaberry, fairy tales, lobster, and food trends and culture. It is truly amazing where one’s thoughts can go, just starting from coffee.

Meandering Back in Time, Along Our Mamalahoa Kona Heritage Corridor

For two years I have been wanting to write a post on this “ten mile trip back to Old Hawai’i, where coffee farms and nature flourish on the cool mauka hillside.” The signs have been in place designating this byway for years. I found this old blog post from 2009 sharing that this was Hawaii state’s first scenic byway. It did go on to become a national scenic byway.

Bea’s Knees Farm is about half a mile north of this, on the makai (ocean) side of the road.

For a while there were brochures available detailing its sights and significance; maybe there still are. I recall last seeing them at Kimura’s Lauhala Shop in Holualoa. In this day and age, if there’s a brochure available, surely that is also available online in PDF format, or there’s a website for whoever produced the brochure. I wanted this post to link to that. But I couldn’t find it, so I thought I’d wait and check again later. But I still can’t find the brochure online. So I’ve taken photos of it and included them here.

Bea’s Knees Farm is in the south section of this heritage corridor (the bottom of the bottom half of the map), where Honalo junction, more commonly referred to as Teshima junction, is. This is the Y-type junction where many a tourist coming from the south (e.g., Kealakekua, Honaunau or Volcano) has unintentionally traveled our corridor because they went straight instead of taking the curve and remaining on the main Belt Road.

This junction, looking in the south direction from the byway sign, is famous to locals because of Teshima restaurant, the red Daifukuji buddhist temple, and the utility pole. There have been many collisions, injuries, and two fatalities in the past seven years at or near this utility pole. Just last Thursday, they replaced the wooden utility pole with a giant, metal pole. It almost seems to say, “try and bring THIS down!”

I think this junction keeps UH (Uncle Harold) alive. Improving safety and traffic flow here is his pet cause. He used to work for the California Dept. of Transportation before returning to his roots in Kona. He has written letters to the editor for our local paper, attended many meetings and provided timely comments (& encouraged the ‘ohana to comment) to the Hawaii Dept. of Transportation. He knows how state bureaucracy works.

Today I’ll close with a scene seen on the north end of this byway, as we were heading south. Pau hana. Finish work. End of a productive work day on Friday. Each bag holds roughly 100-150 pounds of coffee cherry.

A Cup of Coffee Memories


The coffee harvesting season mandated that the summer vacation for Kona schools coincided with the “coffee picking season,” to the chagrin of all the students whose parents were farmers. All family members were depended upon to harvest the crop. August, September, and October were the endless coffee picking days of summer. So, we became very astute at finding excuses to steal away a few hours to have fun. But our parents were even more astute to not fall for the daily ploy to escape the work. However, there was one guarantee that never failed to grant our great escape — it rained often during the coffee season! Looking back to those young-kid-days brings back such pleasant memories of family members working together to advance the family economics and fellowship that strengthened the ties that have bonded each family for generations.

“Uncle Ray”

This is an old postcard from United Airlines. The postcard description on the back says, “School vacations coincide with harvests so the youngsters can help to pick coffee beans.”

Jeep Days of Summer

At the end of WWII there was a huge surplus of the all-purpose military vehicle
named the “Jeep” that replaced the pack animal, the “Kona Nightingale” donkey, that carried the 100 pound bags of coffee cherries. Cherries were picked each day and hauled to the pulping machine next to the hoshidana drying platform that every farmer had.

But the Jeep was used for a better purpose on those days when there was a break in coffee picking – the Jeep was our transportation to the beach. With luck on
our side, we survived the Jeep that had no seat belts, no doors, no power brakes,
no power steering, no roof, no ABS, no GPS, and no rational adult behind the wheel.
Those were the fun Jeep days of summer between coffee picking days.

“Uncle Ray”

Bea really liked this story.

I have a few of my own memories of the jeep, different than Uncle Ray’s. Grandpa would take me in his jeep to go pick poha berries (cape gooseberry, not the same as gooseberry; or physalis peruviana) so Grandma could make jam. I don’t remember a door or seat belt in that jeep.

Another memory is when my California-born-and-raised dad drove us in Grandpa’s jeep. When we took the steep road down from the mauka road to the Belt Road, he had trouble getting it into gear as he downshifted. We were picking up speed in neutral, and I could sense the danger with Dad fumbling and scrambling. He did have experience with military jeeps during his army service, so muscle memory came through in the end.

I know we must have photos of Grandpa’s jeep, but I just couldn’t find any yet. So for the moment I had to find a royalty-free image, not even in Hawaii. When searching for an image, I stumbled upon an apparently long-running myth about $50 for a WWII military jeep in a crate.

Uncle Ray Talks Story

[This is Sharlene writing the majority of this; Uncle Ray’s voice comes at the end of this post.]

I grew up on the mainland. I loved going to Hawaii and spending time with the ‘ohana. I’d keep my Hawaiian aloha going when back home in California. As a kid I adored the yellow book, Pidgin to da Max, and I loved listening to cassette tapes of Frank de Lima’s comedy sketches. I danced hula on & off, as a kid and adult. I have quite a few friends with Hawaiian roots and connections.

I share this because I’m not local or kama’aina (born and raised in Hawaii), but I’m familiar with what’s local. I notice and experience things differently than true locals. I will sometimes write and explain things that would be obvious or maybe uninteresting to locals, and sometimes I may even get things a little wrong (if so, please let me know).

In Hawaii, the culture is to call your peers “braddah” and “sistah” and your parents’ peers “uncle” and “aunty.” So, when you and your dad order poke at Umeke’s, da braddah behind the counter might ask your dad, “Uncle, you like brown or white rice wid dat?”

One time I was in the sitting area at Daleco waiting for a new car battery to be installed. I kept hearing, “Aunty! You like eat Cheetos?” “Aunty, you like?” I finally looked up. Oh, they were talking to ME! The three guys behind the counter were having a snack, and good manners dictated they also offer me some. And now the time has come … I’m in the aunty generation.

My friends’ young daughter once told me, “Aunty, no offense, but my mom and dad said your grey hair makes you look old. But no offense.” I think I caught her by surprise with my response, “So why are you telling me then?” I am old. Older than her and many others; younger than others. A meditation mantra I like comes to mind, one I find particularly helpful in acknowledging and accepting our human condition:

I am of the nature to age.
I am of the nature to get sick.
I am of the nature to die.

All this has been a meandering wind-up for the rest of this post and a few upcoming posts. “Uncle Ray” is a Hawaiian uncle, not my blood uncle like Uncle Harold (UH), but a family friend and a peer of Bea’s. During the stay-at-home order (recently loosened to safer-at-home), three of my mom’s generation have been sheltering altogether on their parents’ former coffee farm. I asked them if they had stories to share from the old coffee farm days. Uncle Ray rose to the challenge, giving me several stories.

More Than Just a Coffee Farm
The “coffee land,” as we called the farm, grew more than just coffee. Coffee was the
economic platform on which the family stood. But coffee was only the floor of the
house – the values of a family working together for the good of all created the walls
and roof that sheltered and nurtured the occupants of the house. There were
branches to be pruned, young shoots to be yanked off the tree trunk to prevent
over-growth of branches, fertilizer to be applied, weeds to be dealt with, coffee
berries to be harvested, and the berries to be processed and dried. It was a carefully orchestrated effort with everyone in the family playing a part. The coffee land brewed and fostered robust values of work, ethics, accomplishment, cooperation, appreciation, and enjoyment that created an Arabica brew that was uniquely Kona Coffee.

“Uncle Ray”