Bunches of green bananas.

Time for a break from coffee. Going bananas!

Do you know how to “pick” bananas? See my husband in the bottom left of the photo? He’s the little, light blue thing that stands six feet tall.

Hint: no ladder or heavy equipment is required.

banana trunk

Most of us refer to bananas growing on trees or palms, but they aren’t trees or palms. They’re banana plants, a perennial herb with succulent, juicy stems that arise from a fleshy corm. New leaves push up from growing points on the corm below the ground. The banana “tree” is a pseudo-stem or trunk and is not woody. Notice the cut trunk in the photo. It consists of all the leaf stalks furled around each other, and the leaves emerge from the center. The flower also debuts from the middle and finally turns into a bunch of bananas.

Once the trunk produces fruit, it will never produce fruit again. So you harvest bananas by cutting the trunk, the “tree.” There are other pups or suckers that grow from other growing points on the corm near the main trunk. Those will grow to give you more bananas. To keep your grove manageable, it’s best to cut and remove the fruiting trunk. Our grove has productive and unproductive trunks. The old trunks are still useful as part of a living sound and sight barrier.

My husband has perfected his harvesting technique. The goal is to have the trunk slowly fall so the fruit won’t slam from its height down to the ground. He cuts as high as he can reach, and cuts about 2/3 through the trunk on the opposite side that he wants the trunk to fall. He watches what happens. He might then make a couple of more cuts lower down, so that the trunk bends or articulates at the cut locations. Don’t wear any clothes you care about when you do this job. Banana juice/sap stains dark brown.

This time the bananas to harvest were on a trunk inside the grove. My husband Rune is inside there, cutting as high as he can. There are a few spindly coffee trees in the foreground; bananas do dominate their space.

Once the trunk was cut, it was still propped up by trunks in front of it. This one had to be cut to let the desired trunk fall. Conveniently, it fell right on our huge compost pile of mostly felled banana trunks.
Hawaiian hawk ('io)
At this point, we were delighted when a Hawaiian hawk (‘io) flew on to our banana plants. We watched it until it flew away. When we later confirmed the type of bird, I learned that it was only removed from the endangered list in 2020! They are only found on the Big Island. (If we hadn’t brought the good camera down to document banana harvesting, we wouldn’t have been able to get such a good photo.)
After the bananas were harvested, he still had to clean out that felled trunk.

By the way, it happened to rain the whole time we were out with the bananas. It is hard work for the harvester, but most of that moisture on his t-shirt is rain not sweat.

Here’s the previous harvest on New Year’s Day. The photo shows two stalks of apple bananas, with the stalks partially divided. A definition of banana parts would be useful here: “A single banana is called a finger. A grouping of attached “fingers” make up a “hand” of bananas. Multiple hands that grow in a cluster are called a bunch or stalk—a bunch of bananas may contain 3 to 20 hands!” (from https://kids.sandiegozoo.org/stories/go-bananas)

What do we do with so many bananas? Mostly share! Most family & friends do their part and will usually accept a hand or two. Many eat them, and many make banana muffins or bread or dehydrate them. Still, we had two big hands that ripened pretty rapidly. This time we wanted to try making banana ketchup! It’s apparently a popular condiment in the Philippines.

We like it! It reminds us a bit of tamarillo (tree tomato) chutney more than tomato ketchup. We like tamarillo chutney with lamb chops. In any case, the next part of experimentation involves discovering what goes well with banana ketchup. We think probably pork, chicken, fish, burgers, and breakfast potatoes.

I’m on the Hunter Family’s fish list. On Friday afternoons, I receive a text stating what fish they caught and what I can order to pick up the next morning at the Keauhou Farmer’s Market. Yesterday I picked up ono and some bok choy. For dinner we had rice, bok choy, a few slices of leftover baked ube (purple sweet potato), and broiled ono (that was basted in shoyu, butter, salt & pepper). The ketchup was a nice condiment with the ono and the ube.

Here’s our ketchup recipe, adapted from Slow Fire: The Beginner’s Guide to Barbeque by Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe. We made it more Hawaiian and did some tweaks.

Banana Ketchup

2 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp peanut butter
1 small sweet Maui onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric powder (next time we’ll try some fresh turmeric root)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
6 ripe apple bananas, mashed (we’ll note total weight next time, since bananas can vary a lot in size)
1/2 c white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp kiawe honey
2 Tbsp Koloa Kaua’i dark Hawaiian rum
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp kosher salt

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil.
Add the peanut butter, onion, garlic, jalapeño, and ginger.
Cook about 6 minutes until the onion is translucent.
Add turmeric and allspice; cook for 1 minute.
Add bananas and mix well.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to simmer.
Cover and cook 15 minutes, stirring often.
Remove from heat to cool.
When cool, blend in food processor or blender.
Serve at room temperature.
Store in airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

helicopter over ocean at sunset

How to spend the holidays? Do some crazy Hawaiian emergency drills

“Preparedness, when properly pursued, is a way of life, not a sudden, spectacular program.”

Spencer W. Kimball, 1976

A couple of things happened in the days before Christmas. They’re unrelated, but in my mind they were both fire drills. As if Christmas time isn’t busy enough, let’s practice some emergency response drills!

We were swimming at beautiful Hapuna Beach on the 23rd. It’s winter now, and there were big waves, some of them slamming right into the sand. The beach is sometimes temporarily closed when it’s dangerous for body surfers. There’s a spot along our usual swim route where we can see five volcanoes: Haleakala on Maui, and Kohala, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai on the Big Island. It was a one-volcano visibility day, just Kohala, thanks to Kilauea’s resumed eruption and resulting vog.

We were almost done when we saw a yellow helicopter fly over the water, heading north. But then it returned. By this time, we were out of the water. The helicopter was flying much lower to the water now, and flying back and forth around Hapuna. Next thing we know, there was someone hanging out of the open door calmly commanding, “Get out of the water!” And there was more commotion with the lifeguards on the beach. I was amazed to see the breadth of Hapuna’s water completely cleared in about 1-2 minutes. There had been a fair amount of people in the water (but nothing like the usual pre-COVID holiday numbers).

Hapuna Beach on Dec. 23 after the water was cleared.

We looked from this bluff to see if we could see any shark shadows or fins. We didn’t see those, but we did see a lot of active humpback whales. It’s winter, it’s time. Thousands travel to Hawaii in November-April to mate, give birth and raise their young.

Apparently a dead Pygmy pilot whale was removed from the beach that morning. They think the remaining scent was still attracting sharks. The reports said the size and type of sharks hadn’t been determined, but they were about 30 yards from swimmers. That was a close one!

I’m late getting this post out, and there has since been more shark news. Unfortunately, a 68-year old lady was swimming at Anaeho’omalu Bay at Waikoloa on January 2 around 8AM, about 500 yards from shore, and was bitten in the leg by a shark of unknown size and type. We were swimming there Dec. 26 around that same time in very murky water. From the Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources sharks page, “Incidents of sharks biting people in Hawaiian waters are very rare, occurring on average at a rate of about three or four per year.”

Take-away lesson: if you notice a yellow helicopter flying back and forth, low, just quickly get out of the water.

The day after the Hapuna beach incident came the next drill. We have occasionally purchased a few plants from individuals who list them on Craigslist. I like this because you can sometimes find unusual plants or good values depending on plant maturity. Most things grow, it depends how long you’re willing to wait to get the size you want. We bought a few palms on Christmas Eve day. The seller, a self-described compulsive palm-rescuer, wrote and said, “No fire ants or coquis.”

When we bring something home, we still take precautions. We do the peanut butter on a stick test. You smear a thin layer of peanut butter on a stick and put it in the plant and check it an hour later. An hour later, there was nothing. But three hours later, there were some ants, and they were the right size. Arrgghhh!! What do you do now??!!

We were frantically researching things on the internet, trying to identify what we had. Were they little fire ants? Place the stick in a ziploc bag, freeze it, etc. Isolate the plants. My husband was in complete panic mode, thinking we’d now infected our land and the neighborhood. He repeated several times that we’re no longer buying/getting plants from individuals.

It was Christmas Eve and we had to quarantine the new plants. Of course, we had just finished up our ant poison granules so we couldn’t encircle them in with those. We’re familiar with ant moats, just from coping with ants in the tropics. You use a shallow container that can hold water, then put a smaller diameter shallow bowl or something in the middle that can support whatever you want to keep ants off of (e.g., your plate of cookies). This time we needed a moat that would keep the ants ON the island object (the plant pot) instead of OFF the island. We built three moats for the three plants. One was a pretty large palm, so we had to fill our wheelbarrow with water, and we put three small upturned pots in the water to support the palm pot.

There are reliable breezes here. That, and our elevation, is why we don’t need air conditioning; we have Nature’s AC. At 11pm on Christmas Eve, the motion sensor light kept going on, probably due to the palm fronds waving. And we discovered the precarious palm, already too big for its pot, and now balanced on pots in water in a wheelbarrow, had predictably fallen over. I’d never spent Christmas Eve like this before.

Christmas morning, after sleeping and having better functioning, non-panicking brains, we redid the little fire ant tests. The hubby had the brilliant idea of using his single lens reflex camera to take photos so he could really zoom in, beyond what we could see with a magnifying glass. This LFA website is a treasure trove of LFA info. Check out the detail in identification! In the end, we determined we had one of the ants commonly mistaken as LFA, thanks to all of the photos and info available on the website.

Glad that’s all behind us! I see the upside that now we’ve gone through a real drill. We’ve practiced what to think about and do. And as a physical reminder, we still have a ziploc bag with a frozen popsicle stick and a few ants in the freezer.

Chill, people. It’s just coffee.

Do you freeze your coffee beans? Bea, a single elderly lady, has an upright freezer in addition to her refrigerator and a mini fridge that sometimes is off. She freezes almost everything. When people were hoarding food and supplies early in the pandemic, my brother and I guessed that Mom might be able to survive six months with the things in her freezer and pantry.

My husband and I took a tour of Hula Daddy Kona Coffee a while back. In their story they talk about their goal of being one of the top ten coffees in the world, and they frequently make analogies with great wine. They often top the list of coffee cuppings here. Their Kona Sweet coffee costs $95 a pound. Their marketing is tops. I had a difficult time keeping the fine differences straight when we tasted their many types of roasted coffees. We were interested in the details of each, not content with just referring to them by size (big/small), color of their bags, or their prices, which almost all the other visitors at the time seemed to care about. Something interesting to me … for their tastings, they keep all their coffee in the freezer, and they took out what they needed to brew straight from the freezer.

I liked this article about freezing coffee, an interview with the founder and Senior VP of Proud Mary Coffee, based in Portland, Oregon. They apparently freeze all their coffee, both green and roasted. Their approach is pretty down to earth and shouldn’t intimidate the average home coffee brewer. They did, however, mention argon gas as a next step for those who enjoy going even further.

Another article, also by Daily Coffee News, talked about a new product from an Australian company, appropriately named Freezus, which are freezer-ready, vacuum-sealed, individual-sized portions of specialty coffee. The article opened with, “As the strategy of freezing roasted, whole-bean coffee has been cautiously promoted by a number of specialty coffee companies …”

I have read other articles that mentioned big debates about freezing or not freezing and why. We did our own non-rigorous experiments and found that frozen coffee about 5-10 days after roasting tasted better than a pound of coffee that slowly aged and oxidized in our cupboard. We let ours come to room temperature before brewing (there are practical reasons for that), but Hula Daddy doesn’t. So we do sometimes freeze our personal coffee, depending on the circumstances. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know my approach … read what the experts say, experiment if you feel like it, and do what’s worth it and works for you. And that’s not static. Things change. Explore, experiment, learn, stay flexible. One life.

COVID-19: Smell the coffee? Anosmia? Coffee makes it more sweet, less bitter.

Kilauea erupted last night. Several people have texted to ask if we are OK and if the air here is OK. The media is probably reporting dramatically. To me here on the west side, everything seems just like any other day. We have felt a few short earthquakes in the past weeks, but that’s also not abnormal. I was hoping the big eruption in 2018 ended the decades of eruption and those in risky flow areas could feel safe, and blue skies and normal rain patterns would stay over here.

Changing subjects, I read an interesting article the other week. Coffee is Being Widely Used as a COVID-19 Diagnostic Tool.

The CDC now lists the loss of smell, known as anosmia, as one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19, with most recent studies indicating that about 50% to as much as 80% of people testing positive for the virus have suffered from anosmia.

Apparently doctors are asking people if they can smell the coffee. In spring a parent of a close friend of mine got COVID-19 pretty badly, hospitalized for weeks, with over a week in the ICU. I sent coffee to the parent once the parent’s health was in the clear, to celebrate a return to better health and to send a bit of Hawaii to the East Coast. At that time, anosmia wasn’t as well-known a symptom. The parent thanked me and said how wonderful it was to enjoy smelling our coffee as part of returning to good health.

This other article from April, also from Daily Coffee News, is about research that drinking coffee makes people more sensitive to sweet flavors and less sensitive to bitter. Wouldn’t it be nice if that also worked figuratively for life, too? Especially this past tough, challenging year. We’d all be coffee addicts. I’ll throw in one more link to another article, this one about liking vs. wanting/needing coffee, relating to addiction psychology.

Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The days will get longer from now on. Especially if you’re in a cold, dark area, you can drink our coffee and take in a bit of sweet, warm, sunny Hawaii’s ‘aina (land).

The Scary Act of Planting Trees for the Future

Planting coffee trees isn’t so daunting, but planting other trees is scary to me. We see plenty of examples of how coffee trees grow and how they can be pruned and managed. Ours are mostly around 80 years old or so. We are behind on planting new, young grafted coffee trees in the empty spaces we have. That has been an ongoing saga; I won’t go into that here.

avocado, lime, 'ulu (breadfruit), mgambo, native white hibiscus, and lemon cutting.

We have been motivated to do some new plantings, maybe it’s the Hawaiian version of mainlanders, spending more time at home, wanting to plant and grow things. It’s a healthy reaction to the pandemic I hear. Many things grow well here, perhaps too well, and that’s what I’m afraid of. We don’t want to plant the wrong things and create future problems for ourselves.

From L to R: avocado, lime, ‘ulu (breadfruit), mgambo (Hawaiian pussywillow), native white hibiscus, and a sad lemon cutting.

Large Song of India tree.

One example is the $5 Song of India 8-inch cutting we bought at a now-closed Kainaliu nursery. Bea admired it in a flower arrangement, so later we bought a cutting. That’s it on the left in the photo. That has even been cut several times. You can’t slack off on your pruning.

We’ve been enjoying our aunty’s Kahalu’u avocados for years. It’s not uncommon that you buy an avocado at the farmers market, ask what variety it is and get an answer like, “We’re not sure. We think it might be XYZ. The tree was already there when we bought the land.” People keep referring to the “over 200 varieties” of avos grown in Hawaii. See this poster by Ken Love, fruit freak, maven of tropical fruit. This article from Hana Hou magazine is one of a few about him that gives you a taste of how special and unusual Ken Love is.

Kahalu'u avocado tree.

Anyway, we want to grow our own Kahalu’u avocados. The hard part for me is planting something that’s now a toddler and imagining what it’ll grow up to be. How tall will it be? How wide will the umbrella be? When and how do we have to prune and guide it so we’ll be able to harvest and maintain it?

We have a lychee tree that even with our extension picker, we can only barely reach some of the very lowest fruit. The majority of the fruit just goes to waste because we can’t reach it. Bea used to climb the tree in her croc shoes (!) and prune branches with fruit. She was in her 70’s, and it would freak everyone out. Others have problems convincing their elderly parents not to drive. How do you get your mom to stop climbing trees if she wants to? She has been saying that she’s losing the arm strength/stamina to saw off branches, so maybe that will do it.

Two foot triangle palm.

This is a triangle palm “tree” that we bought at a garage sale. It’s now two feet tall and is hardly taller than our weeds. Have we planted it far enough away from our house? Supposedly they can reach heights of 25 to 35 feet with a crown spread of 15 feet. I’m just not good at imagining such things.