Thursday, April 2, 2015

Taro Plants and Poi Pounding at Haiku Ho'olaulea (the Haiku Flower Festival)

The shriveled stems did not look plantable. There were only two leafless withered stems coming from the "root," and most of the root had been cut off at two angles.

Yet this was how the Hawaiians prepared taro for planting. It had been left to dry for at least a day, to harden up the stem and base, so they would not rot when planted.

Poi Pounding at the Haiku Flower Festival

Withered taro cuttings, ready for planting.
Taro is such a valued Hawaiian food crop, that taro farmers carefully cut and prepare mature plants in this way so they can be replanted to start a new crop of taro. In addition to the mature taro which is harvested, taro keikis or babies also grow from the base of the mother plant and can be replanted on their own. I believe taro is technically an enlarged stem rather than a root, but often people will refer to taro root or taro tubers. 

Taro is to Hawaiians as the potato is to the Irish. Both are starchy vegetables that grow in the ground. Unlike potatoes, almost every part of the taro can be eaten: the green stem, the leaves, and the "root" or "tuber" which grows underground. All parts of the taro must be cooked very thoroughly or they will prickle your tongue, like sharp needles. This is the due to the oxalic acid in the taro. Taro is NOT a raw food. 

Taro has a rich mythology in Hawaii, and is considered to be the older brother of humankind. As the younger sibling, our job is to watch and take care of the taro, or kalo, and taro's job is to feed and nourish us. The Hawaiian word for taro is kalo, and you will also hear it called Haloa, which was the name of the first taro baby. 

At the Haiku Ho'olaulea (Hawaiian for a celebration) aka Haiku Flower Festival one sunny spring day, the booth for the Waikikena Foundation had bowls of these shriveled taro stems, that they were giving away for free. Alex and Hoaka were also teaching the keiki (children) to pound poi, Hawaiian style. Children sat on large lauhala (pandanus leaf) mats with stone pounders and mashed the poi, adding water to get the right mushy texture. Finally the adults wrapped the balls of poi into special fiber baskets.

Here's a poi pounding video from the Haiku Flower Festival:

If the video isn't visible, you can also go watch poi pounding on youtube.

The taro Alex gave me is 'ele 'ele koko - 'ele 'ele means black and koko means blood. It's a dark stemmed, dark leaf taro with a pale purple root that is good for making poi. I mentioned the mystery taro plant I have in my garden, which is also dark stemmed and dark leaved, but has a white root.  Mo'i (I think that's how it's spelled) is also a white taro, but Hoaka thought I might have Lehua taro, which is renowned for poi making. By the way, I did plant the dried dead-looking taro stems and they grew up into normal taro plants.

Hoaka says he also made the stone pua'a (pig) sculpture on Kauhikoa road. He is a gifted stone cutter. 

The Haiku Flower Festival is a wonderful community event. It will be taking place again on April 25, 2015. Booths and activities may change from year to year, but the poi pounding that year was a highlight for me. 

If you'd like to participate in poi pounding this year, the Ag Fest in April usually has a poi pounding booth. The East Maui Taro Festival also has poi pounding activities, and the Haiku Ho'olaulea might have poi pounding again this April.

Other highlights at the Haiku Flower Festival:
I had an Italian ice drink because it looked so good, and had my sugar rush for the week! I had met the owner in a class for food licensing on Maui and she uses real fruit juice.

The folks of Maui Preserved, Maleta and Anthony, have a business making preserved food products in Haiku using local farm fresh vegetables. They started in 2010, but things really took off - getting their items in stores and doing festivals - in 2011. 

Humble beginnings of Maui Preserved.

They have food products in Mana and other local stores. Maleta has formal culinary training, but also a business/accounting background, and ended up doing accounting in the food industry, and Anthony grew up learning to cook since he was nine. Maleta said her name derives from a Greek word, originally meaning sweet. and it's a family name, she's the 6th Maleta. Their food products are also featured in Kupu Maui dinners. 

Other posts on the Haiku Flower Festival:

5 Reasons to go to the Haiku Flower Festival
Haiku Flower Festival 2011 Highlights
Highlights from the Haiku Ho'olaulea

1 comment:

  1. I love taro! My mother's co-worker is from Hawaii and whenever she goes there to visit, she'd bring back food. A lot of the wonderful things she brought were made with taro. Like taro sweet bread and candy. I even got to try a taro pie from a McDonalds there, which was really cool. I'm a taro addict now. :D


Comments are important to me, so mahalo for adding a comment! I will try to follow up when I receive one.