The banana tree is also one of the fastest growing plants in the world. On Maui if you have one in your yard it is always a treat when they are ready to harvest. It can be tricky though because a banana bunch can weigh as much as 50 pounds. For safety I try to either tie them off with rope or have a friend guide it down while I cut it off. The tree will not produce another bunch so it must be cut off at ground level so that a new trunk can grow in order to produce another bunch. Usually there is no way to eat them all yourself before they rot so most people share them with friends and family as fast as they can. They’re so good it feels like a crime if you have to throw them out because they’ve turned black and soggy. There are plenty of places to shop for bananas on Maui also. Some grocery stores on Maui like Safeway carry local bananas but you’ll most likely find the ripest and sweetest ones at the farmers market and the many fruit stands along the road to Hana.
Bananas are planted islandwide with several varieties producing amazing flavors you will never find anywhere else. Bananas are something the ag inspectors are always on the lookout for at the airport and will confiscate them due to possible contamination by fruit flies and several crop diseases present in Hawaii so plan on eating as much as you can while on the island. There are some banana groves planted around the island but as of yet I haven’t heard of them being offered on the mainland.
My favorite and the most popular on the island are the Apple Bananas which are actually from Brazil. They are small (about 3-4 inches long) and have a light pink meat. Banana bread or muffins made from these bananas can change your life! Everyone has a favorite banana bread recipe but I love a variation which I like to make from the book “What Hawaii Likes to Eat” that includes pineapple and orange juice. In case you would like to try making some yourself here is the recipe -
Hawaiian Nut Bread
½ tsp Hawaiian sea salt
8 oz crushed pineapple with liquid
1 cup mashed apple bananas
1/4 cup orange juice
½ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
2 cups macadamia nuts (chopped)
Yields 3 small loaves
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
Combine flour, baking soda and powder plus the salt. In a separate bowl combine banana, pineapple (with it’s juice) and orange juice. Cream butter and sugar together in mixing bowl until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Alternate folding in flour mixture and banana mixture. Combine just enough to moisten dry ingredients. About three additions should do it. Pour into muffin pan and bake at 350. Check with toothpick after 20 minutes. They may take up to 30 minutes or more.
Another fruit that is seen and used island wide as a food source is Coconut. Thoughts of Hawaii invariably bring up the vision of palm trees swaying on a beautiful sandy beach. Although they are an iconic symbol for the islands, there is a reason they are along most beaches.
It is said the first Hawaiians brought coconuts with them on their voyages from Polynesia. They are not indigenous to Hawaii and it is hard to say exactly how they got here because they are well known for traveling great distances on the ocean currents. The nuts are an amazing food source (with coconut water being a recent health food craze) and rope made from coconut fiber is incredibly strong and was used by ancient Hawaiians for construction of canoes and houses. They are especially tasty right off the tree and a fresh one can weigh as much as 8 to 10 lbs. You won’t see the nuts in the trees around resorts because they keep them trimmed off so they don’t fall on someone. I can remember camping in Hana and hearing them hit the ground like a bag of hammers, which is pretty spooky at night. I’ve heard marine biologists on Maui, in an attempt to quell peoples fear of sharks, point out that more people are killed worldwide by falling coconuts than by sharks. Fresh off the tree they have a thick green wood pulp like husk that must be whacked off to get to the nut. Another favorite experience of mine was at a local private luau on the Big Island of Hawaii where they had a trash can filled with fresh coconuts on ice. A guy would whack off the top of the green husk and nut in a couple precision strikes with a machete, dump some rum in it and hand it to you with a straw. It was friggin awesome. Another well known desert in the islands is haupia which is a firm coconut pudding concoction. Sweet yet mellow. I could go on and on about stuff like candied coconut or the many fish dishes made with coconut milk i’ve enjoyed, but my best advice is to get your hands on a fresh one and anything else that’s “coconut kine” on Maui if you get the chance.
I’ve just scratched the surface of the story of Hawaii’s edible trees but I’ll continue to update this story in the future with more native and introduced species and their impact on Hawaiian history.
Aloha Nui Loa