Growing taro, called kalo in Hawaiian, has tasty rewards. Kalo was brought to Hawaii centuries ago by the Polynesians as a staple food. Although many preparation techniques were practiced, pounding taro into poi has a long tradition and can produce a delicious product.
While poi can be made from ulu, breadfruit, or uala, sweet potato, poi made from the taro corm is the favorite staple in the Hawaiian diet. Consider growing kalo plants that are recommended for poi, and try making your own fresh poi.
Not all taro varieties make good poi. Bun long, the Chinese taro with the purple fibers, makes great chips, but is not used for poi. Araimo, the small Japanese taro, is good in stews, but will not make satisfactory poi. Most of the mana and lauloa varieties are not usually used to make poi. Most commercial poi is made from the lehua variety. Lehua poi is a reddish purple, but other Hawaiian varieties can be used to make white, cream-colored, or even yellow poi.
Most Hawaiian varieties, grown as dry land taro, mature in eight to 11 months. For a few months before harvest, the older leaves will turn yellow and wilt and new leaves will be few and small. The corm — the bulb at the base of the stem that you use to make poi — will be visible above ground and get larger. Roots will wither or disappear. Try pulling a plant when you think it is ready. If the stalks and leaves are large and vigorous and the corm is very small or nonexistent, you pulled it too soon. If the top of the plant is small but the corm is decayed or is soggy, gummy or tough and watery, you waited too long. If the corm is beautiful and healthy and makes delicious poi, you pulled it at the right time.
Corms may be frozen for later use. Cut the plant tops off, wash the corms, and put them in freezer bags. The corms can be thawed, cooked and pounded when you are ready.
Taro should be steamed or boiled long enough to break down the toxins that produce its infamous “itch.” When you cook 50 pounds of large pieces in a steamer, it may take 2.5 hours. If you cook a pound or two cut into small pieces, it may be done in 45 minutes. When it is soft enough for a fork to easily penetrate, take out a piece and try a bite. If there is no itchy sensation, it is ready for poi.
Poi is customarily made on a wooden board, called a papa kui ai, with a stone pounder, called pohaku kui ai. The skin is removed, and any bits of peel or bad spots are scraped off. The proper technique for pounding poi will be developed with practice. Water should be added only sparingly, by simply wetting the hand that is working with the taro, and patting water onto the bottom of the stone. Your finished product will be a very dense poi called pai ai. This will keep well, and can be thinned with water to make poi for the table. Many people today make poi with juicers. Blenders are generally not powerful enough for the job.
A class called “Kalo, Farm to Table” is scheduled at the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden Jan. 26. Students in this class will get an overview of the process from planting to harvest to making poi. Students will also be shown ways to make their own boards and pounding stones. For more information, call the garden at 323-3318.
Tropical gardening helpline
Marlene asks: Our Italian cypress trees have brown patches throughout the foliage. We’ve seen other trees in the neighborhood with the same condition. What is causing this?
Answer: A number of things could be causing the browning, including overwatering, mites, a canker or fungus, or a cockroach infestation.
This information is from ehow.com/info_10027960_causes-italian-cypress-trees-turn-brown.html:
Italian cypress is a drought-tolerant tree. If yours are not allowed to dry out between waterings, root rot can occur which would cause the browning of some branches. It may be a symptom of a disease called needle blight, which is caused by root rot resulting from overwatering. In extremely dry times, browning could be the result of too little water.
If your watering regimen is well suited to the tree’s needs, your next step is to do a thorough inspection to try to pinpoint the problem.
Spider mites and cockroaches can cause browning on Italian cypress trees. Hold a piece of white paper under some leaves and shake them. With a magnifying glass, check to see if the moving specks on the paper are spider mites. A small infestation can be controlled by dislodging them with a forceful stream of water. Insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils or a pesticide labeled against spider mites will work for larger infestations. Cockroaches are easier to spot. If you see them, consult the Internet and choose a remedy that makes sense for your garden.
Cypress canker infects the tree bark and progressively kills the leaves, turning them brown. Look for cankers in cracks in the bark. When damage is minimal, remove the infected branches. If the browning is widespread, remove the tree to prevent spreading.
Email plant questions to email@example.com for answers by Certified Master Gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.
Peter Van Dyke is the manager of Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook.