Today we were in Hilo. We took our chances at finding a tour outside of the cruise ship and hit paydirt a few hundred feet from the gangway. We found Shark's Tours and spent most of the day with Tom and another couple from the cruise. We traveled in the comfort of a Toyota Sienna (some of our other methods of transportation were a bit more rustic) and were treated to Tom's view of Hilo which was both interesting and informative. We learned about history and botany, discovered the waterfalls and the remnants of an old sugar plantation, heard stories of tsuanmis and lava flow, absorbed gorgeous views of nature and Alex was able to jump off the side of a bridge into cool, snow fed waters. He actually filmed the jump with our digital camera and once we figure out how to do it, we'll have a link to the video on the site. Speaking of which, we actually have copies of the first two demonstrations but are struggling to figure out how to use i-movie and quicktime to bring the video to the site. If anyone has any helpful input please feel free to drop us a line or leave a comment. Thanks!
The tour ended at Tom and KC's home, a tiny paradise on two acres. Tom is growing coffee, cacao, macadamia nuts, curry leaves, and oranges. He is experimenting with a vanilla vine trained around a cacao tree and if all goes well he will have chocolate and vanilla living together in perfect harmony. He even has a small fish pool with tilapia so in case of any emergency he and KC will be well fed from their backyard. Wandering through his bounty was an amzing experience for us as were able to see coffee and cacao in all stages of their growth.
We tasted cacao that was straight from the pod, which was lightly coated in a white mucous, crunchy and gelatinous like green almonds, crisp, and juicy with a slightly bitter and acidic finish. Tom sells some of the raw pods to a local raw foods restaurant. Apparently they are appreciated for their high level of antioxidants. He is experimenting with fermenting and roasting the beans to make his own chocolate and we had great fun discussing theories and techniques.
We also got to play with the coffee beans. We tasted coffee made from beans grown in Kona versus beans also grown on the island but from the more mountainous areas. Tom grows some of the beans himself and buys the rest from other famers on the island. He roasts the pure Kona coffee to a medium toast and the big island coffee to a dark roast. Using terminology from his previous life as a winemaker, Tom refers to the Kona as his pinot noir and the big island as his cabernet. We played with the beans and smelled each batch before conducting our taste test of the coffees. The Kona was the universal favorite, at least among our small group of judges.
Even the macadamia nuts tasted different. Since our arrival in Hawaii we have discovered that all of the crops that we have traditionaly associated with the islands such as pineapple, macadamia nuts and sugar have all departed. There seems to be just enough left of each to satisfy the tourist trade. As it was when they originally brought sugar to Hawaii, it is now much less expensive to produce these agricultural products somewhere else. I have never been particularly fond of macadamias, they seemed much too fatty and rich tasting for me. But Tom and KC's nuts were a revlation. They were dark roasted and flavorful without that mouth coating fattiness that I associate with commercially produced macadamias. They were actually a great match for the Kona coffee and ideas for new dishes were bouncing around as we tasted them.
Actually, there were lots of ideas bouncing around in general as we explored this new agricultural and culinary landscape. We made Tom a quick non alcoholic refresher with fresh orange juice from his tree and curry leaves from his garden. Add a splash of tequila and triple sec and you have the perfect sunset margarita. I'm sure you will see these and other inpirations echoed here in future days when we return to our kitchen and bring them to life. We didn't know when we woke up this morning that Hilo would be a culinary destination but we were certainly happy to discover it's bounty.