Hawaiian Food for Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers

Our latest selection for Cook the Books Club is Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, by Sara Ackerman, hosted by fellow Hawaii blogger, Deb from Kahakai Kitchen. Especially interesting to me as a resident on the island where this all takes place - The Big Island!  And so fascinating to visit a familiar locale at this time in the past. I don't believe I've ever read a book dealing with WWII and its impact on Hawaii, particularly The Big Island.

Other than the pies, there wasn't a whole lot of food mentions. Not that I noticed anyway. However, given the ambiance, we can use our imaginations. From the Publishers:

"Hawaii, 1944. The Pacific battles of World War II continue to threaten American soil, and on the home front, the bonds of friendship and the strength of love are tested.

Violet Iverson and her young daughter, Ella, are piecing their lives together one year after the disappearance of her husband. As rumors swirl and questions about his loyalties surface, Violet believes Ella knows something. But Ella is stubbornly silent. Something—or someone—has scared her. And with the island overrun by troops training for a secret mission, tension and suspicion between neighbors is rising.

Violet bands together with her close friends to get through the difficult days. To support themselves, they open a pie stand near the military base, offering the soldiers a little homemade comfort. Try as she might, Violet can’t ignore her attraction to the brash marine who comes to her aid when the women are accused of spying. Desperate to discover the truth behind what happened to her husband, while keeping her friends and daughter safe, Violet is torn by guilt, fear and longing as she faces losing everything. Again."

I had family over and prepared them a Hawaiian themed dinner. Kalua pork, Lomi Lomi Salmon, Macaroni Salad (local style) and Coconut cake. The Kalua pork was a first for me, and made in the pressure cooker. Traditionally, a whole pig would be slow cooked, overnight in an imu (a large rock and banana leaf lined pit in the ground, as they did in the book for their Christmas party). Much easier to start with some locally sourced, free range pork shoulder roast, a few banana leaves and some liquid smoke.  Oh yes!  It totally worked.

                                       Kalua Pork – Pressure Cooked
                From Amy & Jacky
  • 4 pounds (1614g) pork shoulder (pork butt meat) , cut into 2 – 2¼ inches cubes
  • 1 cup (250ml) cold water
  • 1 tablespoon (17g) coarse alaea red Hawaiian sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) liquid smoke
  • 2 pieces (90g) 12x20 inches banana leaves
1.                   Cut and Marinate Pork Shoulder: Cut pork into 2 – 2¼ inches cubes, then place them in a mixing bowl. Add 1 tbsp (17g) coarse alaea Hawaiian sea salt and; 1 tbsp (15ml) liquid smoke. Mix very well, then marinate for 30 minutes 

2.                   Pressure Cook Kalua Pork: Pour 1 cup (250ml) cold water in Pressure cooker or Instant Pot. Layer a banana leaf at the bottom, then add in cubed pork. Try fitting the pork in a singer layer so they are partially submerged in the water. Then, layer another banana leaf on top of the pork. Pressure Cook at High Pressure for
i) With Banana Leaves: 45 mins, then 15 mins Natural Release
ii) Without Banana Leaves: 40 mins, then 15 mins Natural Release
*Pro Tip: banana leaves are optional, but they’ll impart more flavor and aroma to the Kalua Pig.

3.                   Shred and Season Kalua Pork: Discard the top banana leaf and check if the pork is tender. If the pork is still tough, pressure cook for another 10 minutes. Shred pork with 2 forks. Taste and season with more alaea Hawaiian sea salt if necessary. Serve and enjoy!

I have shared my Lomi Lomi Salmon recipe here, and the only thing different would be added cilantro, lime juice, chili pepper and salt to taste.  It wasn't zippy enough for me.:)

Now, authentic, local style, Mac Salad needs a mayonnaise disclaimer.  What can I say?  They use A LOT!

Hawaiian Style Mac Salad

To make a basic macaroni salad, you don’t need a recipe; just follow these guidelines:

The pasta: Cook 1 pound elbow macaroni (for really local style, cook until soft and fat, but you can go al dente if you prefer).

The flavoring: Stir in ¼ cup very finely grated onion. Not minced, chopped or sliced—grated. It should be liquidy (this is how they do it at Diner’s, a local eatery in Kalihi).

The mayo: At least 2½ cups for real local style. But there are no rules, so use less if you like. Or more.

The add-ins: grated arrots, watercress, celery, hard-boiled eggs, pickle relish—whatever suits you.

The finale: Salt and pepper, to taste. Stir well and refrigerate.

A fine meal, (note: there always has to be rice alongside - rice is an essential with local meals) just needs dessert, for which we had coconut cake.  The error here was in not using my tried and true, delicious old recipe.  Instead I opted for Nigella's Coconut Snowball Cake..  Lots of her recipes are great. This wasn't one of them.  Too dry.  Sorry Nigella.  Though I do suppose I could have baked it too long?? However her frosting was good.

Well, next time I'll know.  Stick with the tried and true.  And, if it's good, don't mess with it.  All this Hawaiian goodness will be shared with our Cook the Books Club Round-up gathering.  And, if you want to give the book a read, and post some food inspired by it, there's still time.  Submissions due by the 31st of January.
I'll also share the link with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, and with Heather for the January Foodies Read Challenge.


Tina said...

I wish I were with your visitors to have that meal! It all sounds so delicious. I have the book but haven’t been able to get into it yet.

Beth F said...

Oooooh I WANT that meal! I've been meaning to read that book but for some reason it slipped through the cracks. I was lucky enough to have at that whole pig in an imu a few times when I worked/lived in Hawaii (Oahu) lo those many years ago. I do miss the food.

I'm going to give the pressure cooker versions of Kalua Pork a try.

Deb in Hawaii said...

Glad you found the book interesting. I always enjoy WWII books that show a different experience and perspective.
Your dinner looks delicious--lucky visitors! ;-) Too bad about the cake but that frosting does look really good.
Thanks for joining in!

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

It is always fun to read books set in a familiar setting. I enjoyed this book very much.

Debra Eliotseats said...

Looks delicious, Claudia. I have an Hawaiian culinary question. What does the banana leaf add? We've wrapped grilled pork in banana leaves and I just assumed it was to keep the pork moist. Does it actually add a flavor component, too?

Claudia said...

Yes they do help to keep the meat moist, but also give a mild herbal flavor, similar to pandanus leaves or even a bay leaf, but different. I also think it's nicer than foil or plastic next to food you're cooking.

Debra Eliotseats said...

Thanks! That's good info. I'm going to try this in the IP.

Delaware Girl Eats said...

I got an Instapot for christmas and haven't tried it out yet so this will get me started. I love pork butt cooked till it falls off the bone. If I could ask a favor -- if you;re on IG could you follow me there @brancica? I'm on a quest to reach larger audiences there and the pictures are great (if I do say so myself). TIA! cathy

Claudia said...

Cathy, I certainly would, but am not on IG. Best wishes on that project!

Simona Carini said...

What a feast, Claudia! And as usual, I enjoy reading all your observations :)

P.S. Thanks for the additional notes on banana leaf: I plan on making a dish that uses them (though I am not sure if I can find them).