The earliest written record of Hawaii's cooking techniques is found in the journals of late 18th century travelers and the missionaries and traders who followed.
They recorded how taro was steamed in earth ovens lined with the leaves of banana and ti, then pounded into poi in troughs made from hollowed-out logs. Poi pounders often worked in pairs, at opposite ends of the canoe-shaped trough, falling into a steady rhythm with their heavy, flat-bottomed pounders carved from stone, using a wet hand to turn the gooey mass while the other slapped the pounder up and down. The resulting thick paste, ranging in color from purplish red to light grays, would be served in treasured wooden bowls or hollowed out coconut shells.
Later, in the early years of this century, the first recipe collections of modern times began to issue from the wives of the plantation aristocracy, from earnest nutritionists and from churches, clubs and other organizations intent on fund raising. These books reflect their times: the mixed plate created by the half dozen or so ethnicities brought to the islands by the sugar and pineapple industries, and the way that Hawaiian foods were already losing pride of place.
Poi purists eat it straight from the bag and there’s no doubt that’s a healthy thing to do. Nutrition experts say replacing all the carbohydrates in your current diet with poi will help you lose weight. Sugar or artificial sweeteners can make poi more palatable for those who have not “acquired a taste” for it. The following recipes are a collection of poi favorites, not necessarily healthy (because of all the other ingredients), but proven delicious—poi can easily be incorporated into your favorite recipes, replacing such ingredients like sour cream or yogurt. Add it to pancake batter or to thicken stews and soups. Be bold and experiment for yourself!
The same four or five taro-based recipes appear in most recipe books, illustrating how taro and poi began to move from the center of the plate -- where it had been during ancient Hawaiian times -- toward the edge, as an ingredient in Western style dishes rather than the staple around which other foods clustered.
Poi was used as a thickener as a substitute for potatoes and other root vegetables in savory dishes and even as a stand-in for eggs and cream in puddings and other sweet preparations.
We would welcome any comments on these recipes, or the submission of new recipes.
Copyright 1998-2009 by Craig W Walsh