Recently — to the great surprise of those who know me well — the long-dormant domestic goddess within me has awakened. After more than 30 years of declaring, “Sorry, I don’t cook anymore,” I’m actually enjoying my return to the stove.
Sentimentality is partially to blame. Having just celebrated another birthday, I’ve been hungering for the comfort foods of my youth. While I still remember my mother’s creamed tuna recipe, I needed an old-school refresher course. Thank goodness, even through decades of kitchen abstinence, I’ve held on to my copy of “More of Our Favorite Recipes,” published in 1973 by the Maui Extension Homemakers’ Council.
For local girls of my generation, as well as the ones before and after, the Homemakers’ Council was a godsend. Known affectionately as “the UE (University Extension) ladies,” they were the original domestic goddesses, an invaluable resource for inexperienced homemakers like myself. The Extension Service program began on Maui in 1929 and the first UE club was organized in Puukolii, where 24 women attended home demonstration meetings on food and clothing. By 1946, there were 23 clubs on the Valley Isle. Today the statewide organization is known as the Hawaii Association for Family and Community Education (FCE), whose mission is to “strengthen individuals, families and communities through continuing education, leadership and community action.”
A month ago, my friend and longtime UE lady, Kats Enoki, called me out of the blue and offered me a priceless gift: a copy of “Memories and History of Hawaii’s Homemakers,” written by FCE members in 1997. Now out of print, the book is a treasure trove of anecdotes and remembrances dating back to the 1920s. Here are a few of my favorites:
Kats shared memories of her childhood in the 1930s. “I lived in Maalaea, a fishing village of about 40 people, from the age of three to seven. My father was an aku (tuna) fisherman. When the fishermen came home with the fish, they sold only the big ones to stores, the tiny akus were given to children to sell. I remember carrying the aku down to the village and the people who were passing through would stop and buy the whole aku for twenty-five cents, about five cents a pound . . . There were a lot of kiawe trees in Maalaea around the bay and we picked the kiawe beans and sold them for a penny per pound to cattle owners. I remember my mother with a young child strapped to her back, picking beans off the ground.”
Another friend, Aunty Bea Barboza, recalled, “We did not have running water and electricity. Dad, with his kerosene lamp, would take us to the outhouse when we needed to go at night . . . We were poor, but we always had something to eat. We ate crackers with water and a little sugar in it, and sometimes for lunch, all we had was poi with chili peppers. At school, we had free milk and graham crackers at snack time in the morning.”
Carol Ogawa contributed this chicken skin story. “In the early 1920s, when I was about nine years old, we didn’t know there was an island called Hawaii. We didn’t even know about volcanoes, but the children in the district just below Wailuku Elementary School, where I lived, believed that Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, walked among human beings whenever she felt like doing so . . . To be on the safe side, whenever a lady stranger came to the neighborhood, we were nice to her, thinking that perhaps she was Madame Pele . . . Our outhouse was far away from the main house, so in the evenings, mother put a urinal bucket on the front veranda . . . One night, at about 4:30 a.m., I had to go. I went out to the porch and squatted, and almost fell into the bucket as I gave out a yell, ‘Pele! Pele!’ I thought Madame Pele was sitting on our front steps. Father came running out and found that my Madame Pele was only white-haired Grandma Dutro who lived behind our property, on her way to the store to buy crackers for her breakfast. She always went to town early in the morning because it took her about an hour and a half to go to the store and back to her house. Poor Grandma Dutro was frightened more than I was. Father calmed her and sent her off to town.”
The book is unavailable for purchase, but you might be able to find a copy at your local public library. And if this stroll down memory lane has stirred your appetite, you can find various versions of “Our Favorite Recipes” on eBay and Amazon. I’ve already ordered my copy of the Golden Anniversary edition.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM and KEWE 97.9 FM/1240 AM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every other Wednesday. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.