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What's Growing Out Back

Outback Steakhouse is growing, with 4 locations now on Oahu. But enough about steaks, what I’m really talking about here is what’s growing out in the backyard!

Mom’s place in Hawaii Kai has an interesting variety of fruits and herbs which (for the most part) are certainly put to use in our kitchen.

Hawaiian Chili Pepper tree

Hawaiian Chili Peppers are probably very high on the Scovel Scale for heat. A raw bite into one of these little demons will certainly sending you running for the water fountain, or possibly the emergency room. It’s commonly used in Hawaii to make Chili Pepper Water, a liquid condiment that you pour on food, similar to how you’d use Tobasco sauce. It’s also used to make Pepper Jelly, which is really ono on Saloon Pilot Crackers. Also commonly used (very sparingly) in poke and in my late uncle’s smoked meat marinade. The young ones are green, turning to yellow than “ripe” when they’re a bright reddish-orange. They keep for a long time in the refrigerator and can also be frozen for later use.

Meyer Lemon

Meyer Lemon is said to originate from China, with a cross in flavor between a lemon and mandarine orange. It’s a suitable substitute in most recipes that call for regular lemon. It has a sort of yellow-orange color when fully mature. Look at the rather beautiful flower this decorative fruit tree also bares.


Calamansi is a citrus fruit that originally came from the Philippines. It looks like a small lime when ripe, growing no larger than a golf ball, though usually a bit smaller than that. It’s very tart with a sort of combined lemon-lime flavor.

Calamansi is great for flavoring seafood dishes and also squeezed over Pancit Filipino noodles. It also a good flavor enhancer in mixed drinks such as Vodka Tonic. Aloha Maid, a Hawaii juice manufacter sells ready-to-serve sweetened Calamansi Juice in cans.

Breadfruit, a.k.a. Ulu

Breadfruit, also called ‘Ulu in Hawaiian is a staple food throughout the pacific islands – most notably Samoa. It’s very starchy and usually baked before eaten. My cousin loves it simply like that with some margarine on it. We’re not really into it and end up giving our tree’s harvest to family and friends.

Star Fruit

Star Fruit has such a unique flavor and texture. Just as that link suggested, it’s sort of like a combination of a pear, apple and grape. The edible skin has a waxy texture to it. They can be very tart when not fully ripe, with some of that tartness evident even at its ripe stage, though very sweet and “fruity” as well.


Rosemary has a sort of pine-like flavor and fragrant aroma that compliments beef and lamb dishes perfectly. In fact, a leg or rack of lamb roast without it would almost be a sin! I also like to chop it and sprinkle on baked Yukon Gold Potatoes drizzled with Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper.

Asian Flat Leaf Chives

Chives are part of the onion family and are basically like a miniature scallion. This variety has a flat leaf profile, unlike the tubular profile of standard chives. These have a more “earthy” than “oniony” flavor. I most often use them chopped fine and put over a fully-loaded baked potato… one of my favorite comfort foods! Sometimes I’ll use them full length as a garnish for presentation when we entertain guests.

Bananas in early growth stage

Hawaiian Ti plant

The Hawaiian Ti plant or Ki is something many of us Kama’aina take for granted because of its abundance in the islands. From what I understand, these are hard to come by in the mainland. My sister in Missouri keeps Ti leaves rolled up in Ziploc bags in the freezer. Some recipes I’ve read say Banana Leaf is an adequate substitution, but I hear it imparts a slightly different flavor. Ti leaves are an absolute requirement to properly flavored dishes such as Laulau and Kalua Pig. Ki was highly regarded and considered sacred by the ancient Hawaiians.

A red-eyed ladybug strolls upon 2 kumquats

This rather cool macro shot (click the photo to view it full size) captures a a ladybug lazily resting on this Kumquat tree branch. She (aren’t all ladybugs “she”? lol) has silvery-blue dots on her black body and little red eyes. This bug’s actual size is no larger than 2 grains of rice. The diameter of those Kumquats are about 1″.

The Kumquat is another fruit originally from China. They ripen to a bright orange color and can be eaten with the skin on. It’s sweet on the outside and rind, but the inside is very tart and not desirable to eat. They’re OK, but not my favorite.

All these photos were taken by me yesterday, Sunday, October 22, 2006, which gives you an idea of what’s growing in Hawaii Kai’s climate during this time of year. Of noticeable absence are our White Pirie and Shibata Mango, which of course is out of season right now. Also, our Basil and Mint herbs were in a new growth cycle and not worth photographing.

Next time I’ll share photos of the beautiful flowers we’ve got growing Outback.. I mean.. out back! Hey, pass me the A-1 Steak Sauce.

Tasty Island Rating
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8 thoughts on “What's Growing Out Back

  • October 24, 2006 at 12:29 am


    Nice try with the non sequitur in your intro. I’m touched.

    I really like the photo spread. The photos are gorgeous, and you do a great job describing each item and explaining its uses. I actually think this is one of your best articles yet.

    Keep it up.

    – Chubbypanda

  • October 24, 2006 at 1:46 am

    Green Acres?? You got so much good kine stuff in your backyard!! we have the chili peppers and meyer lemons …but that calamansi looks good too. i love that flat leave chives too …i’m trying to convince my husband to grow that too. yup, hawaii kai is nice and hot…just gotta remember to water …haha!

    love that photo of the ladybug and kumquat !!

  • October 24, 2006 at 1:51 am

    Wonderful article!
    I’m so pleased my garden inspired you to look at your garden with a different eye.
    I wish I knew how to take close yps like yours without blurr!!!!

    Aloha and mahalo for commenting on mu blog!

  • January 11, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    Hawaiian Chili Pepper tree – how can I acquire one of these tree’s for my home in Texas

  • October 7, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    nice pepper tree! what variety are they? are the seeds available outside of Hawaii?

    also what is the recipe for chili pepper water? i’ve never heard of it though being a huge fan of tobasco i’m sure i would! i’d love to know how you make it!

  • October 8, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Chilli King, to be honest, I’m not an enthusiast of heat, so chili pepper water isn’t something you’ll find me adding on my food as a condiment, and hence, something I’ve never personally made. While I can probably dig up an old family recipe, there’s a few out there on the web if you do a search.

    Like here:

    What I DO like, heat-wise, is biting into one of those yellow Del Monte chili peppers, then chasing it with a good bowl of local style beef stew. It’s like torture and comfort all at once. :-)


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