Story by Becky Speere
Sometimes all you need is a liliko‘i to fill your day with sunshine. My nephew Spencer, a lanky high-school senior visiting from Las Vegas, was helping me gather liliko‘i from the yard when he asked, “Auntie, can I eat this?” I answered, “Of course! Just put it between your palms and press hard.” As he squished the fruit with the strength of the Hulk, seeds and pulp exploded onto his clothing, and orange trails of juice ran down his suntanned arms. After a moment’s wide-eyed surprise and embarrassment, he happily licked the sweet-sour juice from his hands. I know, bad auntie — but one of life’s pleasures is introducing someone to his first liliko‘i with a splatter of juice and seeds.
Liliko‘i is the Hawaiian word for passion fruit. A vine native to South America, it was brought to the Islands in the 1920s. The most common variety on Maui is the yellow liliko‘i (Passiflora edulis forma flavicarpa). It’s available much of the year, and during the peak summer season, its Jurassic vines can bear hundreds of fruits. As it ripens, the fruit turns yellow and falls from the vine, and is still tasty even after it starts to wrinkle. While liliko‘i can be eaten raw, its naturally high acidity makes it perfect for blending into baked goods, frozen custards, and drinks.
Jamie Woodburn, a.k.a. Liliko‘i Man, processes a ton and a half of fruit during the summer to extract seventy-five gallons of purée for his liliko‘i-butter business. If you don’t need industrial quantities, you can make your own purée this simple way: Cut the fruit in half, spoon the pulp and seeds into a blender, blend on low speed for thirty seconds, then strain through a medium-fine metal sieve. I like to use a saimin strainer for its deep basket and wire grid. You can find the strainer at TJ’s Warehouse in Wailuku.
The folks at Travaasa Hana serve a yummy “Japanese cheesecake” at their Ka‘uiki Restaurant, and were kind enough to share their recipe. Feel free to use homemade or store-bought granola — just make sure it’s fresh and crunchy. And you can find Jamie’s Liliko‘i Butter at Maui Coffee Roasters, or email email@example.com. During the season, buy liliko‘i at our local farmers’ markets, or in the tropical fruit section of grocery stores.