Haupia (Hawaiian Coconut Pudding) + Hawaii’s Statehood

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If you had told my younger self that, in my future, I would voluntarily spend a lot of my time writing what are essentially small history reports on an almost-weekly basis, I would have told you that you’re crazy. I’ve always loved history, but when forced to write about it in school, I would become overwhelmed, and then take a stress nap. (Does anyone else get sleepy when they’re stressed, or is that just me?) Now, I look forward to it. It gives me a chance to dig into a little piece of history that I don’t know that much about, and come out on the other side a tiny bit more knowledgeable. Today, we’re getting into some of the details of how Hawaii became our 50th state, which happened on August 21, 1959. 

Hawaii is composed of eight islands: Hawaii (or the Big Island), Kaho’olawe, Kaua’i, Lana’i, Maui, Moloka’i,  Ni’ihau, and O’ahu. Access to two of the islands, Kahoʻolawe (uninhabited) and Ni’ihau (privately owned by two brothers), is now restricted. But the islands of Hawaii may have been inhabited for 1,500 years, having first been settled by Polynesian explorers.

According to Hawaiian legend, the name Hawaii comes from the name of an expert fisherman and explorer, Hawai’iloa, who located the island and settled his family there. His sons, Maui and Kaua’i, and his daughter, O’ahu, eventually settled on other islands, which were named after them. Another account of the names comes from Polynesian mythology: Hawaiki is said to be the original home of the Polynesian people that first inhabited the islands.

It wasn’t until 1778, with the arrival of the British captain, James Cook, that Europeans first encountered the islands. Cook named them the Sandwich islands after the Earl of Sandwich, a name which stuck until the 1840’s. After Cook’s visit to and subsequent murder on the Islands, foreign interest was piqued and Americans and Europeans began flocking to Hawaii. 

Throughout much of its early history, the islands were ruled by multiple chiefs. It wasn’t until 1795 that Hawaii was unified under one ruler, King Kamehameha the Great. It was Kamehameha’s dynasty that ruled Hawaii until the 1870’s. In 1840, under King Kamehameha III, second son of Kamehameha the Great, the first constitution was written that laid out the laws for the Hawaiian people, establishing a Christian monarchy. In 1887, King Kalakaua, the first king after the Kamehameha dynasty, was forced under threat of violence to sign a constitution rewritten by a legislative body consisting of non-native Hawaiian lawyers and men with business ties in the area. This constitution took most of the power away from the monarch and established unequal property voting privileges to wealthier Native Hawaiians and white American and British Hawaiian residents. 

King Kalakaua’s sister, Liliʻuokalani, became queen in 1891, after he died childless. In 1893, the queen began drafting a new constitution that would restore absolute monarchy in Hawaii, as well as equalize voting rights. In response to the threat of a new constitution, the monarchy was overthrown by pro-American constituents, and the Republic of Hawaii was created under the presidency of Sanford B. Dole, the white son of missionaries and cousin to the founder of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, later known as Dole Foods, who pushed for the Westernization of Hawaii. Grover Cleveland, the President of the United States at the time, was generally opposed to U.S. expansion and sent James Blount to investigate the overthrowing of the Queen. Receiving Blount’s report, Cleveland insisted that Dole resign as president and restore the Queen to power. The Senate refused, on the basis of public support in the United States to annex Hawaii, and voted instead not to restore the Hawaiian monarch. Dole served as the only president of the Republic of Hawaii until the islands were officially annexed by the United States in 1900, which made them not a state, but a territory of the United States. Dole then served as Governor of the territory. Dole’s machinations and US meddling were not accepted without push-back from the Hawaiian people, and in 1895, Robert William Wilcox led a rebellion. However, the coup was quickly brought to an end. Queen Liliuokalani’s knowledge of the coup was used to prosecute her for treason. She was given the option of abdicating the throne, or death, and she was sentenced to five years in prison with hard labor. Her sentence was commuted to palace imprisonment. After she was fully pardoned in 1897, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby against the annexation of Hawaii to the U.S. Hawaii remained a U.S. territory for 59 years (it was not a U.S. state at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, in 1941), until President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Hawaii Admission Act into law, which created Hawaii as the 50th state.

In celebration of our youngest state, I made a traditional Hawaiian celebration dessert: haupia. An extremely simple dish to make, the result is a creamy coconut pudding, often served at luaus, solid enough to be cut into squares and topped with toasted coconut flakes. 

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I loosely followed this recipe from Serious Eats.

Ingredients:
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
Toasted coconut flakes, optional

Instructions:

Coat the inside of an 8×8-inch baking dish with butter.

In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients over medium heat, whisking constantly.

Once the mixture begins to thicken slightly, turn the heat down to low.

Continue whisking the mixture for another 10 minutes, until quite thick.

Pour the mixture into the buttered baking dish and smooth the top with the back of a wooden spoon.

Allow the mixture to cool at room temperature for about 10 minutes, before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating for at least an hour, or overnight.

Cut into squares, top with toasted coconut flakes (optional), and serve.

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I know coconut is not everyone’s thing, but this dish is sweet and easy and doesn’t require turning on the oven, which is a real selling point in the summer. I think I will try to make some frozen haupia pudding pops, using a similar recipe to the one above. But this time, maybe with some chocolate swirled in? I’m just brainstorming here, guys. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming. 

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Sponge Cake with Strawberries and Cream

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Hey! I jumped off here for a bit. My dude and I paid a nice little visit to New Orleans, the only other city we’ve ever lived in together. It was half vacation, half we’ve had too much Chicago winter and, even though it’s getting nice now, our bones are still frozen. Since we left, New Orleans is 300 years old (what?!) and way cooler. Us leaving may have even had something to do with that. We do not usually go to the swankiest places, but a quick rundown of our old and new favorites include: Elizabeth’s and Paloma Cafe, in the Bywater, for great food and drinks; our old haunt Cure on Freret (they just won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program!); Alto, the poolside, rooftop bar at the Ace Hotel; Bouligny Tavern, our favorite neighborhood spot (when Uptown was still our neighborhood); and Jacques-Imo’s on Oak, for really solid New Orleans cuisine (be prepared to wait for a table).

So, now the reason for this post: It’s the two-year birthday of my little blog-baby! As a person who studied and loves history, but has no interest or intention of ever teaching, my blog has become my little passion project of researching, writing about historical people, historical recipes, and family recipes. I’ve been lucky enough to have very, very cool women agree to share their family recipes and stories with me. I’ve learned some cool new things myself, and hopefully you have, too! I’m having a mini-celebration with cake.

When I was little, my favorite dessert was strawberry shortcake (and my favorite cartoon was Strawberry Shortcake–which came first??). I see recipes for strawberry shortcake online and they look amazing, but they are not what I had as a child. In fact, the only strawberry shortcake recipe I knew as a child was probably mostly chemicals: Those little store-bought, yellow, spongecake discs, accompanied by a tub of bright red glaze, strawberries (perhaps the only non-lab-created ingredient), and cool whip. As a child of the nineties, my body was raised on preservatives and corn syrup. I think it’s really nice when I hear people my age say that cookies and candies weren’t even allowed in their house, or that if desserts were allowed they were always hand-made from scratch. That just wasn’t my experience. Cake was available at every celebration, and almost always from a box. And I loved every minute of it.

As a grown-up who knows more about nutrition now, I eat a little better. Cakes are made, sure, but I enjoy only a little, or give them away as gifts. Also, I am blessed with a lot more time than my mom had. I am not working overtime in a factory, with two kids to feed. So, while I appreciate the tiny celebrations that we had, my happy medium as an adult is making things I love from scratch, with fresh and whole ingredients (including sugar and butter) when I can. This strawberry sponge cake is my version of my favorite childhood treat.

There is no history to this post, except for my own. It’s just a thankful strawberry spongecake recipe to remind me of summer days as a child, why I love food so damn much in the first place, and how grateful I am that people like you show up to look at my pictures and read my words.

To begin, and to really get the nostalgia flowing, instead of a biscuit-like base (like the ones I see online that are very beautiful and delicious), I made a yellow sponge cake. There are not one, but two, layers of strawberries, one layer floating just above the cake, dripping with a strawberry glaze that melts into the top, the second sitting on a cloud of fluffy whipped cream. It’s my own personal version of heaven.

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Sponge Cake with Strawberries and Cream
Makes one 9×13-inch cake.

Ingredients:
For cake:
2 cups unbleached cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup whole milk
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
For topping:
2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered (measure after quartering)
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced (to add to sauce)
1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered (to add to whipped topping)
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, very cold
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

For the cake: Grease a 9×13-inch pan and line with parchment paper (you may want to use a binder clip to hold the parchment to the sides of the pans). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

Melt the butter and combine with the whole milk. Stir in the vanilla. Set aside.

In a double boiler, combine the eggs and sugar. Whisking constantly, heat the mixture over medium heat for 5-8 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture should be very light yellow and thin. Remove from heat.

With a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together until about double in size. When ready, the mixture will be very light yellow in color, and will hold its shape for a moment, when you move the beaters through it.

Pour in all the flour mixture and gently fold from bottom to top until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Add in the butter and milk mixture and stir until combined. The batter will be quite thin.

Pour the batter into the pan, bake for about 25-30 minutes, turning the pan 180 degrees at the 15-minute mark.

When it is lightly golden brown on the top, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, it is done. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

For the topping: Hull and quarter strawberries and add them to a food processor with sugar. Blend until liquefied, then strain the mixture into a bowl.

Slice two cups of berries and stir them into the sweetened berry purée.

Beat the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla.

Quarter the two remaining cups of strawberries.

Using a large serrated knife, slice the very top layer off the cake to make it a flat and porous surface. Pour the strawberry purée mixture evenly over the top of the cake. Add whipped cream. Then top with quartered berries and mint (optional).

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This cake is not for everyone. Not even my mom who used to make it for me, who says she doesn’t like “goop” on her cake. But for me, it’s perfect. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’s a little messy. Probably good for a picnic. It checks a lot of boxes.

If you share my passion for food and history, you’re always welcome here! This is not a business for me, but it does feel like more than just a hobby. Thanks so much for reading and I hope you’ll be back soon!