Web Exclusive: Missionary Memories

Hawaii’s food and culture are so intertwined as to be inseparable. You can’t eat a dish without encountering an ethnicity, an era, a family or a good story. In his new book, Kau Kau: Cuisine & Culture in the Hawaiian Islands, local author Arnold Hiura dives into our state’s delicious and fascinating cuisines. The book is published by our sister company, Watermark Publishing. Each week in November, we’ll be presenting an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming book (you can order it here at http://www.bookshawaii.net/kau-kau.html).

In this week’s installment, we celebrate Thanksgiving with an authentic recipe from Hawaii’s missionary era.


Loaf of Missionary Cake. Yum!
Photo: Adriana Torres Chong

Missionary Memories

Missionary recipes are rare and, if available, much more simply written than those of today. Meat, fish, poultry and vegetables were simply prepared—usually they were boiled or roasted with only a few other ingredients—and the directions hardly needed to be written down. According to Barbara Moir of the Lyman Museum, recipes preserved from that time tend to be for baked goods, which utilized more ingredients that needed to be added with some precision in order for the dish to succeed. Even these, however, typically assume that the person using them already knew how to cook and were written without a lot of detail, such as how long a dish should be baked or how hot the oven should be. This is also the case because one could not control heat with any great precision in wood- or coal-burning ovens.

Pumpkins were grown in Hawaii in the 1800s and were treasured for making pies by the women eager to recreate familiar tastes from their childhood. Dried apples and other fruits were sent to missionary wives from their families in New England, or were bartered from visiting ships, and these were also made into pies. Spices, too, were traded for or sent by families far away and were very highly prized commodities. Spice cake was very typical of that era among New Englanders and missionary wives; Moir notes that Ginger Cake seems to have been a favorite of the Lyman family, whose descendants still live in Hawaii today.

1800s Ginger Cake  

1/2 c.  butter
1/2 c.  sugar
2  eggs, separated, whites beaten stiff
1 c.  molasses
2-1/2 c.  flour
1 tsp.  salt
1 tsp.  cinnamon
1 tsp.  ground cloves
1 tsp.  ground ginger
2 tsp.  baking soda
1 c.  boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar.

Add egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well. Stir in molasses.

In a separate bowl, sift flour, salt and spices together.

Dissolve soda in boiling water in another small bowl; add this to creamed mixture alternately with flour mixture, stirring well after each addition.

Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.

Pour into a loaf pan and bake 45 minutes.