One of our favorite places in the world is the island of Kauai, and it is on its southern tip that we like to stay, in Poipu, where the sun comes out often and bathes the beaches and ocean in its golden warmth. We love to go to the farmers markets all over the island as often as we can, to buy good produce that has not travelled by boat to get there; and to meet the farmers and backyard gardeners who sell at the markets. Among the rare fruits you can find are the mountain apples (ohi’a), egg fruit, durian, jackfruit, breadfruit, the delicious rambutans (lychee) and their cousins, dragon eyes (longan). There are more still, too many to name, and at the end of the list lies the crown of them all: the lilikoi, or passionfruit. The fruit is round and slightly larger than a chicken egg, its skin is smooth and deep yellow and tough; it is as hard to cut into as plastic. Once you cut it open, inside is a small gooey center filled with small seeds. Taste this juiciness and your tongue is lashed with the sharpness of something like lemon and your nose with the tropical fruity smell that you may think for a split second is like lemon, but almost instantly you realize no, it is not the taste of lemon; it is far more fragrant and tropical and exotic. It is the taste of lilikoi.
So, being at the farmers market, and being entranced by the rich tropical fragrance of the lilikoi, we bought a basket of them. Once we got home, we admired them and demonstrated their dreamlike taste to all the friends and family who would listen and taste. But after the days had gone by, we asked ourselves, how are we going to get this home to Portland, and how are we going to share this fabulous fruit with our Portland friends? Hawaii will not allow us to bring fresh fruit out of the state. The idea struck us; we shall put the juice in vodka and make it into liqueur. That way it will not be fresh fruit any more, and we will get a lot of mileage out of just a few small fruits. It was a simple idea and luck was with us. It worked! We love this liqueur!
This Is How We Did It:
• 1 quart vodka
• 8-12 ripe lilikoi fruits
• sugar to taste
Choose lilikoi that are wrinkled. If you choose pretty, smooth lilikoi fruits, they are young and are not sweet or rich enough to generate the rich flavor and scent you are looking for. If you must buy smooth lilikoi, allow them to ripen on the counter until their skin becomes wrinkly. Cut the lililoi in half with a sharp knife. It may help to pierce the fruit’s skin with the point of the knife before slicing in half. Pull the pulp, juice and seeds out with a spoon and pour the juice, seeds and all, into the vodka. Allow it to steep for at least a month to generate the full richness the fruits are capable of. Strain the liquid though a screen or a cheesecloth to remove pulp and seeds, then pour the strained liquid into a large container. Add sugar a small amount at a time, stir until dissolved, taste; then continue to add sugar and stir until the desired sweetness is achieved.
Purchase cork-top bottles, or look at a second hand store for them. I found mine by looking at the back of my canning shelves and by stopping at garage sales. I made several shapes of labels to be sure there would be one to fit every bottle, and I was surprised that the 1 – 1/2 inch circle shape fit all but one. Then I went to the Ace Hardware store down the street where they have several drawers of different-sized corks. I picked out sizes that would fit my bottles; then added the labels, tags and ribbon. They are absolutely rich with the golden color of lilikoi; as much a treat to look at as to taste.