Hawaii’s Farm-to-Stick Popsicles
A pan of mochi bakes in the oven and the smell of butter fills the OnoPops kitchen. Candace Boxer, wearing a blue hairnet and white lab coat, mixes local beets with lavender and strawberries. She dips a refractometer into the blend and holds it to the light. The mixture measures a mere five degrees Brix.
“We find that people are more interested in the taste of the fruit than they are the sugar,” says Greg Askew, Candace’s life and business partner. “We use Brix, which is a scientific measurement of sugar content, to know how sweet the fruit is.”
“When you buy a low-sugar product at the store, it starts at about 40 Brix,” Candace adds, while pouring the mixture into molds. “We never go higher than 20.”
The delightful results are palatable popsicles that don’t make your teeth hurt. And depending on the bar, calorie counts range from 80 to 250.
As a child, Candace was looked after by her grandmother, who was “the best cook in a family of great cooks.” In high school, she made tuna fish sandwiches and green pea soup for friends during lunch break. In 1980, she moved to Manhattan to become a chef.
“I was female, 5’2, and laughed out of every restaurant,” she recalls. “I offered to work for free and they would say, ‘Go home little girl!’ or, ‘You’re too cute to work in the back, why don’t you work up front as a hostess?’”
Eventually, a friend who owned a limousine service suggested that she become a private chef. He would deliver Candace, along with his clients, to the grocery store.
“We’d go shopping and I’d go back to an amazing apartment and make things like meatloaf, stuffed pork chops and lasagna,” she says. “I learned that nobody wants to eat a fancy meal at home.”
Candace returned to Florida, her home state, to work as a chef on a yacht. But it was when she moved to Atlanta, GA, that she hit the highlight of her career.
“My friend and I cooked for Amy Carter’s baby shower,” she explains. “They wanted things like peanut butter fluff, sandwiches and pimento cheese. President Carter strolled up, looks over the spread and says ‘It’s so beautiful, thank you ladies so much.’ He was shaking our hands and the Secret Service were everywhere. I’ll never forget when he saw the pimento cheese sandwiches. His eyes light up, he grabs one in each hand, takes a bite and says, ‘I love me a pimento cheese sandwich!’”
In 2013, Greg and Candace expanded the OnoPops brand to Kauai, which started on Oahu in 2009 by brothers Josh and Joe Welsh. Today, the couple uses more than 75 seasonal recipes to make 400 popsicles a day, with ingredients from more than 25 Hawaii farms.
While Greg cultivates relationships with local growers, acquires seasonal fruit and does marketing, Candace creates popsicles with names such as Pickled Green Mango; Kona Latte; Mauna Kea Green Tea and Watermelon Gazpacho. Wailua Estate 70 percent dark chocolate is used in Mexican Chocolate popsicles. Local eggs, as well as BPH-free and hormone-free milk from Hawaii Island, are used in Apple Banana Banana Cream Pie. Cream cheese from Naked Cow Dairy on Oahu is folded into Lilikoi Cheesecake pops.
Macadamia Nut Brittle popsicles include brittle, made with Maui sugar; marzipan, made with Big Island macadamia nuts; and hand-spun vanilla ice cream made with Madagascar vanilla beans grown on Kauai’s North Shore. For Crack Seed Lemon Peel popsicles, Candace rolls lemons in a house-made li hing mui powder, which does not contain artificial color or sweeter. The lemons are dehydrated then rehydrated in li hing mui simple syrup, and added to her lemonade popsicle recipe.
Each hand-wrapped pop has a story and character. Pineapple Li Hing Mui features Paps Mui, who is “an aging plantation rapscallion.” My favorite pop, Butter Mochi, tells the story of Butters Mochiko, who hates P.E. and loves math. The pop is made with Naked Cow butter, Hawaiian sea salt, Island Milk and vanilla simple syrup.
“One of our regular customers comes to the Kauai Community Market,” says Greg. “She gets the Butter Mochi and dips it into her morning coffee!”
OnoPops cost between $3 and $6 and are available at 21 retail outlets across Kauai. You can meet Greg and Candace at the following events:
- Aug. 6: Red Clay Jazz Festival, Courtyard Kauai at Coconut Beach
- Aug. 6: Kapaa First Saturday
- Aug. 7: Heiva i Kauai ia Orana Tahiti
- Every Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. during Hanapepe Art Night
- Every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. during the Kauai Community Market at Kauai Community College