Monkeypod Jam Cafe and Gift Shop
Aletha Thomas, owner of Monkeypod Jam, is in her shop’s kitchen cutting rounds of cara cara oranges. The deep orange flesh perfumes the air. She puts them in a pot, covers them in water and leaves them to sit overnight. In three days, they will transform into a thick marmalade mixed with fresh ginger. Two hundred pounds of Kauai Sunrise papayas are piled in boxes, waiting to be made into fruit butter with cinnamon and nutmeg, or papaya and vanilla bean jam. Aletha walks to a gas stove and stirs 25 pounds of Meyer lemons in a copper pot. Bubbles slowly burst in the thick syrup and she turns off the heat.
“When it sits off heat for a few minutes a skin develops,” Aletha explains. “That’s one way to tell it’s jelling and an indication that it’s done.”
Aletha’s Lilikoi Curd (passion fruit) is ranked number 45 in Saveur magazine’s top 100 — an annual survey of the world’s “best of the best right now.” Just six years ago, Aletha was a school teacher with extra time due to Furlough Fridays. She’d make jam with local and seasonal fruit and sell it in pint-sized jars with handwritten labels at the farmers markets. Last November, she opened a cafe and store in Lawai. The shop produces about 55 types of jams, curds and marmalades, and works with about 40 local farmers to secure seasonal fruit.
In the front, behind the counter, quart-size jars of Moroccan lemons sit on a wood shelf, gleaming in a sunbeam. A fisherman stops by to pick up ice, which Aletha sells by the pound. Ko Bakery’s co-owner, Shane Morris Wise, delivers fresh-baked scones, brownies and passion fruit pound cake. Employee Kirra Yoshioka hands customers tiny spoons with samples of thick jam, which can be spread on a locally made bagels and eaten it at small wood tables in the shop’s quaint dining area.
A display in the shop exhibits sample-size and full-size jars, which can be gift wrapped. Monkeypod Jam’s preserves change with the seasons and include Tahitian lime curd; tart and ruby-colored roselle jam; white pineapple jam and piccalilli, a delightful green tomato sweet relish.
“We bought all the green tomatoes from Kauai Fresh Farms and made about 1000 jars,” says Aletha. “We only make it twice a year, when they clean out their greenhouse.”
Beverages include house-made lemon-aid and seasonal fruit juice; Wallla Walla coffee and locally made Mana Brew, a probiotic drink similar to kombucha. Chef Jodi Agena makes daily specials such as sandwiches with local eggs, or roast chicken; a daily soup; quiche layered with Aletha’s spiced tomato jam; house-made yogurt; cream cheese and mango jam danishes; puff pastry filled with scrambled eggs, vegetables, bacon and cheese; and frozen treats called whips.
“Whips are frozen local fruit and they change based on seasons. We’ve had white pineapple, mango and banana,” says Aletha “School busses stop here, so if a kid is wearing their school shirt, they get $1 off from 2 to 4 p.m.”
Watch Monkeypod Jam on Facebook for upcoming workshops, which have included pickling, growing succulents, marmalade, haku lei making and preserves. Most workshops are four hours and include spritzers and dinner made by chef Jodi.
During tomorrow’s workshop, Aletha takes you through the jam-making process from start to finish, with a special focus on Kauai mango. Guests will create three confections, including but not limited to, mango jam, pickled mango and mango chutney. Guests will examine key topics such as the role of sugar, the importance of lemon juice and how to add it, the states of cooking, and how to test accurately for doneness. This class begins with pupus, a jam tasting and discussion, then proceeds to cooking and finishes with dinner. Each attendee will create three mango confections and take home two jars.
The $75 workshop is from 4 to 8 p.m. and includes hands on, personal instruction, all supplies, heavy pupus, refreshments, dinner and two jars of class-made confections. Class size is limited to 15 people. Don’t balk at the price, I attended Aletha’s pickling workshop and between all the food you get to eat (pupus and dinner), what you learn and what you get to take home, she definitely over-delivers. Plus, it’s a great time. If you want something fun and unique to do, I highly recommend her workshops.
To register, visit Monkeypod Jam’s website, or call 808-378-4208.
3687 Kaumualii Hwy., (next to the Lawai post office)
Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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All images copyright Daniel Lane/Pono Photo. For more information, visit www.PonoPhoto.com.