Portuguese Stone Oven Baking

The Kona Historical Society practices the traditional art of baking Portuguese bread in a large wood-fired forno, located in the pasture below the H.N. Greenwell Store Museum, every Thursday from about 10:00am until 1:00pm you can see staff and people from the community getting together to talk story, roll dough, and bake it. This particular stone oven is a communal oven and can hold over 30 loaves of bread at a time. An oven this large needs at least 4 hours of heating time, requiring a die-hard volunteer to light the fire inside it at 6:00AM. While the oven is heating, the dough is mixed, allowed to rise, rolled into seven balls ( a lucky number for the Portuguese), and placed into pans. The coals from the fire are removed from the oven before the bread is put in, so that it is the stored heat in the stones that bakes the bread. Between 12:30 -1:00pm is when the first batch of beautiful brown bread comes out of the oven. The loaves are sold for $8.00 and are available straight out of the oven around 1:00pm until sold out at our roadside table on a first come, first served basis. The Kona Historical Society offices, H.N. Greenwell Store Museum and the Portuguese Stone Oven are all located at our main site, located on Mamalahoa Highway (Highway 11), about 14 miles south of the town of Kailua-Kona, between mile markers 111 and 112. Look for our sign on the makai (toward the ocean) side of the road. If you would like to bake your own Portuguese sweet bread, try using our secret recipe below (Shhh! Don't tell anyone!) at home in your gas or electric oven (and eliminate the seven hour heating and preparation time!)

Portuguese Sweet Bread
(Pao Doce - recipe makes 4 loaves)
Mix together in a big bowl:
2 cups Warm Water
4 pkg. Dry Yeast
Then stir in:
2 cups Sugar
2 sticks Melted Butter
4 Eggs
Stir in- one cup at a time:
8 cups Bread Flour
Stir in up to 2 more cups of flour as needed to make a soft dough. When the dough is too difficult to stir, turn dough out on a floured table and knead in the rest of the flour for about 3-5 minutes. Add more flour if needed to keep the dough from sticking to the table. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover it until it has doubled in size (about 1 hour). Punch the dough down and form into 4 equal sized loaves. Pinch off 7 equal pieces of dough from each loaf, roll and place in greased 9-inch round aluminum pans. Let the dough rise again until doubled in size (about 1 hour) and brush with egg wash (1 egg mixed with 2 Tbsp. water). Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes.

A Brief History of the Portuguese in Hawai`i

The Portuguese, who made their first arrivals in Hawai`i in 1878, have had an important impact on the development of Kona. Initially, Portuguese from the Azores and Madeira came here to work the sugar cane plantations, seeking a better life. Always industrious, they soon became landowners and with that came ranching. They were a major factor in the development of a flourishing dairy industry, using their skills as stone masons to create miles of stone cattle pens to hold and protect the livestock, and stone ovens for cooking and baking bread. Their social and religious customs added greatly to the rich diversity of the Hawai`i population of the 19th century.

The Portuguese who came to Kona were predominately dairy farmers. They brought with them the skills learned from generations of working with animals to produce milk and butter. Their skills as builders of stone walls were crucial in the process of taming the wild cattle to provide beef, hides and milk for these dairies. Fornos, or Portuguese ovens, were once found throughout the Hawaiian islands wherever the Portuguese congregated. Some fornos were communal and were utilized by entire communities, others belonged to a single family. Each week these wood burning ovens would be fired up to bake the family's supply of bread, the staple starch, and also some extra loaves for bartering or selling. The Portuguese brought with them expertise in growing and harvesting grapes for wine making and creating the familiar Portuguese sausage and flavorful smoked sausages such as linguica and chourico. They are, however, most known for introducing the ukulele and slack key guitar to Hawai`i.

Another defining characteristic of the Portuguese is a strong traditional family structure. From the beginning of the immigration period which lasted until 1913, Portuguese who were recruited by the plantations insisted that their families accompany them. Religion and the church played an important role in the upbringing of the children; at one of the dairies high in the mountains above Kona, Portuguese workers constructed a small chapel, so that the priest could make monthly visits to the family, thereby maintaining their contact with religion.