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The Breadfruit, Bligh’s Gift to Jamaica and the Mutiny it Caused

Looking up at a breadfruit tree laden with fruit, I heard an older gentleman remark to no one in particular, that it’d be a rough year. Breadfruit, he continued, as if revealing some truism that was lost to this younger generation, is always plentiful during hard times.

His words echoed in my head each time I noticed tree after tree that was covered in the slightly oval fruit that grows to the size of a large grapefruit. And as the value of the Jamaican currency fell to unprecedented levels against the US dollar this month, I began to wonder whether this abundance of breadfruit might really be a harbinger of hard times.

Maybe now, I thought, that prices on basic food items begin to creep upwards and salaries that have stayed flat buy less and less at the supermarket, its time to turn to this nutritious, and often overlooked food.

Lone breadfruit on a tree

Breadfruit

How the Breadfruit Came to Jamaica

The breadfruit was brought to Jamaica in 1793 by Captain William Bligh of the unfortunate HMS Bounty, precisely because it was considered an inexpensive and nutritious way to feed the large number of slaves who worked the island’s then numerous sugar plantations.

Bligh, an experienced navigator, who had lived near Lucea, Hanover from 1784-7, had sailed ships of sugar and rum from the island to England while he was in his uncle-in-law’s employ.

His ill-fated expedition to the South Pacific to bring back breadfruit and other plants ended in the now infamous mutiny in which Bligh not only lost his ship, he also lost the specimens he had collected.

He and 18 of his trusted crew were given a small boat which Bligh piloted 3,618 miles to Timor aided only by a quadrant and pocket watch, and his memory of charts he had seen. On his return to England, he was promoted to captain and in 1791, returned to Tahiti on the Providence for more fruit.

It was from this shipment that Bligh delivered specimens to the island of St. Vincent and Jamaica’s Bath Botanical Gardens in St. Thomas, and Bluefields in Westmoreland.

How the breadfruit caused the Mutiny on the Bounty

Breadfruit storyboard, Hanover Museum, Jamaica

Today, hundreds of varieties of breadfruit can be found in nearly 90 countries from the Pacific Islands, to Southeast Asia to the Caribbean and Central America. Left untouched, a tree can grow to about 85 feet, and yield between 150-200 fruits each year. One hundred grams of fruit has 27 grams of carbohydrates, 70 grams of water, as well as vitamins, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals.

Fried roasted breadfruit, ackee, saltfish, Johnny Cakes, avocado

Traditional breakfast, a slice of fried roasted breadfruit on the right. Max Jamaica Restaurant, NJ

While the easily grown trees, with its distinctive large, cut leaves, flourished in Jamaica, it took more than 40 years for the breadfruit — the taste is sometimes described as a cross between a potato and a plantain — to become popular to the local palate. Now, every household has at least one tree in its backyard and breadfruit or breshay is a staple of our diet, eaten at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even as a snack.

It is baked, fried, boiled, jerked, roasted and juiced. We also make chips, porridge, dumplings, salads, fritters, cakes, muffins and puddings from this almost year-round fruit all the while being mostly oblivious to the story behind their introduction to the island.

Given a choice, I take breadfruit over rice every time. A few slices of the young breadfruit give soups ‘body.’ The ‘fit’ breadfruit, when boiled is soft enough to be mashed like potato and eaten with butter. The ripe or slightly ripe better yet a yellow heart breadfruit is mandatory for roasting.

For the unlucky few who don’t have a tree in their backyards, breadfruit can usually be found in local markets. Roasting breadfruit is typically higher in price. Depending on location, they are between $0.50 and $1.00, and between $0.30 and $0.70 for boiling.

One of my favorite breadfruit recipes is baked breadfruit stuffed with ackee and saltfish.

Baked Breadfruit Stuffed with Ackee and Saltfish

Prepare ackee and saltfish, as shown below, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the stem from a medium breadfruit, rub with butter or brush with olive oil, and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake breadfruit for 35-45 minutes or until tender. Test whether a knife or skewer inserted into the breadfruit comes out clean.
Remove the breadfruit’s core (heart), stuff with salt fish and ackee. Rub more butter or olive oil on the outside and return to the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes. Let cool then cut breadfruit in half. Garnish and serve.

Ackee and Saltfish

1/2 lb Saltfish (dried, salted codfish)
12 fresh ackees or 1 (drained) can of tinned ackees
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 Scotch Bonnet pepper
1 sweet pepper, for garnish (optional)
1 chopped tomato
1 sprig fresh thyme
Oil for frying

Soak saltfish overnight or boil to remove the salt. Drain. If boiled, let it cool before removing and discarding the skin and bones. Flake the fish. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Saute onions until transparent then add chopped tomato, pepper and thyme. Add saltfish and mix with onions, tomato, pepper. Fold in ackees and stir gently so the ackees stay whole. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, garnish with sweet pepper or use as stuffing for baked breadfruit.

 

This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos and stories from locations around the world.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Thank for the recipe… I will try it
    Muza-chan recently posted..Japanese castle types, YamajiroMy Profile

  2. It’s nice to read about how the breadfruit came to Jamaica. I’ve had breadfruit, as a curry, boiled breadfruit with grated coconut and deep fried with sugar syrup. Of course I like the sweet dish the best. By the way nice design Marcia.
    Salika Jay recently posted..Washington DC: Make The Most of Your VisitMy Profile

  3. What an interesting history of the breadfruit’s origins in Jamaica. I remember all the breadfruit in Guam growing up (and sometimes mistook them for jackfruit). Unfortunately, I never acquired the taste for it. Maybe it just wasn’t cooked the right way. Making it into chips sounds delicious though. Cakes and muffins sound interesting too.
    Mary recently posted..Strolling through the Original Farmers Market Los AngelesMy Profile

  4. DonnaP
    Twitter:
    says:

    Mouthwatering! As a native of Jamaica, I’m glad that although the breadfruit made the jump to the Caribbean, some of the South Seas ways of preparation — fermentation, pounding — didn’t. You got it right: nothing beats that slice of nicely roasted or delicately fried breadfruit on your plate, or that tender chunk in your soup.

  5. I’ve seen breadfruit before but never eaten one – and would be very happy if your prepared that recipe for me. Very interesting history – and to see how many countries the breadfruit is found in is something else. Sounds like difficult times ahead with rising costs! But at least you can d a lot of different things with a breadfruit – I had no idea.
    Leigh recently posted..Visiting Nova Scotia? Don’t Miss Peggy’s CoveMy Profile

  6. Interesting! It’s now something I will really look for the next time I’m in the caribbean.
    eileen at FamiliesGo! recently posted..The 8 Best Activities for Parents and Kids in BaltimoreMy Profile

  7. I have never seen or tried breadfruit. I can’t imagine the taste.
    denise recently posted..So this is what Kyushu looks likeMy Profile

  8. We do have them in N.Q. but as far as I know they are not eaten. We always thought they had to be specially prepared or they were harmful 🙂
    budget jan recently posted..Essaouira: A working fishing port.My Profile

  9. A most interesting post! Breadfruit has always fascinated me ever since I was introduced to it in Hawaii. Your photo of the typical Jamaican breakfast makes my mouth water and it also caused me to do a double-take when I noticed the place mat appears to feature American presidents?!
    Jackie Smith recently posted..Heaven ‘Scent’: Our Greek Orange OdysseyMy Profile

  10. Great topic and recipe for this week. I grew up eating ripened breadfruit. I can still taste the slight sweetness and texture… 🙂
    Eliz
    ElizOF recently posted..The Gift: World Book Night 2013My Profile

  11. Thanks for sharing this recipe! The smell of roasting breadfruit takes some getting used to. I definitely love it in soups though!
    Dana Carmel recently posted..Samba: The New Love in My LifeMy Profile

  12. I love the smell of roasting breadfruit but it might be because that’s my favorite way of cooking it. You can also steam roast it or put it in the oven. Same effect.

  13. Thanks, Elizabeth. It’s definitely got a taste that is unparalleled.

  14. Hahaha, I should have explained that that breakfast was from a Jamaican restaurant in New Jersey.
    I’m curious, Jackie, did you like the breadfruit that you got in Hawaii?

  15. Oh, that’s interesting, Jan that you thought they were harmful. As far as I know, they’re not but I’m wondering if you have a different variety. I’d be curious to know how they’d be prepared to minimize the harm.

  16. It would be difficult to imagine as there’s nothing else that tastes exactly like it.
    The closest I think we can come is saying it’s a cross between a potato and a plantain and it’s hard even for me to imagine that and I’ve eaten all three.

  17. If you come during breadfruit season, Eileen, I’m sure you’ll be able to get some.
    I’d love to hear what you think.

  18. It’s very versatile, Leigh, and since it’s nutritious, it could be a great substitute for rice. I’d be very happy to prepare that for you!

  19. I can’t imagine it being fermented either, Donna, but have heard of people here who’re juicing it. Could fermenting be not far behind?

  20. It’s definitely an acquired taste, Mary, but if you like chips of any kind, you’d probably like it as chips or even fry-roasted.
    Yes, the breadfruit has a unique history. The Brits went through a lot of trouble to get it to this part of the world.

  21. Oh, that sounds delicious, Salika. I’d love to try the curry and the boiled breadfruit with coconut. Sounds yummy.
    Thanks, Salika, glad you like it. Still tweaking it a bit.

  22. You’re welcome, Muza-chan. Would love to hear what you think.

  23. Hi Marcia,
    Another interesting history about fruit. I just came from Dominica and learned about breadfruits for the first time. They were growing wild everywhere. It was amazing. When I first tried it I thought it was boiled potato but it tasted different and I learned it was actually a breadfruit. I actually liked its taste and texture. It’s interesting to know that it can be prepared many kind of ways.
    Marisol recently posted..Jordan: Revived and Floating on the Dead SeaMy Profile

  24. Thanks, Marisol. I’m glad you tried it and that you even like it. It’s definitely one of those fruits that people either hate or like the first time they try it. And yes, it’s super easy to grow so they’re all over the place here as well. I was at my grandmother’s old home recently and there was one growing right near the house. We had to remove it before it got bigger.

  25. I don’t know that I’ve ever tried breadfruit. Whenever I see pictures of it, I always mistake it for jackfruit. From your description, jackfruit and breadfruit taste nothing like each other. I really like that top photo with the man.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Wants Versus NeedsMy Profile

  26. I can see how you’d mistake it for jackfruit but it tastes vastly different.
    Glad you like the photo. He’s a relative who’d brought us breadfruit and bananas as we were leaving. I was so touched by his gesture that I took the photo so I’d remember him.

  27. Very interesting, Marcia. I’ve heard of breadfruit, but knew nothing about it until reading this post. I’d certainly like to try it.
    Andrew Graeme Gould recently posted..Nature close-ups: green, orange and redMy Profile

  28. What an interesting take on the gentlemen’s comment.

    I host a weekly link party called “Oh, the PLACES I’ve been!” The link goes up at 7pm EST on Thursday. I hope to see you then!

    – The Tablescaper

  29. The lowly breadfruit definitely has an interesting history. I’m not sure there are many other fruits that do.
    Hope you get to try it one of these days.

  30. Thank you! It made me really take notice.
    Thanks for the invitation, I’ll definitely join your link party.

  31. Can’t say that I’ve seen them here.

    Interesting history. Jamaica really is a melting pot of many and differing influences.
    Hakea recently posted..weird dinnersMy Profile

  32. So that’s why, when I toured the Limahuli Botanical Gardens in Hawaii, the sight of a breadfruit tree spoke to me so deeply. I’d just heard about the Haiti earthquake and knew that Jacmel suffered a fierce blow.
    John Nielsen recently posted..No last blog posts to return.My Profile

  33. Yes, we’re truly are a little melting pot. I wish I had learned some of this stuff in school — but it’s fun ‘discovering’ it now.

  34. In 1787, Bligh took command of the Bounty. In order to win a premium offered by the Royal Society , he first sailed to Tahiti to obtain breadfruit trees, then set course for the Caribbean , where breadfruit was wanted for experiments to see whether it would be a successful food crop for slaves there. The Bounty never reached the Caribbean, as mutiny broke out on board shortly after the ship left Tahiti.
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  35. Although one could seal the oil or grease and throw the product away, Blue Ridge views this as one more item being thrown into overcrowded landfills. The recycled cooking oil is collected by vacuum trucks and processed .vegetable oil collection
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