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.
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.
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.
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.