Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Breadfruit Tree

In August of 2006, we bought a breadfruit tree at the plant nursery near Dangriga for $35 BZ (=$17.50 US).  Because it is sensitive to salt spray and it doesn't like wet feet, we planted it toward the northwest corner of our property at a relatively high spot as far away from the sea as possible.  We weren't sure if it would grow in even the best conditions we could provide for it, but wanted to chance it because not only are breadfruit great to eat, the trees are magnificent when they get a little age on them.
The little breadfruit tree with its 6 brave leaves on planting day.
We were told to expect it to bear fruit in about 7 years, which is why we were anxious to plant it as soon as possible before we moved here.  Each time we went down to Belize, I would take a photo of Joy standing next to the breadfruit tree to provide a sense of scale.  Photos in the collage below were taken in Jan 2008, Sept 2008 (top row), Mar 2009, Sept 2009 (middle row), and Apr 2010, Oct 2010 (bottom row).  The tree grew amazingly fast!

Is it my imagination or is Joy shrinking over time?
Breadfruit originated in New Guinea and was spread by humans, primarily Polynesians about 3500 years ago, as they migrated into new areas.  In slightly more recent history (late 18th century), breadfruit was sought by British colonial administrators and plantation owners in the West Indies as a cheap food source for slaves.  Remember Captain Bligh and The Mutiny on the Bounty?  He was tasked with securing breadfruit plantlets to bring to the West Indies on that infamous expedition.  No success that time, but on his do-over he did manage to bring live plants to the West Indies.  Ironically, all was for nought because at first the slaves refused to eat breadfruit.  Today, however, breadfruit has risen above that blight on its history and is a valued food source in the West Indies and Central America.
I took this photo in Feb 2013 looking up along the trunk.  The symmetry is quite appealing to me.
Now the tree is a little over 7 years old and is bearing its second crop of breadfruit.  The tree stands about 35 feet tall and will eventually get twice the size.  It is a little sparser than many breadfruit trees I have seen in the interior of Belize; that is probably because conditions are not optimal for it here.  The first "crop" was only 1 or 2 breadfruits and this crop is about 12.  Older, more filled out trees could have 100 or more fruits at a time.    
Tiger, in the gold-colored shirt, is deciding how to reach the breadfruit dangling near the end of the branch.  The long branches are pliable enough to bend toward him while he stays near the trunk.
Most of these fruits came in pairs.  When they go from bright green to a little yellowish, they are mature.
The breadfruits are quite large and heavy.
We'll roast this one as the initial step for many dishes.  There are other recipes that start with raw breadfruit; I'll talk about them in another post.

Cut the excess stem off first thing.  Look at all that latex pouring out!  Very sticky.
Next stab it in about 15 places to prevent it from exploding in the oven.  A great task when you are feeling particularly aggressive.
After roasting at 350 F for 1.5 hrs, it is a beautiful bronze color.
It is easier to peel if you cut it in half first.  After peeling it, remove the core.  The dark streaks are from the knife stabs.
One breadfruit goes a long way.  From this one, Dennis used half to make more than 2 quarts of chowder (similar to potato soup), I did a trial of making flour using less than a quarter, and a trial of baked chips from the remainder.  The chowder is wonderful, one of our favorite soups to keep on hand in the freezer.  The baked chips were pretty good, but need some finessing.  The key will be to use a mandolin or food processor to get them sliced consistently thin.  I will use the flour with some regular flour then next time I bake bread.  I'll keep you posted.
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