BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)
Capt. William Bligh achieved fame for all the wrong reasons. Despite a distinguished and wide-ranging seafaring career he is widely remembered for just two things: (1) The Bounty and (2) Mutiny On. In 1787, he was dispatched to Tahiti to collect specimens of BREADFRUIT (a fruit of the Pacific islands, in particular Polynesia) to help provide food for the British colonies in the West Indies. To be clear, the breadfruit was intended to be a basic and cheap staple food not just for settlers but also for the indigenous population. I think we can all guess the status of the latter at that time.
‘BLIGH’S BLIGHT’ – MUTINY!
Capt. Bligh’s Bounty crew unfortunately mutinied – possibly to do with the amount of water the breadfruit required in transit, compared to their own meagre rations. So they threw overboard the hundreds of breadfruit plants that were in transit. Then they set Bligh with his loyal officers and crew adrift… He was later court-martialled but cleared of culpability for provoking a mutiny by his conduct (from a strictly legal viewpoint and on the bare facts, not a surprising ruling you might think).
This isn’t the place for a disquisition on the Mutiny. You can read all about it HERE. Or better still, watch one of the rollicking all-star-cast films based loosely on the episode for a careful and accurate historical record of the events that will buckle your swash…
Following that skirmish, and indeed blemish, on his record, in 1793 Capt. Bligh was yet again charged with the task of shipping breadfruit trees from their origin to the Caribbean. His heart must have sunk at the prospect, yet finally he succeeded. However, he completed his journey only for those on the consumption end to express considerable distaste for such a bland, starchy fruit. It took a long time to catch on, and even longer for its culinary versatility to become appreciated.
The most famous breadfruit tree in all Abaco is to be found in Hope Town, on Elbow Cay. I can do no better than display the notice that proudly proclaims the historic significance of the tree and its eponymous fruit.
Unusually for a fruit plant, a true breadfruit Artocarpus altilis does not produce seeds. It is propagated by removing the suckers that grow at at the base of the tree.
BREADFRUIT IN ART
Breadfruit has (somewhat surprisingly?) received some artistic recognition over the years. Here are a few examples. The first, very jolly, includes early representations of the Polydamus Swallowtail butterfly; the second is quite dull; the third is instructional (oddly equating breadfruit with tea, coffee and chocolate); and the fourth is not at all appetising to look at… nor, in the days of adhesive stamps, to lick.
SO WHERE DOES BREADFRUIT GROW NOW?
Breadfruit will flourish only within a certain latitude range where the rainfall and temperature suit it, as this map shows. I include this information in case you ever find yourself in the awkward position of being socially stranded with someone whose conversation has become soporific. Be armed with some useful worldwide breadfruit stats for just such an occasion – the fact that Madagascar is a suitable yet not a very good location, for example (not enough rainfall). You will soon find yourself alone…
A CULINARY TREAT
Breadfruit is sometimes thought to be a dull and un-tasty, at least compared with many other fruits. I thought I’d include a recipe or two that rather appealed to me – the second because even I could do that… it’s within my shamefully limited culinary skill-set.
Large, ripe breadfruit 1 cup water Butter 1 lime or lemon
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Put the water in a shallow pan and place the whole breadfruit in the water. Bake in oven for three hours. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, peel, removing the large core and stem. Cut the fruit into sections and place in a serving dish. Cover with butter and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.
Capt. Bligh managed to put his breadfruit adventures and the mutiny behind him. He continued a distinguished naval career with successive command of an impressive number of ships. He ended up as a Vice-Admiral, and (on his death in 1817) in a grave in Lambeth, London.
This post was originally published a while back, inspired by an article on breadfruit and the Hope Town tree by local historian Deb ‘DP’ Patterson, known to many for her committed involvement with the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town. I’m grateful to her for permission to use her idea and indeed some of her material, in particular her photos of the tree and its notice.
Credits: First and foremost, Deb Patterson; Magpie Pickings including Hans Hillewaert, US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Royal Botanic Garden Kew, myrecipefriends, M Kwek, whatsonbahamas, Wyannie Malone Historical Museum, ‘Geograph’, Dan Kasberger, and Wiki; and anyone else I have omitted…