Maiore - part 2, cooking breadfruit

Here are some ideas for those of you interested in cooking with breadfruit:

The simplest and one of the best methods is to cook it over a camp-fire or BBQ, it gives it great flavor - otherwise cooking on the gas burner works well too:
Take one ripe breadfruit, they're usually best kept a day at least after picking, they develop more flavor that way. It should give slightly when you squeeze it, but not be soft to the touch.

When the breadfruit is well charred all over (about 20-30 minutes), then remove the skin with a sharpened stick, wrap it in a cloth or some leaves and beat it lightly with a stick to soften it up, then just eat it in chunks in place of bread or taro.

Tahitians like to eat this with tinned corned beef, that has been cooked over the heat with some tomato sauce (not ketchup) with onion and garlic, then doused in mitihue (a sauce made of the fermented pulp of young coconuts). It's super greasy and salty, but the taste and texture combination is excellent. If tinned corned beef doesn't sound so appetizing to you then bolognese works as a good substitue, particularly if you add a few lardons at the beginning.

Here are a few slightly more exotic ideas:
Breadfruit soup
This is a recipe based on a Caribbean version of vichyssoise, but we don't always have leeks here, so I often just use onion and I like to eat it hot with a pinch of chipotle pepper or paprika to give it a kick.

1/4 breadfruit peeled cored and coarsely chopped up
2 tbsp butter
2 onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic crushed
1l chicken stock
salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
500ml milk or half-cream

Fry onions and garlic in the butter over a low heat, for about 5 minutes until soft and translucent, add the stock and breadfruit, bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 mins, until the breadfruit is soft. Blend soup and add the milk and seasonings, to taste. Serve with a swirl of cream and sprinkle with finely chopped green onions or chives.

Breadfruit fritters (Jeegujje Podi)
Breadfruit makes for great fries, just substituting breadfruit for potato. Here is a slightly more complicated but delicious recipe adapted from a traditional dish from southern India.

¼ firm Breadfruit
1 cup Plain flour
2 tbsp Corn Flour
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp whole Mustard seed
pinch of Fenugreek
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup milk

Peel the bread fruit and remove the core and seeds. Slice the breadfruit into about 5mm thick slices and put them in water untill required. Sift the flour and other dry ingredients together, mix with the milk to make a thick paste. Dip dried breadfruit slices in a little bit of cornflour then turn in the batter and deep fry for 5 minutes, until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel and eat while still warm with a homemade chutney or ketchup!

Breadfruit jam
1 breadfruit
500g brown sugar
1 lime juiced
1/2 vanilla pod

Boil the breadfruit in water for 10 minutes, then drain and put in a pan with all the other ingredients, add 1 cup of water and cook slowly for about 30 mins, it will get very thick and you may need to add a little more water to keep it from sticking at the bottom.
This is a recipe I found surfing the net, I just tried it out yesterday, and frankly the jury is still out on this idea - breadfruit is a bit like pumpkin, it has such a subtle flavour that if you're going to make jam with it you need to load it with spices, or it just tastes sugary. Maybe cardamon and cinnamon would be good. You could try using a very ripe breadfruit, or it might even benefit from being mixed with something else, it makes a super thick gluey paste so maybe it could be mixed with banana or even coconut (milk/grated) to make it a bit more interesting......


Maiore - part 1, the breadfruit

We live in a district of Rurutu called Vitaria, unlike the rest of the island, which depends on taro as its staple, the inhabitants of Vitaria were known as breadfruit-eaters. This is because we have no reliable fresh water-source on this side of this island, so we couldn't have grown our own taro, even if we wanted to.

Our poor breadfruit tree growing in the shade of our coconuts,
but still determinedly giving fruit

Now is the start of the breadfruit season and our tree has a good load of fruit. A breadfruit tree can grow to a height of 20 meters and is one of the highest-yielding food plants, a single tree can produce over 200 fruits per season. The fruits are very rich in starch, they are also a source of vitamin C, potassium, zinc and thiamin. We normally eat our breadfruit cooked in its skin over a fire or directly on the stove burner, but it can also be boiled, baked in the oven, deep-fried or cooked slowly in the Tahitian oven. When cooked the taste is potato-like, or similar to fresh baked bread (hence the name).

The Rurutu name for the tree is maiore, but is better known as 'uru in Tahitian. The plant originates from the Malay Peninsula and western Pacific, where it is pollinated by fruit bats. There are no fruit-bats here in the eastern Pacific and it is thought that the plant was transported throughout the Polynesian triangle on voyaging canoes. The fruit remains a very important food source in the Marquesas and also Tahiti. The Marquesans developed a method for storing the ripe fruit for up to a year, trampling and fermenting the fruit in large holes in ground, providing a reliable food supply, even in times of scarcity.

breadfruit (unripe), showing leaf bud and leaves

The breadfruit tree has many uses other than food. There are well over thirty distinct varieties documented from French Polynesia alone, each favored for different qualities. Breadfruit produces a pale lightweight timber that was widely used across the Pacific for building structures, furniture, outrigger canoes and even surfboards, a sport which first originated in Tahiti. The bark of the breadfruit tree is used to make a fine cream-coloured bark-cloth or tapa. All parts of the plant yield latex, a sticky milky sap. This sap can be applied to the skin as a moisturizer, or to heal cuts, scratches and various skin diseases, it was also mixed with monoi (perfumed coconut oil) to make a kind of Polynesian hair gel. The sap was used as glue and caulking material for canoes. The thick and abrasive leaves are used to wrap food and can also be topically applied to soothe muscle aches. The leaf buds are prepared in diverse ways as a cure for a wide variety of ailments ranging from angina, to bronchitis, asthma and internal haemorrhaging. Burning the fallen, sun-dried male flowers is also an effective nontoxic mosquito repellent.

A contemporary use for breadfruit - leaf-print blocks, I love printing with
these leaves,which have also inspired traditional Hawaiian quilting patterns

Forster, the botanist on Captain Cook’s second voyage to Tahiti in 1776, was the first European to describe the plant in any detail. The high productivity and nutritional value of the plant made it a candidate as a cheap food source for slaves in the West Indies. Lieutenant William Bligh was assigned by the British Admiralty to captain the HMS Bounty on a voyage to Tahiti to collect breadfruit saplings and take them to the British Antilles. The famous voyage never completed its objective, as a result of the now fabled mutiny, though Captain Bligh’s second expedition did successfully deliver over 2,000 young trees to Jamaica in 1793. Breadfruit grows in the Caribbean still, though the species never thrived to the same extent as it does in the Pacific and it never really became a favored food-source.

According to Tahitian legend, the breadfruit originated from the ultimate sacrifice of a chief from Rai’atea, Ruata’ata. The island was seized by famine, Ruata’ata and his wife Rumauari’i had nothing to feed their four children but the bare red soil beneath their feet, in desperation they went off into the forest to search for something to eat, all they could find were some ferns in a cave. Ruata’ata despaired, he could no longer bear to watch his children suffer. He told his wife to go to sleep there in the cave and that tomorrow he could deliver them all from starvation, but that he would have to leave them, to do so. In the morning Ruamauari’i woke in the dappled shade of a great tree that had grown at the entrance of the cave during the night, the tree was laden with heavy breadfruits that the family gratefully ate, saved from starvation. Ruata’ata never returned and his wife understood that he had transformed himself into the lofty breadfruit tree, the leaves and branches represent his arms, the trunk his body and the fruit his head.


What's in a name?

We're thinking about names for baby at the moment, both girl and boy names, as there's still a certain amount of ambiguity about the sex - if the kid doesn't want to show us, what can we do, I say just wait for the surprise! Anyway we need something suitably Rurutu, and then I get to choose something Welsh, I don't know whether we're doing our kids any favors by not giving them a French name, like most other kids here, but I hope they'll understand when they are older. I think Matotea is a very appropriate name, it really suits her and it's also a very 'weighty name' with a few great stories behind it. Matotea literally translated means white - 'tea', cliff - 'mato' which sounds pretty weird in English (might just as well call her Dover), but it's the name of a rock-face in between our village and the neighboring village of Avera. It's a beautiful basalt core that was left here as a legacy of the second phase of volcanism which profoundly shaped Rurutu's topology, uplifting the island, which may already have been an atoll (i.e. flat as a pancake) by around 300m or more. The cliff is the perfect nesting spot for red-tailed tropic birds, and is covered in lichen, which gives it its definite white glow.

The rock is part of several island legends, one re-counts the history of a giant warrior from Tubuai, who swam over to Rurutu to attack the villagers of Avera, the villagers, unable to defeat the mighty warrior, devised a plan to lure him into the mountains, where they had dug a large hole, the giant fell into the hole and was turned to stone, forming Matotea. However, the tale that I like best is the tale of a fisherman who became lost at sea in a terrible storm one night, he was no longer able to find his way home and despaired of ever seeing his family again, but suddenly the light of the full moon broke through the storm clouds, lighting up the face of Matotea, allowing the fisherman to get his bearings, guiding him back to the natural pass in Avera and safely back to his family at home.


Gone fishing

Viriamu has just started renovating our traditional Polynesian oval-house. The plan is to move in there when baby number two arrives in july/august. It's a beautiful space, I love the Pandanus roof and the loose pebble floor. However, the bamboo walls are in a terrible state, they were never treated to be insect-proof and the wood-boring beetles have done a good number on them, over the last four years. So, Viriamu is busy preparing more bamboo to make some new woven wall panels. Here is the first step, cutting and flattening the dried bamboo, which will now be soaked in sea-water for a few days before being woven into panels.

Matotea wanted to join in too - she found herself a bamboo pole and when she discovered that it was forbidden to whack things with a stick or touch the large knife, she picked up her bamboo pole and insisted we go to the beach to catch fish!

I had yet another series of pre-natal blood tests today - and yet another glucose tolerance test. For those of you who've never had the pleasure, it's a test for gestational diabetes. You fast overnight and then your blood sugar is measured before and then an hour after drinking a cupful of partially dissolved glucose - it's pretty icky and I'm not quite sure why we have to do this at all, let alone twice, as I have no history of diabetes and no indications to suggest that I might have developed it since the first test two months ago! It's all rather weird, I never had to take the test when I was living in Moorea, they just checked my blood sugar with a finger-prick after an overnight fast. As I might already have mentioned I'm not at all enjoying the pre-natal checkups here in Rurutu...so I was more than ready to spend a few minutes decompressing on the beach with my daughter, the best therapist a mum could hope for!

'The foolish are like ripples on water, for whatsoever they do is quickly effaced'



Adventures in business management!

Last week I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to take an introductory course in business management, offered by Tahiti's Chamber of Commerce and taught here in Rurutu! It's pretty funny, after over 6 years in grad school I still don't have the faintest idea how to do the accounts or take financial responsibility for our future - or rather I should say that I DIDN'T, now I have some basic know-how and am ready to manage our guesthouse to a bigger brighter future! I'm already hatching plans for our 'artisanat' - the jams are just the first step in a master-plan to develop a whole range of home-made 'Made in Rurutu' products......watch this space!

The course itself was also a fun opportunity to get to meet some of the small business owners on Rurutu, we're a pretty funny mix - plumbers, cake-makers, landscapers, guesthouse owners and members of the local coffee co-operative. The instructor was also an interesting character, an entrepreneur born in the Congo, of Belgian origin who has lived for many years in both South America and Tahiti - at times there was rather more socio-political sermonizing than business management (I suspect that his grandfather was a Catholic missionary in the Belgian Congo). But it was definitely fun to get his perspective on things. During the same week the government was re-shuffled, once more, for the fourth time this calendar year, I believe !!!! This political pantomime is probably the biggest factor hindering economic development here in French Polynesia - it certainly isn't doing any favours to the already crippled tourism industry. At least we know that the Chamber of Commerce is on our side.


Happy Easter!

Easter Monday finds us back to the three of us again. Term starts on tuesday, so Tuati and Iro left on sunday. Once again Matotea has to get used to it being just us again, it's clearly not quite the same - I feel a bit sorry for her, between the three boisterous families that were staying with us over the last week or so and the boy's constant mischief, she's had an exciting time over the last two weeks. But on wednesday she should get her 30 month check-up and hopefully her medical certificate so that she can start school......I think it's time.......


Another year goes by...

It's my birthday today, and I can't help but feeling a tiny bit blue. It's not just that I'm thirtysomething, it just isn't the same celebrating over here. The problem is Viriamu never celebrated birthdays as a child, and frankly he doesn't really understand it. This year he's agreed to celebrate, just for me, but there's something gone, the spontaneity or I don't know what. Anyway now I'm stuck, I feel that I should be entitled to celebrate, but then I feel spoilt and Western for doing so. Viriamu suggested that I could prepare a BBQ for us all, but after the school holiday rush it's the last thing I want, so we'll have a Chinese take-out, which is about as exotic as it gets here. I've also indulged myself by ordering a double-chocolate gateau from our excellent patisserie, so there are no good excuses for feeling sorry for myself!


Close encounter with a coconut!

Yesterday, I was out in the garden collecting fallen coconuts to make some coconut milk, I had just stopped to give one of Viriamu's horses a pat behind the ears, when a coconut came hurtling out of the tree beside me, with a cartoon-style whistle, before glancing off my left shoulder onto the floor. Our coconut trees can't be more than 10m high, but still it was quite a shock and I'll have a bit of a bruise on my shoulder to show for it. I had been warned and of course had heard plenty of tales of people injured by coconuts, but I'd never been quite this close to it before myself! Falling coconuts supposedly kill ten times more people than shark attacks....though there doesn't seem to be much actual data behind this figure. Nevertheless my advice to you, when living in a tropical paradise beware of the falling coconuts! Today it's just rain that's falling, in a steady refreshing drizzle.....


Confitures de la maison

I've mentioned it before, but I'm working on a small venture making and selling my own home-made jams, at the moment it's still at the first stages of cottage industry, but I'm getting a lot of positive feedback from our guests and am looking to ramp up production - last year we collected and cut up over 25kg of mango flesh, half of which is in the freezer for future use. I've developed some new recipes - my soursop jam is quite a hit, a recipe that I modified from a posting on blogspot, I might add! Now it's the start of the guava season, so Viriamu and the boys (Tuati and Iro are back here for the Easter hols) have been knocking themselves out collecting guavas. So, I've got to do some experimentation with recipes. Here's a guava jelly that I tried this week, delicious and what a lovely colour.

Incidentally I also tried making guava fool with the left over pulp, it was pretty good too I might add! Just substitute guava for goosberries in any fool recipe - though I prefer one that has a little custard in there instead of gelatin, for extra creaminess.


The Spices of Life

clockwise from top: turmeric, poppy seed, cumin, garam masala, sesame, green cardamon, chipotle chili, mustard seed, fenugreek and celery seed(middle)

Polynesian cuisine is generally very simple and delicious, but apart from vanilla, it's pretty low on the old spice factor. We just don't grow a great deal of spices here, and while I've been introduced to some new flavours, such as the Tahitian basil, there are definitely some flavours that I've been missing. I go through a lot of recipes on the web, and am particularly jealous of the exuberance of Caribbean cookery, which relies on many of the same fruits and veggies that we have here and then all those lovely spices. Having spent some time living in the Bay Area in California, I was also totally spoiled by the sheer variety of good food from all over the world, here in Rurutu I've been really missing Indian and Mexican food (and have the occasional yearnings for Korean, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese). While we can grow some things like coriander, parsley and basil in the garden, it was just not enough, and even in Tahiti spices are not that easy to come by. So, I took some positive action a few months ago and ordered bulk spices over the internet - at great expense and with a great deal of complicated customs dealing in between, but it was worth every franc of import duty, it's so nice to have things like mustard seed and cinnamon in hand and in quantity! I'm particularly excited to have bought some chipotle chili powder - it smells just delicious. So now I can actually try the recipes for curried taro and Gujarat-style taro leaves that I found when I was researching the taro entry! I haven't tried either yet, but I have made my own samosas and yesterday we had a kicking lamb and aubergine curry with dhal and home-made naan (I don't have the onion seeds or the tandoor, so while the naan were tasty, they were not quite what I had in mind). I've also been going a little crazy surfing for recipes - in particular, I've been enjoying homemade tahini, indulging a pregnant-lady craving for lemon-poppy seed cake, as well as real chai and cardamon infused hot-chocolate (a sophisticated take on the old favourite, for you chocolate-lovers).
My delicious Polynesian chai: infused with ginger, cardamon, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves, complete with powdered milk!