Saturday, January 27, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Breadfruit, Plus Anthology Update

     The other day I received a big shock at my local Shop-Rite supermarket.  They had breadfruit for sale.  I could barely contain my excitement.  I'll explain.  Years ago, way back in 2012 or 2013 or so, this Shop-Rite also had breadfruit.  I noted it, and considered buying it, but ultimately I passed, thinking I would get it another time.  (Maybe I was in a hurry or something, too--I can't recall.)  Which turned out to be a big mistake.  Because there wasn't another time.  For years I looked for it, futilely, both there, and at the other groceries I went to in my travels across much of the Eastern U.S.  Even Wegman's didn't have it!  I repeatedly berated myself for not buying it when I had the chance.  And this experience prompted me to almost always snap up exotics as soon as I see them, whatever the circumstances.  Suffice to say, breadfruit became a much less dramatic, food version of Moby Dick for me.  But, finally, I caught sight of my white whale.....
     Breadfruit is quite delicate.  It requires very high temperatures, and a whole lot of rainfall.  Which it gets on its ancestral homelands, on various tropical Pacific islands.  Currently, it's been successfully introduced to other areas with suitable climates, such as parts of Central and South America, and many islands in the Caribbean.  It's a very valuable tree for humans, as it has several uses.  The wood is often used to make boats.  As a bonus, the wood is also resistant to shipworms and termites.  The breadfruit tree's sticky latex sap is further useful in making watercraft, as it makes for an effective caulk to waterproof seals and joints.  The latex can also function as a sort of "bird paper," to trap these creatures for food, or for their feathers.  And then there's the fruit.  A single tree is capable of producing dozens of individual, grapefruit or pumello-sized fruits, even up to 200 in a single season.  Finally, the discarded parts of the fruit, and the tree's leaves, can be used to feed farm animals.
     As a historical aside, its' almost difficult to discuss breadfruit without mentioning William Bligh, and the infamous Mutiny on The Bounty.  The whole point of the 1787-89 voyage was to transport breadfruit trees from Tahiti to Britain's West Indies possessions, as food for the slaves there.  Probably most people know about this from the several movies made about this incident.  While these films have their artistic and entertainment merits, as history they're lacking.  To whit, it appears that Bligh was unfairly portrayed, and is now remembered as being a villain, obsessed with the breadfruit trees at the expense of his poor crew.  The mutiny is shown as being justified, a rebellion against a tyrannical, cruel leader.  However, historian Caroline Alexander (and others) makes a compelling case for an alternate view in her excellent book, "The Bounty."  Among others things, she points out that Bligh actually punished his crew less than the average ship captain of the time, and was actually obsessed almost to the point of absurdity with keeping his crew healthy.  He did have a temper, and was known for occasional profane outbursts (although these seem laughably PG-rated to this modern reader), it's true.  But it appears that the main reason for the mutiny was not Bligh's cruelty, but the crew's love of the long months spent on the island paradise of Tahiti, which in addition to its other benefits had women with much more liberal ideas of sexual activity.  Long story short, after reading this book, I'm of the mind that Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers were the villains.  Plus Bligh's long voyage back to a European-controlled port in a tiny lifeboat with the barest of navigational equipment is nothing short of amazing.  Also, there's the bitter irony that the attempt (which was eventually successful after a second voyage) to bring breadfruit to the British islands in the Caribbean was a waste of time--the slaves refused to eat them.  Anyway, I'll end this tangent to say that it looks like William Bligh got a bum rap, reputation-wise, and I strongly recommend Caroline Alexander's book to anyone interested in the subject.
     But back to the actual food.  My disdain for cooking is surely well known by now to even occasional readers.  Alas, this time my hand was forced.  Evidently you can eat breadfruit raw, but consumers vastly prefer it cooked.  I checked out several recipes online, and there were three main options noted--roasting, frying, and boiling.  I chose the latter, since it was by far the easiest, plus I was advised that roasting might dry out the fruit too much.  The fruits themselves were roughly spherical, and about 4 inches (about 10 cm.) in diameter.  The outer rind was a greenish-brown, and it was covered in little indentations that reminded me of a golf ball.  The inner flesh was whitish, while the inedible heart was brownish, and rather stringy.  First I soaked the fruits in cold water for several minutes, to remove debris and the whitish sap, which was as sticky as advertised.  Then I cut up each fruit into quarters, cut out the heart, and removed the outer rind.  I placed the quarter pieces of pulp in a large pot of water, and then boiled them for an hour.  Periodically I turned the pieces, and added salt.  When they were finished the pieces had turned into a light brownish color.  I tried some breadfruit plain, and then tried other pieces with ketchup, then taco sauce, then brown mustard, then peanut butter, and then almond and cashew butter (the last two are talked about in last week's post).  My parents were game, too, and had their samples with butter, and peanut butter.  All of us found breadfruit to be pretty good.  As the common name suggests, this is not a typical, sweet and juicy fruit--it's more like a vegetable, much like a potato.  Plain it was rather bland, but with additives it was tasty.  It also had a pleasant odor.  I preferred mine with the mustard or ketchup--the savory flavors seemed to go better with this starchy fruit.  But with the sweeter additives it was still okay.  I'm guessing it's probably also good prepared in other ways, too, but of course that's only slightly informed speculation.  So, I would recommend breadfruit.  It was even relatively cheap for an imported fruit (mine was from Jamaica), being 2 for $4.

     As for the writing update, I'm happy to report that the anthology I've been talking about in the past several weeks, "Hidden Animals:  A Collection of Cryptid Fiction" recently met its monetary goal on Kickstarter.  There is, though, still about a week to go for this campaign, and Dragon's Roost Press recently added a "stretch goal," and a new pledge level.  You can read about it in the "Updates" section at:

     And thanks for the support.  With the goal reached (even exceeded a bit), this bodes well for the book making its estimated May 2018 publishing date.  I'll provide more info about this as I get it.

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