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jeudi 18 août 2016

Te ‘uru: The breadfruit



Apology of a fruit

Originating in Oceania, breadfruit is well before the coconut, the key to the nutritional survival of the South Pacific island populations. But also, more recently, much of the tropical belt.

This feeder tree has been present in Oceania since plural millennia and in this region is found the largest number of varieties. There are several tens of very different species, each adapted to a particular ecosystem.

'Uru, a majestic tree
Thus, for the only French Polynesia, we identified more than fifty varieties under the name of 'uru or maiore.

A colonizing tree
It's, certainly and primarily, due to the fruit of this exceptional plant that Pacific island nations were able to survive and grow in this marine community so rough,  over thousands of years.

'Uru or a vegetal pantry
It was not until the late eighteenth century and the South Pacific return journeys so that the breadfruit tree landed in the Caribbean, becoming the staple food of the slave populations.

In trying to bring it back to the West Indies in 1789, William Bligh's Bounty suffered the mutiny now become legendary.

Then the Europeans introduced in dribs and drabs some varieties (cultivars) in most tropical regions: Madagascar, Africa, Central and South America...

'Uru picking at Mayotte
Today it’s ubiquitous in humid tropical regions, both for its food and aesthetic interest.

Caution, however, so does the breadfruit as coconut: if its cool shade is particularly appealing, it’s best not to dawdle underneath. Indeed, a falling of several kilos can be extremely dangerous for the fragile skulls...

Te 'Uru: the tree of thousand names
No doubt, largely thanks to the fruit of this exceptional plant the island populations of the South Pacific are able to outlast and endure through the centuries in these lands not always so idyllic.

The Astocarpus rima incisus blanco
In Melanesia, the seeded-species are the most common, whereas in Polynesia, the seedless forms predominate. In this case, the tree is propagated by suckers.

Up to thirty meters high, it provides a dense, cool shade. These characteristics added to the interest of its fruits explain that it was adopted unanimously as easily and in as many different places around the planet.

Thus, if the official surname of breadfruit is Artocarpus altilis (Moraceae family), 'Uru or Maiore in French Polynesia means the tree and the fruit.

An 'Uru's life...
If the most Polynesian languages called it 'uru, it answers to the sweet names of fouyapen or fwiyapen in Martinique and Guadeloupe Creole, vouryapin in Comoros, momboya in Lingala,  friyapin in Reunion and Mauritian Creole and lamveritab (real tree) in Haitian Creole. And I just remembered buju in Jamaica marron language and beta in Vanuatu.

Te 'a'ai' o te tumu 'uru or 'uru legend
At that time, Nohoari'i was king of an unknown island in the world.

‘Uru's father was Ruata'ata, a native of Raiatea. His marae was Toapuhi and his wife, Rumauarii was from Ahunoa marae. Four children were born of this union.

At a period, the famine-stricken islanders could eat only that red earth. Seeing their children starve, Ruata'ata and his wife took them to inland, in a small cave where they survived by feeding ferns.

The feeder shaft of Polynesian islands
One evening Ruata'ata told his wife: "Rumauarii! Tomorrow, when Thou art wake up, thou art alone with the children. Then thou hast to get out of the cave and discover a tree. Thou hast to seek my hands, they'll be the leaves of this 'uru. Thou hast to see the trunk and the fork of the tree, it will be my body and my legs. Finally, thou hast to look at the beautiful round fruits, it'll be 'uru, get off my head. The heart of the fruit will be my tongue. Thou hast to take and bake. Thou hast to skin it, and grind flesh, Thou hast to remove the core, and thou hast to nourish our children until they are well filled. "

And therewith, Ruata'ata left the cave shelter, dug a deep hole a few meters away and buried himself, leaving out his head and arms above. His wife, perplexed, remained with children.

At daybreak Rumauarii got up, went out, and saw that the place was shaded by a magnificent tree. All that her husband had said was there. Ripe fruits even rested around under the tree.

She understood the meaning of the words of her husband. With grief, she gently took these fruits, did bake them the wood fire, and when they were cooked just right, carried them to the river and followed the instructions of her husband. So she was saved with her children.

One day the king's servants, went on fishing eel and shrimp along the river, saw the heart and 'uru skin, drifting into the stream. They took and ate the flesh rests that were above. "This is a delicious food! But where did it come from? "

An 'uru just picked 
Then they went up at the bottom of the valley, got to this gorge, and there, the majestic posture of an unknown tree appeared to them.

A woman stood beside. They asked her, "What is this tree?" Rumauarii, for it was her, replied:" It's 'uru." "Where have you been provided?" "It comes from my husband, Ruata'ata. He turned into a fruit tree to stop the tears of our hungry children. "

This was the day when the little valley was named Tua'uru.

'Uru  in cooking
If the raw fruit is inedible, there is a multitude of ways to prepare 'uru.

'Uru, in full cooking for a large Ma'a Tahiti
It can be ground into flour, but more often it's cooked over a wood fire. Even if it's in a Tahitian oven (or ahi ma'a) that it offers the tastiest flavors.

The method most frequently used in Polynesia cooking is the wood fire. Although, nowadays, more and more often, it’s placed directly on the burners of a gas cooker to save time.

'Uru right out of fire
'Uru is ready to be picked and eaten when white sap streaks appear on his green skin. Then let remove its cock and let stand overnight at least, upside down, for draining its sap. Some varieties, however, are to be cooked immediately after harvest.

Do, with a knife, a few notches on each pole of the fruit in order to prevent bursting during cooking. Thereafter, directly deposit your 'uru on the fire and cook for approximately thirty minutes on each side by turning it occasionally. It's baked when a thin layer of gray ash forms on the skin. Before serving, remove its thick skin, now transformed into coal.

Eat!
Once well cooked, the 'uru can be served not further prepared, but washed down with coconut milk for example. We can also cut it into thin strips to make fries, or crush to get a puree.

The pōpoi
It would be impossible to conclude the inexhaustible culinary chapter about 'uru, let alone the pōpoi. It's a paste made from the cooked flesh of the fruit. It was stored sometimes for several years, to face the times of scarcity, which weren't so rare on these heavenly islands.

Pōpoi pantry in the Marquesas
To keep the pōpoi dough, it was coated in banana leaves and buried in cavities dug into the rock which are closed as tightly as possible with a stone slab.

Wrote by the navigator Alain Gerbault: "The pōpoi is a fermented dough of the breadfruit drupe, kept underground, wrapped in leaves. It emits a strong odor similar to that of our most fermented cheeses and few Europeans can't become accustomed to. It's the main food of the natives." Nowadays, the pōpoi is no longer thereby retained. And if it's yet prepared, what happens more rarely, it's consumed in the days after its making, usually for the big meals or tāmā'ara'a.

As a conclusion
About this tree as beautiful as generous, able to live hundreds of years, it was also necessary to mention the quality of its very dense wood with many uses (cooking utensils, dugout, through weapons, and plow tools). But it would devote an entire article!

A plate of pōpoi with coconut milk... Good appetite!
By cons, it's not possible to conclude this article without regret that this fruit, wonderful and accessible to all, without particular agricultural work, was replaced in the Polynesian dishes by overtaxed and very expensive imported products. So much so that it completely disappeared from the market stalls. Only few small vendors hastily still sell it at the roadsides.

Yet it would not be so complicated, for example, to get it on the school canteen menu to make our children the pleasure of Polynesian flavors...


An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak


Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.



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