Tastes Like Home

Roast breadfruit with butter and salt-meat (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Have it once and you’ll want more

Hi Everyone,
The flesh is soft and creamy yellow with notes of natural sweetness and that of the butter melted into it. Your taste-buds are wild with pleasure with the smokiness of the fire roasting as you bring each piece to your mouth. The saltiness of the salt beef and pig-tail makes you shudder with delight. Each mouthful of roast breadfruit with butter and salt meat makes you involuntarily bang your fists, stamp your feet, close your eyes and groan with pleasure. Since I was in the midst of company, I had to restrain myself but such is the delight of this dish.

Stuffed breadfruit (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
Stuffed breadfruit (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Roast breadfruit would fall into the category of what we call ‘bush cook.’ Bush cook refers to food cooked outdoors in the most primal of ways – with lots of open-flame fire, one pot if any at all, the barest essentials of seasoning, salt, and it’s often a one-pot meal. Jamaicans refer to this kind of cooking as ‘run-a-boat.’ The food for such meals is freshly caught, captured, harvested, shot down or picked. Fish, poultry, yams, eddoes, sweet potatoes, etc, pigeons, plantains, breadfruit and so on would all be main ingredients in a bush cook. Bush-cooking is mostly done by men and it’s often with a gathering of friends or co-workers. It is a fun way to relax, have a meal and ole talk.

There’s no special time to have a bush-cook; part of the excitement is the spontaneity of it all, of making a delicious meal out of very little, some would say, one of the tests of a true cook. Fellas would gather after a hard day’s work in the field or on a construction site, others would plan to meet later in the evening down by the river to lime (hang out) and cook a meal; long ago the younger ones at school would indulge in this sort of activity during the August holidays when there’s more time to explore and no school work to be done. Bush-cooking it seems has always been a feature of rural life, and each Caribbean country can boast (though they don’t) of their bush-cooking.

Here in Barbados, roast breadfruit and roast fish is what people often refer to when they talk about good ‘ole time’ outdoor cooking. In a previous column, I mentioned my introduction to roast breadfruit by Mr Cook, the security guard at the media company I worked for at the time. Well, since that time, I have been wanting someone to show me how it’s done. I asked many people but most of them said they had no idea how it’s done until last week, when I overheard the men working on the building next door extolling the delights of roast breadfruit. So, I enthusiastically approached one of them, Hamilton, and asked if he would be interested in roasting some breadfruit if I got all the ingredients together. Hamilton’s eyes lit up and he smiled. We set a date for Friday, August 1. I was instructed to get the salted Robert’s butter, and to be sure and purchase yellow-meat breadfruit. With some breadfruit, the flesh is white and it looks like Idaho potato when cooked. There are other breadfruit where the flesh is cream-coloured and turns yellow when cooked, much like Yukon-gold potatoes. I also bought salt beef and salted pig-tail which I de-salted and cooked.

Roast breadfruit with butter and salt-meat (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
Roast breadfruit with butter and salt-meat (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Friday morning arrived bright and sunny, but then things soon changed; it became overcast and rainy. Nevertheless the fire was lit in the yard, wood and paper providing the fuel. Hamilton made quick work of cutting off the tops of the breadfruit (there were 3) and removing the core from which the stem sprung and thereby creating a cavity which would be filled with butter and salt-meat.

First the butter is liberally spread around the walls of the cavity, followed by the salt meat or any filling you like; Hamilton put canned tuna in one of the breadfruit. If you don’t have anything except the butter, then that is fine too. After all, it is the roasted breadfruit itself that’s important. The cut tops are then replaced like lids and are held in place by toothpicks. The filled and capped breadfruit is then put amidst the fire and more wood is added around and on top of it creating a very hot fire-licking oven. Depending on the size of the breadfruit, it can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to cook.
Once cooked, Hamilton removed the breadfruit from the fire and gently struck it against the ground. Immediately it cracked open, the butter having melted adding a richer colour and flavour to the breadfruit, the salt-meat even more tender. Eating at this point in time need not be a fancy affair. Generally, you break off a piece of the cracked open breadfruit and with a spoon (make-shift or otherwise) you scoop out the flesh and filling and eat. It’s so good!

I think you have some idea of how much I enjoyed this dish. However, since I would not be able to make a bush-fire without the help of Hamilton, I want to experiment by roasting the breadfruit, filling and all, in my oven. Sure, I know that I would not get that smoky flavour, but I bet that it’s going to be good. I tell you, once you have roast breadfruit, you’ll want it again and again.


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