THE ‘NETTE EFFECT: From the backyard to a $20 bowl
KENMORE WAS FULLY into one of his food-bragging modes one day when Sherrylyn mounted an equally solid case for one of the island’s treasured food sources – the breadfruit.
At first I found nothing troubling in food reviewer Kenmore singing the praises of the lowly breadfruit, which apparently had come into its own.
The common “roast” breadfruit, it seems, has been legitimised by an establishment. It has been moved from our beaches and backyards to a respectable place on a menu.
Hefty price apart, Kenmore did not see a problem with the lifting of the starchy fruit first brought to the island to feed slaves, to a new-found status of “roast” breadfruit bowls. He reckoned that other delicacies like sugar cakes, fishcakes and souse created by poor Barbadians centuries ago, were now raking in profits for large businesses.
Therefore, there could be nothing wrong with ordinary Barbadians profiting on a commercial scale from the breadfruit which was once restricted to being a staple for frolicking beach-goers, who roasted it on wood fire and either dipped it in sea water or “plastered” it with Mello Kreem before consuming it.
One of the popular breadfruit bowls.
However, Sherrylyn’s contention was that the breadfruit, transported here many centuries ago by Captain Bligh, was now in danger of being lifted out of the pocket reach of the ordinary Barbadians in this new roasted and meat-filled, mouth-watering state.
Breadfruit seekers said the price of the year-round fruit could range anywhere from $1 to $5 in times of scarcity. However, cook it on an open fire, scoop out its innards, mix that with meat or some other delectable filling and voila, the cost for a half of the starchy staple could reach $20.
I have no real taste for the Barbadian beloved breadfruit, which I ate under duress as a child. But my memory of the breadfruit was one of kindness and community spirit, and for this reason I am forced to take the side of Sherrylyn in the not-so-robust discussion on what the breadfruit transforms into.
First, I have a friend whose diet consisted mainly of breadfruit in all forms – in cou cou, stretched out, pickled, boiled, fried and roasted – during the early 1990s when the country was experiencing an economic crisis.
Her mother was on a reduced work week and as a cheap and very available source of food, breadfruit saved the family from hunger many times. I believe the same would have been the case throughout the ages.
That bears out the belief that since it is plentiful all year round, the breadfruit is the one food that could see the country out of any food shortage.
Apart from being a cheap meal source, the breadfruit has a higher role, symbolising what being a good neighbour was and playing a part in many a kind act that saved some people from going hungry. As a child there were days when breadfruits arrived at the house which someone had sent “down from the country”. They were accepted with a great deal of appreciation.
On other occasions, someone in the district who might have had a breadfruit or two, would sacrifice and give one to a neighbour. In turn, whenever that breadfruit was cooked and laid out, for certain a plate would be sent over to the generous neighbour.
The same thing happened with green bananas, sweet potatoes and other ground provisions. Sure, back then the trees were plentiful and it might have cost next to nothing to give them away, but it was the thoughtfulness of the day.
It is only a matter of time before the established restaurant reinvents the humble breadfruit to be included on the menu, and this may be at the expense of what the breadfruit represents. It may be the poor man’s food but it also embodies the essence of what community life was like before selfishness intervened.
There is still hope for that spinach vine that overruns the yard.