Thinking about ‘ulu

breadfruitI was picking a couple of ‘ulu [breadfruit] the other day from my neighbor’s tree that hangs over into our yard . . . and it got me thinking about the bright green little ‘ulu tree that President Eric Shumway and a number of others planted during the Church College of Hawaii/Brigham Young University–Hawaii  jubilee celebration in 2005 near the cafeteria entrance and the sidewalk leading back to the dorms. As members of the Jubilee steering committee, we all felt the symbolism of the ‘ulu carrying into the next 50 years was perfect: An ancient Polynesian staple, beautiful tree, long-lived, prolific, multiple uses of all parts of the tree, etc.

Ahhh, the best laid plans: Don’t bother looking for it the next time you’re on the BYU–Hawaii campus, because unfortunately, within just a few months someone on the grounds crew, not realizing the significance of the sapling, dug it up . . . OOPS . . . but it wasn’t really until about as much as a year later that others began wondering what happened to it.

breadfruit chipsBy the way, the ‘ulu we picked was so ono! My wife, Sally, regularly takes some when she goes to visit her mom who has a Hawaiian homestead in Waianae. We just skin and boil ours in water (with salt added to ours; it doesn’t take long to cook, especially if you cut it into smaller pieces — just poke with a fork or toothpick, like a potato). Sally then likes it with fried/sugared Spam™— which I admit is very tasty; I’ve also  sliced it thin, deep fried it (using a frying pan with a little extra oil is deep enough), and salted it for an outstanding ‘ulu-chip treat [pictured at right]; and most recently I just slathered the still-warm staple with real butter: It was to die.

If you like . . . and can get ‘ulu. Of course, being sorta-Samoan, I also love baked ‘ulu fa’alifu-style [covered with coconut cream that’s mixed with salt and chopped onion] . . . or have you ever heard of miti (or some people say miki)? That’s a much thinner Samoan coconut cream condiment that’s been boiled, sometimes with some chopped onion but always with lots of salt — so much so that you usually just sip it when eating baked ‘ulu or fa’i [green bananas] . . . hence the name miti, which among other things, in Samoan means “to sip.” In fact in the old days, just like palusami (don’t get me started on that most favorite of Samoan foods), I imagine the people used ocean water when they prepared miti.

Story by Mike Foley: Originally published November 19, 2009

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