By Aunty ʻUlu, Helen Nakano
To celebrate Lā Honua (Earth Day) we are highlighting the versatility and world-saving powers of ʻUlu (breadfruit) and reached out to our own Aunty ʻUlu, Helen Nakano. A longtime resident of Mānoa Valley, Helen is a champion and steward of the valley. A dear friend, MHC Board Member, and docent, she is the co-founder and current advisor of Mālama Mānoa and an active member of Be Ready Manoa, Blue Zones Project, and part of Mānoa Neighborhood Security Watch. Helen is also the creative mind behind Hanafuda Hawai’i Style and Hanafuda Nā Pua Hawaii.
I’ve been enamored with the ʻulu ever since I learned about its incredible productivity from experts like Dr. Diane Ragone, founder of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Kaua‘i and Heidi Bornhorst, a native plants expert. Breadfruit trees mature quickly, are capable of producing 100-300 lbs. of fruit annually and have a lifespan of about 60 years. If people everywhere in these islands would plant ʻulu, we could solve hunger in Hawaii. Imagine!
So, five years ago, my son Jason planted a baby ‘ulu for me in our backyard. To guarantee thriving plant development we followed proper protocol, according to the Hawaiian moon calendar, provided by Uncle Bruce Keaulani and Kahale Unciano of Living Life Source Foundation. I chanted a prayer for the little tree’s good health, “E Ola, e Ulu”. Finally, for added insurance, we buried a huge ahi head from Yama’s Fish Market, under the two-foot sapling.
Today, my ‘ulu tree is everything it was hyped up to be. The tree is prolific. The fruit is more nutritious than potato and versatile. We steam, boil, bake and fry the fruit for curries and stews, salads, dips, and chips. Its large leaves are deep glossy green, its branches heavy with swollen ‘ulu, spread wide and low to provide shade from the afternoon sun for my grandchildren. ‘Ulu is indeed an amazing tree.
Cumin-Spiced ʻUlu and Tomatoes Recipe from Aunty ʻUlu
1 pound parboiled ‘ulu, peeled and cut into cubes
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground ‘ōlena (turmeric)
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
12 to 15 curry leaves