Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/381

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347
THE BREAD-FRUIT TREE.

which strong cloth is made. Its timber is exceedingly valuable; and its thick glossy leaves, which are sometimes eighteen inches in length by about twelve in breadth, are also turned to good account. But of course it is chiefly prized for its abundant food-supply. Each tree yields three, sometimes four, crops annually; and as there are in these isles about fifty recognised varieties, which ripen at different seasons, it follows that, with a little care in cultivation, the supply might very easily be so regulated as never to fail. A large bread-fruit tree in full bearing is certainly a most beautiful object, with its wealth of green or yellow fruit hanging from beneath the handsome deeply indented leaves. A good tree will bear several hundred fruits—each about eight inches long by six wide,—with a rough green rind, divided into a lozenge-shaped pattern. This is sometimes peeled off before the white pulp is cooked; but I infinitely prefer the bread-fruit roasted whole on the embers or baked in the earth in a native oven, when the blackened rind is scraped off, and the inside is found thoroughly cooked, and in taste something like the thick scones known in the colonies as "dampers," or like the cold "chupatties" we used to eat on the march in the Himalayas—floury but rather tough. I don't think that these natural loaves are to be compared to a good potato. However, they are the bread of the favoured tropics; and nowhere else does mother nature yield so much wholesome food for so little human toil.

You need not, however, imagine that these good things are common property, to be gathered and cooked by every hungry man. On the contrary, every cocoa-palm and fruit-bearing tree on these or any other isles that I know of, has its owner, and is very likely the sole wealth of a whole family. So each fruit commands as regular a market-value in the South Sea Isles, as do the apples and potatoes of the English farmers. This is a simple fact, apparently not always recognised by visitors and others, who occasionally write to request their friends living here to send them cases of oranges and other fruits, as if they supposed that these were to be had for the mere trouble of gathering and packing!

Speaking of gathering and packing, I have for some time past