‘Ulu is Polynesia’s very own super fruit. It grows fast and one tree creates tons of food. Growing ‘ulu is a step towards fortifying our island’s very own sustainable food chain, but there’s a catch: everyone needs to learn how to prepare, eat, grow and demand it. This weekend the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens (MNBG) in Kahului will see a dream come to fruition in their very first ever Lā ‘Ulu – Breadfruit Day Festival, an all-day event dedicated to the dazzling abilities of this tree and the fruit it bears.
The festival will run from 9am to 3pm and include guest speakers, Native Hawaiian arts and games, Hawaiian music, plants to purchase, exhibits and plenty of ‘ulu to taste. Whit Germano, the Program Manager at MNBG, says they created this event to show people what a wonderful plant this is, and why we should care about it.
“Maui Nui Botanical Gardens hosted two very successful workshops called, “‘Ulu from Root to Fruit” in 2015 and 2016,” says Germano. “John Cadman of Maui Breadfruit Company knew that MNBG hosts large community events such as the Arbor Day 1,000 Hawaiian Tree Give-Away (since 2003), and the Hawaiian language immersion schools fundraiser Ho‘omau (since 2012). John suggested that we hold a festival to celebrate ‘ulu, and we decided this was the year. Also, we knew that Hana in East Maui has Kahanu Gardens and their beautiful ‘ulu varieties collection, which is a two-hour drive for those who live in Central Maui. We believe this event can expose a new audience to the possibilities of ‘ulu trees and their products, encourage people to visit Kahanu Gardens and plant more ‘ulu.”
In historic texts there are many references to the ‘ulu. People truly depended on the bounty of the ‘ulu trees.
“Long ago, ‘ulu plantations managed by complex Hawaiian hierarchies stretched from Lahaina to Wailuku,” says Germano. “This is expressed in the ‘ōlelo no‘eau ‘Halau Lahaina, malu i ka ‘ulu.’ Which translates into English as ‘Lahaina is like a large house shaded by breadfruit trees.’ Many people on Maui today have no idea how delicious and versatile this ancient Pacific staple can be. Thanks to people like John Cadman, owner of Maui Breadfruit Company and creator of Pono pies, ‘ulu is making a comeback.”
Cadman and his Maui Breadfruit Company is one of the sponsors of the event. They’ll make and demonstrate their pit-fired and roasted ‘ulu with coconut milk as well as serve Pono Pies, vegetarian ‘ulu curry and ‘ulu hummus. In addition to those offerings, there will be cooking demonstrations with Auntie Shirley Kauhaihao from Ho‘oulu ka ‘Ulu throughout the day.
Other options for tasting the versatile fruit will be ‘ulu, kalo, and banana chips, kalo poi, ‘ulu poi and inamona from Lani Eckart-Dodd of Ola Mau Farms. Keynote speaker Hokuau Pelligrino will make Palaoa ʻUlu (ʻulu flour) and Insalata Italiana di ʻUlu (Italian ʻUlu Salad) from ‘ulu grown at his Nohoana Farm. The Hawaiian Hawks softball team will have a Hawaiian plate with lau lau, lomi salmon, rice and ‘ulu haupia. Alexa Caskey from Maui Tropsicles will have an ‘ulu popsicle along with some of her other locally sourced fruit treats. And chef/farmer James Simpliciano from Simpli-Fresh Farm will offer an ‘Ulu Halohalo of tapioca, sweet potato, young coconut and steamed ‘ulu.
“The purpose is to give visitors and kama‘aina a chance to sample new foods and to speak to residents who have dedicated their lives to Hawaiian botany and culture,” says Germano. “We hope kama‘aina will be inspired to work on their own ‘ulu recipes and enter the Kahanu Garden’s ‘Ulu Cookoff in October. Kama‘aina have the added benefit of being able to find rare native plants for their homes, perhaps even an ‘ulu tree of their own! ‘Ulu is a staple food of the Pacific that many visitors have never tasted, and it’s rare to have a chance to taste a wide variety of dishes made with breadfruit.”
You may have noticed from the enticing line up of foods that ‘ulu can have sweet or savory preparations. This is because the fruit can be harvested and prepared in two ways.
“‘Ulu is two different foods depending on ripeness,” says Germano. At the firm stage, it’s a starch that substitutes beautifully for potato. At the ripe stage, a sweet, creamy custard. Besides food, traditional uses include using fruits to feed pigs, dogs and fish; wood for poi boards and surfboards; making a rough kapa from the bark; creating a dye and sandpaper from the male flower parts; and a widely used adhesive from the latex.”
It will be easy to get your hands working with the ‘ulu at the festival. ‘Ulu kapa making demonstrations with Lisa Schattenburg-Raymond and Lei Ishikawa will highlight just one of the art forms using this plant. Schattenburg-Raymond is a Hawaiian ethnobotanist, kapa maker and fiber arts lecturer at University of Hawaii Maui College. Ishikawa also makes kapa and is a member of Paeloko, a private lot restoration and Hawaiian cultural site in Waihee. Together, they’ve hosted Hawaiian artisan workshops at MNBG on kapa making, native plant dyes, net making and ipu gourd decorating. The Native Hawaiian Plant Society will be on hand to lead participants in Native Hawaiian plant lei making.
“The Lā ‘Ulu Festival is tied directly to MNBG’s mission of providing a gathering place for discovery, education and conservation,” says Germano. “Learning about a culture’s unique plants and foods is a doorway to meeting and learning from the people who live here. This event celebrates Hawaiian ingenuity utilizing plants, by demonstrating how many products and materials can be made from just one Hawaiian tree. Hawaii has a rich diversity of endemic plants, natives found nowhere else, and its own unique ways of growing and using the plants brought on the first voyaging canoes.”
Although kalo is the more well known ingredient in poi, ‘ulu can be pounded into poi as well. Poi board makers and kalo farmers Ko‘ikūokalani Lum and Nameaaea Hoshino will work together to ku‘i ‘ulu and kalo and compare the methods for making these two different poi. Poi boards made from ‘ulu wood will be used.
Play traditional Hawaiian Makahiki games throughout the day with ‘ulu maika, a kind of stone bowling that originally utilized ‘ulu fruit. You can also try your hand at Koa wood Moa pahe‘e, a wooden dart sliding game, and ‘ō‘ō ‘ihe, a spear throwing practice at a banana stump target. There will be other games like kōnane, hukihuki, pā uma and haka moa.
The non invasive ‘ulu tree propagates fast, and can be grown Upcountry as well as near sea level. It also creates vast shady areas. In parts of Polynesia, it’s said that people plant an ‘ulu tree with the birth of a child to ensure a lifelong food supply. An ‘ulu tree can produce as much as 350 to 1,000 pounds of fruit in a year. If you’re interested in growing an ‘ulu tree, expert arborist Alex Quintana will be on hand to demonstrate orchard management as well as several other ‘ulu revitalization organizations and farmers. Noa Lincoln, a University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources researcher and specialist in indigenous crops, will share ongoing ‘ulu research and show folks how to jump into a statewide citizen science program. Lincoln will also talk about how breadfruit habitat will alter with climate change projections.
“There will be a multi-grower native plant and Hawaiian varieties for sale at Lā ‘Ulu,” says Germano. “There will new cultivars of orange, yellow and red ‘ōhia; ‘alula, a rare and beautiful endangered species that looks like a cabbage on a stick; the endangered nānū or native Gardenia; Hawaiian kalo varieties, and Pacific cultivars of ‘ulu for sale. Native plants suitable for both low and high elevations will be available, with the UH Cooperative Extension Maui Master Gardener Program Members on hand to help select plants that will thrive in your area.”
More than 25 different exhibitors have been invited to Lā ‘Ulu. All are organizations based in Hawaiian culture and conservation. The National Tropical Botanical Garden Breadfruit Institute will be there to share their Global Hunger Initiative that centers around battling food security and deforestation in tropical regions by planting ‘ulu. Kahanu Gardens will be on hand to inspire chefs and cooks to participate in their ‘ulu cook-off on Oct. 12 that will be a part of Hana’s Festival of Aloha celebration. Hokuau Pelligrino of Noho‘ana Farms, who is also the president of Maui Historical Society, will give a keynote presentation about the cultural significance of ‘ulu and Maui’s own history of plantations on the slopes of Mauna Kahalawai.
The festival will kick off at 9am this Saturday. Admission and parking is free. For more information, visit Mnbg.org.
Lā ‘Ulu – Breadfruit Day
Saturday, Aug. 26
9am to 3pm
Maui Nui Botanical Gardens
150 Kanaloa Ave., Kahului