Curry means goat. Local, from the butcher, cooked slow until it falls of the bone, to be eaten with fried plantains, a raw salad of shredded cabbage, carrots, sliced tomato and steaming hot white rice.
Sous Chef, I know you. Your life has changed. For a split second, the room stands still and in that one brief moment, I look down. “There’s an asparagus peel on my shoe.” It’s an errant thought and I mentally swat it away and force myself to breathe. My executive chef points and my eyes follow the motion of his hands and see the embossed folder lying on his desk. It’s there on paper – the title, I mean – all neatly printed in bold font. I sign my name and he says ,“Congratulations, proud, good job, yada yada yada,” and all I’m thinking is “I need a drink.” It came so quickly, Sous Chef … I know you can never be truly ready. I’ve spent years preparing for this one moment. I’ve worked hard, then forced myself to work harder. I’ve endured the insults and absorbed the pain. I remember one night when I was working the grill. It was just before service, and we had more than a hundred reservations on the books. It didn’t help that our executive chef was anal about every little detail; we were all tense and our fear was palpable. He strode over to my station and took a black truffle the size of a ducks’ egg and told me to shave some for service. I was nervous: the truffle slicer was razor sharp, and I sliced my palm open. I ran to the back with a kitchen rag wound tightly around my bleeding […]
Seedlings from the ackee tree were brought from West Africa along with slaves in the early 1700’s. Every Jamaican knows that ackee can be poisonous; never pick the fruit before the pods fully open on the tree. I’ve never been poisoned by ackee. Growing up, I was a willful child, but I did pay attention when my grandmother was teaching me how to prepare it. We would sit on the verandah with the basket between us, filled to the brim with bright orange pods. As she plucked the ripe ackee arils from the pod, I would use a small knife to remove the shiny black seed. Grandma loved to gossip, and as we worked she would tell stories of people who had been poisoned by ackee. She would always end by pointing a finger, warning, “Jomo, don’t forget to tek out the red membrane; is poison, yuh know.” Eventually the creamy yellow arils would fill the plastic container on my knees, and we would head to the kitchen to boil them. Ackee, breadfruit, and salted codfish are all transplants that traveled along slave routes in the heyday of European colonialism. Both plants adapted well to Jamaican soil and flourished in our tropical climate. As for salted codfish, it was a staple of any oceangoing fleet of that time –especially the British colonists who settled the Caribbean. Establishing vast sugarcane plantations, colonists bought slaves from West Africa to work the land. The slaves were forced to adapt to their new surroundings and gradually […]
Albany, St. Mary, is a small village deep in the Jamaican countryside. In its heyday, St. Mary was known as the “banana parish”; hundreds of acres were dedicated to growing the plant for export to Britain. In the “good old days”, Jamaica had a preferential trade agreement with Britain, guaranteeing better prices for Jamaican bananas in British markets. Then in the “best interest of free trade”, multinational fruit distributors quickly put an end to that arrangement. Thanks to Dole, Chiquita, and Delmonte, the Jamaican banana industry lost its small share in the European marketplace. My story begins long after the heyday of the banana plantation. My mother had recently remarried, and her husband (now my stepdad) had decided to follow his dream and become a farmer. For us, it meant leaving Montego Bays’ bright street lights, movie theatres, supermarkets and neat subdivisions of concrete houses. I was nine and I cried when I saw my new home. We had no neighbors. I was swallowed by a kaleidoscope of varying hues of grass, trees and shrubs. Searing like a Scotch bonnet pepper, bush was coming out my nostrils, my ears and my brain. Bush as far as the eye could see – surrounded by it – bush was everywhere. But my stepfather worked hard to turn this wilderness into farmland. He rented a huge D9 Caterpillar tractor to create a patchwork of crude roads so the Land Rover would not break an axle. Pumpkin and Scotch bonnet pepper were planted for export. Seedlings from coconut trees were planted […]
There are no breadfruit trees in Atlanta although I’ve seen the fruit for sale at the Buford Highway farmers market; but buying a breadfruit nestled in air conditioned comfort, thousands of miles from its native soil, is not the same as roasting one just picked from the tree. For me, it’s as natural to eat a slice of hot buttery roast breadfruit as it is for Americans to enjoy a bagel or croissant with their coffee. It’s been a year and some months and I long for a taste of my homeland.
Mango Lady Her pushcart was parked on the sidewalk, and she read a book while patiently waiting for customers. She had a large orange parasol to protect her precious mangoes from the mid-day heat. Call it a mobile fruit stand with wares just hours picked from the tree. A fleeting glance at all those mangoes made me pause; but it was her smile that made me stop: There were oranges for sale in a red cooler, complete with a little machine to peel them as you waited – A few hands of ripe bananas: yes I saw those too, all different shades of yellow – But set just so a hundred mangoes to catch the light. I asked their names and she laughed as she pointed: Julie, Bombay, Blackie, Stringy, Long Mango. One hundred for Julie, fifty for Bombay, everything else hundred per dozen. We spoke for a while and I made my selection; she looked at my face and in my eyes: A few extra mangos, for you to enjoy, and flashed another beautiful smile. I look at these pictures, a moment in time: The mango lady and her cart of sunshine This wonderful recipe by Barbara Walter was taken from The Hotel Mockingbird Hill blog. The eco-boutique hotel overlooks the picturesque town of Port Antonio on the northeastern side of the island. I find Barbara’s blog a constant source of inspiration. Mango Gazpacho with Pickled Shrimps 2 ½ cups water ½ cup vinegar 1 ½ tbs pickling spice ( we use our own homemade jerk spice) 1 tbs minced lemongrass 1 ½ tbs […]
“Wherever the hog is killed there the camp is pitched—water is always nearby in these wonderful mountains—and, a fire being kindled, the process of “jerking” is begun.” Charles J. Ward I’m longing to travel to a place with burnished walls and ceiling darkened from years of smoke and soot. A place where every breath draws in spices and roasting meat. A place of razor-sharp cleavers, and the repetitive staccato of meat chopped into finger-size portions. I know my prize will be tightly wrapped in layers of butcher’s paper. Meat larded with fat, protected by crispy skin. My fingers greasy and my tongue seared by scotch bonnet pepper. I want the mongrel dog to look directly in my eye and patiently wait for scraps. My freedom food should come with friendly smiles, green trees, an island breeze. My Red Stripe is ice-cold and everyone speaks patois. Today, I’m enjoying fried fish with festival, but my heart longs for jerk pork. Thank the Maroons, Jamaica’s first freedom fighters. Descendants of escaped slaves. Deserted by their Spanish masters in the British invasion of 1655. The Maroons fought to stay free: to survive in our mountainous Cockpit Country, they hunted wild boar and raided sugar plantations for food. Always on the move and on the lookout for the British, the Maroons devised an ingenious “smoke-free” method to cook meat. They dug a hole, layered it with hot coals, well-seasoned wild boar, and pimento leaves, and then covered the hole again. With no campfire to announce their presence, the Maroons […]
Once Upon A Mango Always thank Mrs. Mango Seed You enjoyed it She can tell Children dance round big mango tree Sound of laughter Clear and free Eat ripe mango One to ten School is out Barefoot then Climb and pick or use a stick Search the ground Look round and round Ripe ripe Julie sweet and juicy June July Big Bombay full Mango blossom caressed by breeze Perfect food for worker bees Share a mango Make a friend Give a smile Mango zen Sweetest candy on a tree Share God’s gift With feet and wings Crawly things He is wise He knew so well Ripe mango sweeter Than a dinner bell
“Jamaican cooks have imagination and flair. That’s why we adore pigs and never think of them as bacon. It’s a reggae celebration, the smell of pimento, fiery scotch bonnet and jerk seasoning filling the air. A street party for swine in heaven.” Jomo Morris It’s raining again, and as the raindrops pepper the ground then burst like ripe fruit, my heart sinks. This isn’t the way to start a vacation; in fact, choosing to visit Jamaica in May - the official start of rainy season – is a sure way never to see the sun, walk on the sand, or swim in the sea. There’s nothing to do but wait and watch as lightning flickers along the distant blue mountain tops. The rain picks up in pace and tempo, and my despair deepens. Water gushes from the drains along the side of the house and a small river forms in the yard. The eddying current sweeps away twigs, leaves, mud, and with it, my hope of visiting Portland. The parish of Portland (and by extension the small community of Boston) is recognized as the birthplace of Jamaican jerk pork. This visit should be one of the highlights of my trip, but I’m hard-pressed not to let this morning squall dampen my spirits. The rumble of thunder is ominous but distant. The ground is wet; the grass and the trees all glisten as if brand-new. It’s as if the rain has made all the natural colors of the land brighter and […]
“Transforming the simple cocoa bean into chocolate is the most powerful form of alchemy.” Jomo Morris The aroma is a sign: important things are happening to these beans. Fresh cocoa beans are fermented in the open to increase their flavor – just like coffee beans. Prolonged exposure increases the risk of bacteria, fungi or mold. When cocoa beans are roasted, several chemical reactions occur. Roasting removes moisture, concentrating and intensifying chocolate flavor. Roasting also sterilizes the bean, and separates it from the outer husk, making cracking and winnowing easier. The beans then go through a Crankandstein® cocoa mill that breaks the beans into pieces. It’s a hand cranked cocoa mill, with abrasive double rollers. It’s hard work to crack the cocoa beans by hand, but hard work and perspiration adds integrity to the chocolate making process. The broken bits are then “winnowed” Chef uses a common hair dryer to blow away the flaky outer shell and leave the inner kernel or cocoa nib. Imagine seeing hundreds of tiny cocoa snowflakes covering the wall, the sink, swirling up and around as the hair dryer moves back and forth to separate the nibs. Bring forth the Champion juicer The Champion juicer was originally created to juice fruit and vegetables; but somewhere in its history, someone discovered it could grind cocoa nibs. The Champion juicer grinds cocoa nibs until they liquefy to produce a sludge called “chocolate liquor.” The Melangeur – Refining and Conching The melangeur is a chocolate mixing machine with a granite basin containing two opposing granite […]