Growing Up Country

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 […]

Channeling Breadfruit

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.

“Once Upon A Mango 2″ – Juicy Poetry & Recipes from Sunny Jamaica

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 […]

Jerk Pork: Our Jamaican Freedom Food

“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

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

Welcome to Portland, The Birthplace of Jamaican Jerk Pork

“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 […]

Artisanal Chocolate from Bean to Bar

“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 […]

Watch Out, There Are Vegetarians Among Us !!!

Being a vegetarian is not that simple, “Bugs Bunny”. It’s not all carrots and alfalfa and the endless salads at Ruby Tuesday.

What Drives My Passion

“…but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.” ― M.F.K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me The kitchen has always held a mysterious fascination for me. My fondest memories as a child are the times I helped my mom prepare Sunday dinner. Some people find their vocation early in life, but I was headstrong and stubborn. I went to college, had enough, and decided I was better off earning a paycheck than going to school. That pattern of obstinance has repeated itself many times in my life. I’m a professional cook by default; I’d be lying if I told you it has always been my passion – in fact, I spent years trying to do everything but cook. I had to carve and whittle my youth away like a block of wood before finally conceding I was happiest behind the stove. I thank my mom for allowing me to find my own path, even though I made many wrong turns and sometimes appeared to lose my way. She never told me what I could or could not do. In her eyes, if I could dream it, then I could achieve it. She never told me to become a professional chef, but I’m sure she heaved a sigh of relief when […]

Even A Scientist Could Make This Chocolate Brownie

“The true measure of passion is the ability to follow your dreams without encouragement from anyone else.”   Jomo Morris   Science was never one of my favorite subjects in school. I had no time for formulas, physics, or complicated mathematic equations. Within our rigid “British styled” school system, it was ludicrous to equate science with anything happening in the real world. The preferred method of teaching in our Jamaican school system was for students to memorize and accurately regurgitate whatever was written in our textbooks. Teachers were encouraged to use the strap, and they were quite adept at using this as a motivational tool. Fear helped me commit to memory the collective works of Einstein, Hahn and Newton. Much to the delight of my teacher, I had become a human Xerox machine and could repeat verbatim “Einstein’s conversion of mass to energy” or Newton’s “law of gravitation.” I made it through high school with a foolproof recipe for success: binge study, pass the exam, and promptly forget everything.  It’s no wonder I decided to pursue a career as a cook; in my kitchen there wasn’t a textbook in sight. Line cooks didn’t need to study: my hours were spent chopping, peeling, and prepping ingredients for service. I was content with this routine, until I saw my chef making chocolate.   My executive chef likes to make chocolate. Call it his passion: some people paint, some sing, some write; he processes chocolate from raw cocoa beans. I never knew the cocoa bean […]