Old Time Coconut Drops

The Buford Highway Farmers Market is close to my house. I buy most of my meat, seafood, and fresh produce there. On a whim, I added a  dry coconut  to my shopping cart, though I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

Traditionally dry coconuts are an integral part of rice and peas and any other dish that calls for coconut milk, like stew peas and mackerel rundown.  It is a laborious process; the coconut has to be broken open and then a dull knife wrapped in a kitchen towel is used to pry out the hard white meat. The pieces are grated and then steeped in hot water. The mixture is wrung dry and the resulting liquid (coconut milk) is used for cooking.  This old-fashioned technique for extracting the “milk” from a dry coconut has been replaced by convenience products like coconut powder and canned coconut milk.

 

On an island where coconut trees abound, people have found ingenious ways to use every part, from the leaves (for decoration) to the husk (coir for stuffing mattresses) to the water (refreshing as a drink). The meat from the dry coconut can also be used to make sweet treats like gizzada, grater cake and coconut drops. I’ve made all three; they’re quite easy to make, but today I am in the mood for coconut drops. This recipe is my own and there are only six ingredients. The recipe is easy, but the technique can be tricky, so make sure to read my method for tips and insights before trying this at home.

Jomo’s Coconut Drops

2 cups diced coconut

3 tbsp. grated fresh ginger

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups granulated sugar

¾ cup water

1 pinch salt

N.B. line a small baking sheet with greased paper or spray it with pan spray to prevent the coconut drops from sticking. Trust me, it’s caramelized sugar; it will stick. For this recipe one coconut should suffice.

My Way of Removing Coconut Meat from the Shell

a) Turn the oven on to 350°F. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

b) To crack the coconut shell, use the back of a heavy knife – the bigger, the better – and give it a couple hard thwacks. It cracks easiest around the “eye” (if you look at the top, you’ll see three dark dimples which are referred to as the eye. Break into several large pieces (three or four)

c) Place the pieces in the oven for five minutes. Heat helps to separate the meat from the shell.

d) Remove the pieces from the oven.

e) With one hand, hold a dish towel with a piece of coconut shell in place. With steady pressure, slowly working the dinner knife back and forth, slide the dinner knife between the shell and the meat. Work the knife in as far as it will go, and use pressure to work the knife between the shell and then twist. Continue this process until all the meat has been separated from the shell.

Method for Making Coconut Drops

Cut the coconut meat into a small dice. Place diced coconut into a pot with a thick bottom and add grated ginger, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Turn the heat to medium and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally as the sugar caramelizes and turns a golden brown. The drops are done when large bubbles begin to rise from the surface and the mixture looks thick and sticky. The mixture should not be runny and should solidify quickly when spooned onto the baking sheet.

I like to test one to see if it is cooked enough. Consistency is important. If too thick, add a spoonful of water and stir mixture to desired consistency. Then continue to spoon onto baking sheet. If too thin – the sugar is runny – let cook longer.

Yields 12

Cornmeal Pudding Warms the Soul

Jamaicans adore pudding.  Our taste for this rich, sweet, baked treat is a part of our history as a British colony. The British claim pudding as a part of their culinary heritage and with time, this affectation for the sweet treat has become intertwined in the food lore of all its commonwealth dependents.  As food history often relates, climate, geography, culture, availability of key ingredients and the resourcefulness of local cooks have taken these recipes that travelled aboard British ships and personalized them. We love pudding because of the British; but our taste hungers for creamy cornmeal pudding with cinnamon and coconut milk or sweet potato pudding cooked in a banana leaf (also called Duckunoo or Blue Drawers).

My grandmother makes the best cornmeal pudding. Her pudding was the highlight of every visit. For years I’ve tried to duplicate her recipe, but could never get the texture right. I’ve begged and pleaded but her lips were sealed and the recipe remained secret.  We no longer visit as often as we used to, but even time cannot erase the memories of many family meal shared. I’ve not tasted her cornmeal pudding in years and in a moment of nostalgia decided to call her and ask for the recipe. Grandma’s mellowed with age and her kitchen has acquired a slightly dust patina as she uses it less and less. She was happy to hear my voice over the phone and despite the distance I felt as if I was right beside her.

 Cornmeal Pudding

2 tins coconut milk (1 tin is 14 oz.)

10 oz. water

¾ cup brown sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

¾ cup fine cornmeal

1 cup raisin

1 tbsp. butter or margarine

Method

1.       Grease an 8×10 baking tin with margarine or butter and set aside

2.       Mix the coconut milk, water, sugar, vanilla, salt and cinnamon together. Reserve 4 oz. of liquid to make the custard.

3.       Add the cornmeal to liquid until completely dissolved

4.       Pour this mixture into a pot and cook on stove until thick. It takes about 10 to 12 minutes on medium heat. Pay attention; stir the mixture often to prevent lumps. Meanwhile set the oven to 350F. The mixture when done should have the consistency similar to chocolate pudding. 

5.       Stir in the raisins and pour mixture into baking tin.

6.       Bake for 1 hour until top is golden brown, remove from the oven and pour the remaining 4 ozs of liquid on top. This liquid will create the soft custard, a must have for cornmeal pudding aficionados. Put the baking tin back in the oven for another 30 minutes until the top sets and is golden brown.

7.       Total cooking time 90 minutes

8.       When done, the pudding will be extremely soft similar to jello. Let cool fully in the fridge overnight to set.  Cornmeal pudding is best when cut, the next day.

I baked my cornmeal pudding the night before and left in the refrigerator to cool and set. Today I cut my first slice and even though delicious, something’s missing. In reflection, I think I’ll never be able to get this recipe to taste like grandma’s.  I’m sure the ingredients are the same and I made sure to follow her instructions to the letter, but as I taste another forkful – still delicious- still not as I remembered it. I’ve decided to post this recipe with its minor flaws because as I sit and look at my own cornmeal pudding, I realize that it would be impossible to duplicate her mustard colored stove or the clear window panes that let in the sea breeze. It’s not quite right because she didn’t make it and in my mind, it will never be.

Jomo’s Banana Bread Story

“Bananaroma – the smell of banana bread baking in the oven, .” Jomo Morris

For many years all I ever wanted to become was a pastry chef. I spent years working in the pastry kitchens of several leading hotels in Jamaica. For those few glorious years, all my dreams were as rich as dark chocolate laced with Meyers rum and whipped cream. I was filled with the enthusiasm of youth and proud of my prowess with a palette knife and piping bag. To this day, I still can decorate a cake in five minutes flat.

My most treasured possession was a small hardcover notebook that I kept in the breast pocket of my uniform. It was the fashion in my kitchen, for every pastry cook to own a notebook. Whenever the pastry chef taught us something new, we would dutifully copy the recipe and in this way make it our own. This was long before the internet. Smart phones were unheard of. We learnt by making things over and over again until committed to memory. I still remember the recipe for pound cake as clearly as the day it was given to me. This notebook, this magical tome if you will; in a sense we were all sorcerer’s apprentices studying and learning from the master, contained all our secrets. Our recipes were jealously guarded and shared only amongst ourselves. My book was four years in the making, every recipe tried and true. It was a source of great pride and I often swore:

“If I ever lost my book I would stop doing pastry.”

I lost that recipe book in a minibus travelling from Ocho Rios to Montego Bay. I still ache at the loss. I’ve come to grips with it and though I no longer work in pastry I’m still in the kitchen. Recently I found a handwritten recipe for banana bread tucked away in a box of odds and ends in my closet. It’s the best banana bread recipe I’ve ever been fortunate to bake and taste. I’m lucky to still have it. In fact, holding that piece of paper in my hands inspired this post and the memories that come with it. It’s a part of me, a bit of my history and in sharing I hope that you will enjoy this recipe as much as I have.

 

The best bananas for this recipe are overripe bananas.

I like to save the ones I cannot eat, ( it may be just one or two), by peeling them and storing them in the freezer in a Ziploc bag. Once I’ve accumulated enough, I’m ready to bake banana bread. There is no need to thaw the frozen bananas. Plus thawing them attracts fruit flies.  Oftentimes I add them into the mixer still frozen, the batter comes out just fine.

Also this recipe works just as well without a mixer. A blender, a bowl and a whisk works just as well. Just blend the bananas and sugar, then add the eggs and liquids while blending. Then pour into a bowl and whisk in the dry ingredients. Finally whisk in the oil. The mixture should be pourable. I’ve posted this recipe with the original measurements. Its my way of challenging you to invest in a simple kitchen scale. There are many different types available to the home baker and personally expensive or cheap, most will deliver the same results. A good kitchen scale is one gadget that anyone who loves to bake should add to their arsenal. So use a scale for this recipe and I can guarantee the results will be  moist, rich, flavorfully and utterly delicious.

 

 

Buy Hardough Bread, Make Your Own Buttermilk biscuits

It started with a simple question; do I have a recipe for Jamaican hardough bread?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Jamaican bakeries use equipment specifically engineered to create the texture that we associate with this signature bread. It is impossible to duplicate outside of a commercial bakery. At home, with flour, butter, water, yeast, a little elbow grease and a hot oven it is relatively simple to bake your own bread. Everything that is, except Jamaican hardough bread.

So I’m at work and I’m thinking, alternatives, alternatives, alternatives.

It’s kinda a personal challenge now. Time is on my side, I’m working the graveyard shift from 10:30pm till 6:30 in the morning. It means I’m by myself with one server and the cleaning crew as company. They’re cleaning and I’m busy prepping for breakfast. It’s relatively quiet and I’m humming along on autopilot. In my mind’s eye, I’m already typing the words to this post. Time flies when you’re working an overnight shift. A glance at the clock confirms that it’s now 6am. That’s a good thing; Chris comes in at six to work on breakfast pastries and more importantly to bake biscuits for the restaurant. He’s super cool and we chat for a few minutes while he’s getting set up. Chris is my go to guy for buttermilk biscuits and he was gracious enough to bake a batch of biscuits just for these pictures.

It’s a simple recipe

 2 cups unbleached self-rising flour

 ¼ cup butter (plus two tablespoons for brushing on top of biscuits), for an even lighter texture use vegetable shortening instead of butter.

2/3   to ¾ cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Measure 2 cups flour into a bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Blend in enough buttermilk until dough leaves sides of bowl. Dough should be sticky. Place dough on a floured surface and gently flatten to form a rectangle. The dough should be about ½ inch thick. Use a bread knife to cut 12 squares. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Brush tops with melted butter. Cool for a few minutes on wire rack.

Variation: Cheese biscuits – fold in 1 ½ cups grated cheddar cheese, 3 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley

The best part of inspiration buttermilk biscuits – taking all those pictures made me hungry.

Chris read my mind “Yes you can have a biscuit” pointing to the speed rack. Adding scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese and bacon just came naturally. After all, a biscuit without egg and bacon is just a biscuit…………… right.

Q: What do you call a sweet biscuit?

A: A scone

Here’s a Scone recipe for the sweet tooth. The method is the same as above, but the ingredients differ slightly. Oh yes, bake these at 425F for ten minutes or until golden brown.

Scones

8 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

3 tsp. baking powder

2 cups butter

2 cups buttermilk

4 each egg yolks

Method

Combine all the dry ingredients. Cut in butter until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Blend in buttermilk and egg yolk.

Variation: Chocolate chip – add chocolate chip to dough then bake

Cinnamon sugar (½ cup sugar to 1 tbsp. cinnamon) – When baked, brush warm              scones with melted butter then sprinkle lightly with cinnamon sugar.