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 […]