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Auntie Birdie’s Pepperpot Soup

Traditions, such as how to prepare certain meals are generally passed from mother to daughter, the older women in the family to the younger ones. Though a very talented cook and baker, my mother never taught me how to cook.

By the time I was old enough to start learning, she’d passed the responsibility for preparing meals on to our helper, going into the kitchen only at Christmas to bake or when we expected company. Then she’d create elaborate meals, which were, of course, well beyond our helper’s capabilities.

Somehow, though, cooking came to me naturally — I can fix just about any meal. But when I decided to feature pepperpot soup for FoodieTuesday, I realized that I didn’t know how to make it.

Sure, I could have used a recipe from one of my cookbooks but that just wouldn’t do, not for pepperpot soup. Knowing how to make it made me think of those family traditions. So I emailed my sister and aunt. I wanted a recipe I knew someone in the family had used.

Auntie Birdie's Pepperpot Soup
A delicious, nutritious soup even George Washington liked.
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  1. 1/2 lb. smoked or corned pork, pig's tail or salt beef, chopped in small pieces
  2. 1/2 lb. fresh beef (boneless, cubes)
  3. 3 cloves chopped garlic
  4. 1 onion (chopped)
  5. 6 cups water
  6. ½ lb. yellow (or other yam), 1 lb. cocoa or (2 medium green plantains peeled and chopped)
  7. 1/2 lb. cream of coconut (or 1 can coconut milk)
  8. 2 cups okra
  9. 1 hot pepper (Scotch bonnet pepper, chopped)
  10. 1/2 red pepper (sweet, chopped)
  11. 1 lb. callaloo/spinach, chopped
  12. ½ lb. cabbage chopped
  13. ½ lb. kale or mustard greens chopped
  14. 1lb flour (1/2 plain and ½ whole wheat) for dumplings
  15. Salt and black pepper, to taste
  16. 2 bay leaves
  17. 11/2 tsp. thyme (ground)
  18. 4 stalks escallions (chopped)
  19. 4 pinches nutmeg
  1. In a large stockpot, add pork with a teaspoon of oil.
  2. Braise on medium heat to remove fat drippings.
  3. Pat the beef cubes dry.
  4. When enough drippings have been released, add the beef and sauté until brown.
  5. Add 6 cups of water, cover and let simmer for an hour. Skim off any foam that rises on the top and sides of the pot.
  6. Check meats for doneness then add all greens, including okra. Cook for ½ hour.
  7. Remove greens and puree in blender or food processor.
  8. Return pureed greens to pot. Add chopped onions, yam, coco, bay leaves, coconut, sweet pepper, beans and spices.
  9. Make spinners and add.
  10. Add scallions and other seasonings.
  11. Check taste and add a tablespoon of butter.
  12. Cook for another 15 minutes.
  13. Add shrimp during the last few minutes of cooking
  14. Spoon into a bowl, garnish with shrimp.
  15. Serve hot with rolls, slices of hard dough or other bread.
  1. Turkey or chicken can be substituted, or left out all together for a meatless soup.
  2. Meats can be pressure cooked.
Pepperpot soup is made primarily callaloo, a leafy green vegetable that’s a close cousin to spinach, as well as taro leaves, kale and okra – though any green, or combination of, will do.

This mix of vegetables, meat and pepper, lots of it, make pepperpot a delicious and nutritious meal. So nutritious that George Washington had his cook prepare it for his troops. According to a post on Chef Walter Staib’s, A Taste of History, Washington was introduced to a version of the soup when he visited his brother, Lawrence, in Barbados in 1751.

When my aunt emailed me a recipe appropriately called, Aunt Birdie’s Pepperpot Soup, I wrote back immediately.  The recipe, she said, was similar to how she remembers the pepperpot soup that was made in her mother’s kitchen in rural Jamaica.

I knew right away that I wanted her to show me how to make it. I wanted to learn from someone who knew.

Auntie Birdie, my father’s youngest sister, is an accountant and fabulous cook who always shares stories about growing up “in the country,” as most Jamaicans call any place outside Kingston.

As she chopped the greens, Auntie Birdie, who was named after one of her mother’s sisters, reminisced. It certainly feels like life was simpler then, family life idyllic, the foods sweeter.

Most people cooked on a wood fire in a kitchen that was separate from the house, Auntie Birdie recalled. There was no refrigeration then so meats, primarily pork and beef, were cured, or smoked. The meat would be seasoned with pimento leaves and placed on a mesh, called a kreng kreng which hung over the fire. As meals were cooked with pimento woods, the smoke would slowly baste the meats and lock in the flavors. This smoked meat, along with a small amount of fresh beef, would be used in the pepperpot soup.

Auntie Birdie with her pepper tree

Aunt Birdie with the tree that supplied the peppers for the soup

With my aunt and I working together, the pepperpot soup took two hours from preparation to table. The meat would have taken the longest to cook, but in this modern day kitchen, a pressure cooker reduced cooking time by more than half.

I had pepperpot soup last at the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston. It was the best pepperpot soup I’d had in a while. Auntie Birdie’s Pepperpot Soup made me go for seconds.


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A Trip to Governors Island

Last weekend, I took the 5-minute ferry ride from Manhattan to Governors Island for Fête Paradiso. It was my first time visiting the island and I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t know much about it.

Governors Island is located about a half mile from the southern end or Lower Manhattan. The island is 172 acres, a mile long, and a quarter of a mile wide.

Governors Island ferry entrance

Governors Island

New York’s Native Americans had called the island Paggank or ‘Nut Island,’ for the number of oak, hickory and chestnut trees there. The Dutch also called it Nut Island but during the British colonial period it was reserved exclusively for use for New York’s royal governors and renamed Governors Island in 1784.

Governors Island served as a military base and Coast Guard installation for more than 200 years. During that time, it was off limits to the public.

There are three historic forts on the island. Two – Fort Jay and Castle Williams – were named National Monuments in 2001.

Governors Island became part of New York, legally, in 2003 when the federal government transferred the island to the City and State of New York. The City, through the Trust for Governors Island, is responsible for the operation, planning and redevelopment of the island.

Mayor Bloomberg, the current mayor, has earmarked $250 million to make Governors Island into a public open space with educational, not-for-profit, and commercial facilities.

Governors Island is open from Memorial Day to the end of September and hosts a variety of free artistic and cultural events during the season. In addition to Fête Paradiso, the day I went, there was an art exhibit in several of the historic houses on Nolan Row as well as handmade gifts and personal items like T-shirts, hats, scarves, etc., available for sale.

Governors Island is open to the public from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and Holiday Mondays and private events such as weddings, family reunions, picnics, and corporate outings can be held there.

No alcohol can be taken to the island. However, alcohol can be purchased at designated areas. Barbequing, cooking and grilling are also not permitted.

Governors Island is accessible by ferry only; no private vehicles are allowed. Ferry service is available from Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan and from Brooklyn and Queens.

Governors Island is a charming oasis with incredible views of Manhattan. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon bike riding, walking or just relaxing.

Linking up with Travel Photo Mondays which Noel at Travel Photo Discovery organizes.

Fete Paradiso on Governors Island

When I saw a tweet last Saturday about Fête Paradiso, I knew right away I had to experience it. Billed as the world’s first festival of vintage French carnival rides and carousels, it debuted on New York’s Governors Island in July and is coming to an end on September 29th. But I had plans though I had some flexibility on Sunday.

I was pretty excited as I left the house early Sunday morning. Riding the subway to the ferry that would take me to Governors Island, I tried to guess which of the other passengers – especially those with kids in tow – was on their way to the festival.

It was a beautiful morning with blue skies and brilliant sunshine, perfect for a day outdoors. The ferry ride from the westside of Manhattan to Governors Island lasted about 5 minutes, just long enough to ratchet up the excitement of the kids, young and young at heart, on board.

I didn’t know where on the island Fete Paradiso would be located – I doubt most people knew – but we fell into groups and followed the sound of the carnival music. Looking down, I noticed that horses had been drawn in different colors on the road. Like breadcrumbs, they pointed out the way and confirmed we were going in the right direction.

It was fun to see the different rides and the detailed work on these rare 19th and early 20th century museum-quality pieces. It was even more fun to hear the kids scream with the delight as they whizzed around on the rides, and watch the parents watch and photograph them.

I put down my camera long enough to take a ride on the bicycle carousel, the velocipede. One of the few carousels for adults and children, I had watched for a moment before deciding to take a ride. I felt like I was flying through the air as we pumped our legs furiously to keep up with the mechanical pedals. After a few minutes, though, my ankle couldn’t handle it so I propped up my foot and kept going until the ride was over. In all, it took about 3 delightful minutes.

Fete Paradiso's velocipede

On the velocipede

As I was leaving the velocipede, the attendant told me that it was created in the late 19th century to encourage Parisians to try out the bicycle, which was then the new transportation kid on the block. Considering how popular bicycles are now, it’s hard to imagine people had to be encouraged to ride but I can understand. Change is sometimes difficult to embrace. This velocipede is just one of two in the world; the other was featured in the film, Midnight in Paris. (I don’t remember seeing it so I’ve got to keep my eyes peeled next time. And now I can say I’ve been on one!)

The line for food, which was prepared specially for Fete Paradiso by the French bistro, Le Gamin, was several rows long but I wasn’t hungry so after my ride on the velocipede, I decided to leave.

Fete Paradiso enjoys its final run this weekend. It closes on Sunday, September 29th, so if you like carousels and rides and you’re in the New York City area, you should definitely not miss this.

Tickets to Fete Paradiso cost $3 per ride, $25 for 10. The ferry is free and leaves every 30 minutes from Manhattan’s Battery Marine Building on South and Whitehall Street. Ferry service is also available from Brooklyn. You can read more about Fete Paradiso here.


Linking up with Travel Photo Thursday, that Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

Escoveitch Fish, Red Snapper

There are certain meals that every self-respecting Jamaican cook must know how to prepare, with his or her eyes closed, if need be. One such meal is escoveitch. Typically, escoveitch fish is reserved for fish but chicken can be used as well. I prefer fish – red snapper or king, but porgies or any type of fish that is suitable for frying can be used.

Escoveitch refers to a way of cooking, or more specifically marinating fish in a vinegar sauce. Also known as escabeche, it likely came to Jamaica by way of the Spanish.

Escoveitch fish is one of my favorite meals. It is also the only meal my mother taught me to make. I had picked up how to cook everything else, by osmosis I guess but was insecure about my escoveitch fish-making skills. Once I realized how simple it was, I made it over and over.

Escoveitch Fish
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  1. 2 lbs. red snapper or king fish, cut is slices
  2. 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  3. 1/2 tsp. whole black pepper
  4. 3 tsp. salt
  5. 1 medium Scotch bonnet pepper, cut in strips
  6. 2 large onions, sliced
  7. 1 tsp pimento berries
  8. 1/2 cup oil (for frying)
  9. 2 cups vinegar
  10. 2 limes or lemons
  11. 1 small chocho (chayote or christophene), cut in strips
  12. 1 small carrot, cut in strips
  1. Clean fish and wash thoroughly in large bowl with water and lime juice mixture.
  2. Dry fish, place on paper towels to absorb any remaining liquid.
  3. Mix black pepper and salt.
  4. Rub the fish lightly on both sides and on inside with salt and black pepper mixture.
  5. Put on paper towels.
  6. Heat cooking oil in skillet and fry fish on both sides until crisp and golden brown, about 3-5 minutes.
  7. Place fried fish into a glass dish.
  1. In a saucepan, add vinegar, onions, Scotch bonnet strips, pimento berries, chocho and carrot strips.
  2. Boil for 2-3 minutes then lower heat and let simmer until onions are soft.
  3. Remove and let cool.
  4. Pour marinade over fish and let cool overnight, or at least an hour. Marinating overnight allows the fish to absorb the flavors.
  5. Escoveitch fish can be served with a variety of starches - from rice to bammie (a cassava flat bread).
  1. Paper towels will keep the fish dry so that it doesn't pop when placed into the hot oil.
  2. Escoveitch fish can be made a day in advance.
I’ve yet to try escoveitch chicken. I can’t imagine how chicken stands up to being marinated in vinegar, what the flavors will be like, but I’ll post a recipe once I give it a try.


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