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Jerk Roast Turkey for Thanksgiving

For many Jamaican families in the U.S., the traditional baked turkey will not take center stage at this week’s Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, it will be replaced by jerk roasted turkey.

It started a few years ago. I suspect, because somebody got bored with the traditionally baked turkey and decided to add little kick to it. When you think about it, jerking a turkey makes sense. If you can jerk a chicken, why not jerk a turkey?

Well, that idea has caught on. Several Jamaican restaurants now prepare and sell jerk roasted turkeys on order.

Type ‘jerk turkey’ or ‘jerk roast turkey’ on your computer and the search will return several pages with recipes, how-to information, and videos. You can even buy a jerk roast turkey from Nieman Marcus and jerk turkey from Boars Head.

I’ve never had jerk turkey, mainly because I don’t like turkey.  I’d curious to give it a try but it won’t be this Thanksgiving. I’ve been invited to join a family for dinner and I expect the turkey will be baked and accompanied by the normal Jamaican fare  – curried goat, jerk chicken or pork, escoveitch fish, rice and peas, etc.

If you’d like to try making jerk turkey for your Thanksgiving this year, here’s a recipe I found at

Jerk Roast Turkey
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  1. ¾ cup olive oil
  2. ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  3. ½ cup chopped scallions
  4. ¼ cup freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  5. 2½ tbsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
  6. ½ tbsp. dried thyme
  7. 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  8. ½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  9. ½ tsp. ground cloves
  10. ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, plus wedges for serving
  11. 1½ tbsp. soy sauce
  12. 6 cloves garlic
  13. 2 Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles, stemmed and chopped
  14. 2" piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  15. 8 tbsp. unsalted butter
  16. 1 (12-lb.) turkey
  1. 1. Heat oven to 500˚. Combine ¼ cup oil, sugar, scallions, ¼ cup pepper, 2½ tbsp. salt, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg cloves, juice, sauce, garlic, chiles, and ginger in the bowl of a food processor; puree until smooth and set aside. Melt butter and mix with remaining oil; set aside. Rinse turkey and pat dry with paper towels. Season turkey inside and out with salt and pepper and let come to room temperature.
  2. 2. Transfer turkey to a rack set inside a roasting pan, tuck wings behind turkey and tie legs together with kitchen twine. Brush turkey all over with butter, reserving some for basting. Pour 2 cups water into roasting pan and roast turkey, brushing once with more of the butter, for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350˚ and continue roasting, brushing occasionally with butter, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh, without touching the bone, reads 150˚, about 2 hours. Remove turkey from oven and baste completely with reserved sauce. Place back in oven and continue to cook until internal temperature reaches 165°, about 20 to 25 minutes more. Transfer turkey to a cutting board, and let sit for 30 minutes before carving; serve with lime wedges if you like.
Adapted from Saveur
Adapted from Saveur
Nigel Spence, one of my favorite Jamaican chefs, does a deep fry jerk turkey and has created this video demonstration for how to make it. Chef Nigel owns a restaurant, Ripe, in Mount Vernon, where he makes and sells his jerk turkey. Deep frying a turkey is best left to professionals or cooks with a lot of experience.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Where Was I? Remembering November 22 1963

November 22 1963 fell on a Friday, like it did today. I remember because we were home from school and on Fridays, we had half-days off. I was playing ball in the backyard of the house we rented, with my new friends, Janet and Errol, brother and sister, grandchildren of the lady whose house we lived in.

I don’t remember who said it first – my mother or Miss Mag, the grandmother – or what their exact words were. Somehow, our young minds knew, we understood that something unprecedented, tragic, and horrifying, had happened.

The ball fell from my hands but instead of running to retrieve it we let it take its own path into the bushes somewhere. We were very competitive, Janet, Errol and I, we played hard. On any other day, the ball barely ever stayed on the ground as one of us would race to get it and throw it. That was our game. But on that Friday,  the news punched the fun out of our play. We stood there, as if planted to our spots, listening to the adults. I’m not sure for how long.

Looking back now, I doubt I knew before that moment who John F. Kennedy was. I was only vaguely aware of this country called America. Before that moment, I don’t think I knew anything about guns, or that someone could fire one from a distance with such precision, and cause such devastation. Before that moment, I’d never heard of someone being killed by a gun.

Something shifted that Friday. It wasn’t like the day we heard that a family friend had died and my older cousin announced that everyone, including those we loved, would die. I cried when I imagined the faces of my parents, my grandmother, my Aunt Joyce, who was like my second mother, and her children who were sisters being absent from my life. God gave them to us, I remember thinking, why would He take them?

This was different. It was bigger, monumental. More than anything, I knew and understood real fear. I clung to my mother that night, afraid to sleep by myself. And for many days later, I wouldn’t play outside. I was terrified that someone was just beyond the fringes with a gun.

I’m not sure when I adjusted to my new normal, a normal that included words like high-powered rifle and assassination.

I would hear those words again when first Martin Luther King, Jr. then Robert Kennedy, the president’s brother, were killed five years later. My old fears returned like bad gas. For a long time, I never wanted to step foot in the States, where I was sure everyone carried a gun.

Kennedy’s death, for me, marked the first of several events that seemed to make the world contract in horror and grief – the killing of King and Robert, the tragic and stunning death of Princess Diana, and the mind-numbing disaster of 9/11. They’ve become milestone moments against which other memories are pegged. I remember exactly where I was when Diana died and what I was doing when I heard about the planes hitting the Twin Towers.

I’ll always remember where I was on November 22 1963. I was in my backyard in rural Jamaica on a sunny afternoon playing ball with Janet and Errol. It was a Friday, like today, but it wasn’t like any Friday before, or since. Everyone says America lost its innocence that day. But it wasn’t just America. The whole world fractured and, like Humpty Dumpty, we’ve never been able to put the pieces back again.

Do you remember where you were?

The Animals That Caught My Eye

I’d be the first to say that I’m not an animal lover so I was mildly surprised at the number of photos of animals I’ve taken during the last year. Here are a few:

The Cat at Croydon

A friend who was a cat owner used to say that cats were humans in an earlier life. That’s why they act so superior.


The cat at Croydon

As we sat listening to the Croydon Plantation tour guide talk about coffee growing and processing, this little cat jumped on the bench in front of me. I snapped this photo just before it walked away.

Jamaica Red Poll, YS Falls

It’s common, especially in the rural areas, to see cattle in pastures or even on or near country roads. YS Falls in St. Elizabeth, is not just a stud farm, it also has several heads of Jamaica Red Poll cattle. The Jamaica Red Poll was developed from Red Poll cattle that was imported from Britain in the 19th century to improve the local breed. I love their distinctive rich reddish-brown color.

Jamaica Red Poll Cow, YS Falls

Jamaica Red Poll Cow, YS Falls

I wish I had longer lens, but I couldn’t resist taking a photo with the egrets waiting nearby to catch dinner – small insects that the cow distributes.

Yard Fowls in Portland

There was a time when just about every Jamaican household had chickens, hens and at least one rooster running around. My family was like any in Jamaica – we also kept chickens and about once a month, we’d have one for Sunday dinner.

Cock, Boston Bay

Rooster, Boston Bay

Now it seems everyone buys chicken from the supermarket, or they’re raising day-old chickens that they feed round the clock. They’re ready to eat six weeks later. I prefer the yard fowl.

Black and white hen

Black and white hen

Brown Hen, Boston Bay

Brown Hen, Boston Bay

A Peacock at Appleton

As if on cue, it began drizzling just as we started the Rum Tour at Appleton Estate. I put away my camera and took the umbrella the tour guide gave me. Just then, I noticed a peacock several yards away. I wanted a photo but didn’t want it badly enough to get my camera wet. But when the peacock turned and began walking towards us, my friend held the umbrella. I was ready just as it sauntered by me.

Peacock at Appleton Estate

Peacock at Appleton Estate

Clydesdales in Falmouth

These Clydesdales in Falmouth moved so quickly, I hardly had time to get a second shot.

The Animals that Caught My eye

Clydesdales, Falmouth


Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way. – John Muir

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





5 Ingredients That Fire up Jamaican Cuisine

Jamaican cuisine draws heavily on the culinary traditions of the people who have called it home – the Tainos, the original people, Africans, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Indian, Chinese, and our own Rastafarians.

However, almost everyone associates our cuisine with pepper, specifically Scotch bonnet. But you’d be wrong to believe that we rely solely on Scotch bonnet to fire up our food.  Here are five ingredients that you’re guaranteed to find in every Jamaican pantry.

Scotch Bonnet pepper – One of the hottest peppers in the world, Scotch bonnet got its name because it resembles the tam (bonnet) a Scott wears. The mature pepper can be green, red, orange or yellow. You’ll find Scotch bonnet in just about every dish, from soups to stews. Along with several other spices, it gives jerk its heat.

Pimento – Pimento is the dried fruit of the pimento tree. Jamaica is one of the main producers of pimento. In 1693, it was introduced to the market as a “sweet scented Jamaican pepper” but you might know as “allspice” because it has the combined flavor of cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon. We not only use the dried fruit, which we use mostly whole, we also use the wood. It is what gives jerk its distinctive, smoky flavor which you won’t get in packaged jerk sauce. We also use pimento to make a delicious liqueur.

Thyme – Another ingredient that revs up the flavor in just about every dish we prepare, from rice and peas to stews, soups and meats. Thyme is typically used fresh, sometimes dried but rarely ever bottled. You’ll find it in local markets bundled with a bunch of scallions, or you can buy it on its own. Let it dry naturally, away from sunlight, and store it in a glass container.

Curry – Curry here refers to the mixture of spices that is used to make curried goat, chicken, etc. Indian indentured servants, who came to island to work on plantations following the abolition of slavery, added curry, as well as roti, to our cuisine. However, the type of curry that is popular in Jamaica is a powdered blend that pales in comparison to the rich, textured curries that India is known for. The Jamaican curry powder has pimento, turmeric, cumin, coriander, fenugreek and anise.

Jerk sauce/seasoning/rub – Like curry, jerk refers to the sauce/seasoning as well as a way of cooking. To jerk is to slow-cooking meat, traditionally pork, over a fire made of pimento wood. The fire releases the oil from the wood, which give the meat its distinctive flavor. In addition to the pimento flavor, the meat is also seasoned with a mixture of spices. That mixture, was until a few years ago, a closely guarded secret. After almost disappearing from local cuisine, jerk made an explosive return around the 1970s with an expanded menu which included chicken, fish and sausage. For many years, Boston Bay in Portland, was the place to go for authentic jerk. Now, jerk stands are as common as patty shops. The main ingredients in jerk sauce/seasoning/rub are thyme, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, and Scotch bonnet peppers.

Homemade Jerk Seasoning
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  1. 1 onion, finely chopped
  2. ½ cup finely chopped scallions, including green parts
  3. 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  4. 2 teaspoons salt
  5. 1 teaspoon ground pimento (Jamaican allspice)
  6. ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  7. ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  8. 4-6 Scotch Bonnet or habanero peppers, seeded and deveined, minced fine
  9. 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Using a mortar and pestle or a food processor, combine all the ingredients and grind to a paste. Store leftover paste in the refrigerator in a tightly closed jar for about 1 month.
Other ingredients you’ll find:

Nutmeg – The dry seed is used primarily in baking, while its outer shell is dried and ground to produce mace, another spice. Nutmeg is indispensable in Jamaican baking.

5 Ingredients that fire up Jamaican cuisine


Coconut /Coconut Milk – In our house, we never made rice and peas without coconut milk, and it wasn’t the processed kind either. Whether you use the milk that has been extracted from shredded coconut or the packaged version, coconut milk is a must have in Jamaican cuisine.

Vinegar – Typically made from cane sugar, vinegar is a key ingredient in escoveitch fish. Vinegar, like lime, is also used to wash meats and fish prior to cooking. It is also used to pickle Scotch bonnet peppers.

Ginger – Introduced into Jamaica around 1525. By 1547, Jamaica was exporting ginger and was one of the three largest producers of ginger in the world between the 1930s and 1960s. The variety of ginger we have in Jamaica is thinner and several times more potent than that in the U.S. We use it in cooking and baking, and also to make homemade ginger beer and sorrel – two drinks that are popular around Christmas.

5 Ingredients that Fire up Jamaican Cuisine


Browning – Most Jamaicans use browning, which is really burnt sugar, in their Christmas or fruit cakes to give it that rich brown color. Some people also use it in oxtail. Use sparingly. Too much and foods will come out with a bitter taste.

Limes – used to wash fish and meats prior to cooking, to make lemonade, rum punch and sorrel.


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