Many of us learn to cook while watching the women in our families – our mothers, grandmothers, and aunties. Many others learn from using cookbooks.
I spent a lot of time in the kitchen in my early days – but I was doing homework rather than actively watching my mother cook. Frankly, I wasn’t very interested, maybe because I was a picky eater, but she also wouldn’t let me near the stove.
So the kitchen wasn’t alien territory to me and as soon as I was old enough, I was helping her bake the rum cakes that are synonymous with Christmas in Jamaica and the Caribbean. I loved those days in the kitchen with her. It was a little game with us – me trying to sneak and eat some of the nuts she had to put in the cake, she trying to catch me with the evidence.
Maybe because of all those years in the kitchen, I wasn’t worried about not being able to cook when I moved away to attend school. Part of it was common sense – I knew, for example, that if I planned to cook rice and peas, I’d have to boil the peas before adding the rice. The most important part, I think, was memory — I knew how the food was supposed to taste.
I was confident. Fried chicken was one of the first meals I tried. It was a Sunday and I remember thinking that my kitchen smelled just like the one at home.
And as time passed, I perfected the meals I tried and added new ones to my repertoire. Each time I visited home, I brought one or two Jamaican cookbooks back with me.
Jamaican Cookbooks on My Kitchen Counter
These Jamaican cookbooks come in handy, when I’m baking, when I need to look up ingredients or recently, when I was researching the history of homemade peppermint candy.
Norma Benghiat’s, Traditional Jamaican Cookery, my first purchase, reminded me of a little cookbook my mother used. Benghiat’s book features all the traditional dishes and provides background information on many ingredients in the extensive glossary.
Enid Donaldson’s, The Real Taste of Jamaica, is the book I refer to friends who want to learn more about Jamaican cooking. A larger than Benghiat’s book, it’s full of attractive color photos that make the foods jump off the page. I turned to Donaldson when I started to make Easter buns and use it frequently to check ingredients when I try something new.
Jerk From Jamaica, Helen Willinsky – As the name suggests, all the recipes are about jerk and were created in Walkerswood, a local company’s kitchens. My favorite recipe from Helen is the Stir Fry Vegetables and Jerk Tofu, which I wrote about recently.
A Collection of 19th Century Jamaica Cookery and Herbal Recipes – a lovely collection of old recipes, I check this cookbook out when I need herbal remedies.
Lucinda’s Authentic Jamaican Recipes, Lucinda Scala Quinn – I love Lucinda’s cookbook more for the photos than the recipes. I use for presentation ideas.
Food of Jamaica, Authentic Recipes from the Jewel of the Caribbean, John DeMers and Eduardo Fuss – Again, another Jamaican cookbook I love for the color photos of the food. When I feel adventurous, I check for variations on recipes or presentation.
Nyam Jamaica, Rosemary Parkinson, at coffee-table size and 425 pages, this isn’t just a cookbook, it’s a culinary tour de force through all fourteen of the parishes that make up Jamaica. Beautifully photographed, Nyam (an African word for eat) Jamaica looks at the history of the food, it features interviews with the cooks who make the foods, and offers unique recipes, like ackee cheesecake.
JamaicanEats, while not a Jamaican cookbook, this magazine features articles on cooking, stories, and reader recipes.