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Pepper Shrimp – The Taste of Middle Quarters in Hackensack NJ

Pepper Shrimp - The Taste of Middle Quarters in Hackensack NJ

I’ve been eating pepper shrimps (or ‘swimps,’ as some of us call it), since I was in high school and I can still remember my first time (it’s the same every time).

Biting into one of these Scotch-bonnet-infused on-the-go morsels, my tongue is instantly in flames, my eyes watering, heat passing from my throat and warming my stomach.

I involuntarily pull in air, slapping my tongue against my lips and the roof of my mouth, to try to cool it. That doesn’t work; nothing does. Now, even my lips are on fire.

I take a few seconds then, my mouth still reeling, I bite into another shrimp – head and all – continue the delicious torture, which, by now, is causing my nose to run.

Pepper Shrimps, crawfish really, typically come from the Black River, the longest in parish of St. Elizabeth, one of the longest in the island.

The shrimps are cooked in a mixture of Scotch bonnet and spices and sold in little paper or plastic bags of about 6 or so by roadside vendors in Middle Quarters, Jamaica’s “Shrimp Country.”

The shrimps are small, no more than an inch or an inch and half so we eat head and all. Some people peel them skin off, other people (I’m one) don’t.

Most visitors to Jamaica stay on the northwest for the spectacular beaches. But those who make it to the south coast usually discover an entirely different side the island, one that is rustic as well as charming.

Here, small cook shops abound and vendors sell typical Jamaican fare, using fresh ingredients grown locally in St. Elizabeth, the island’s “Bread Basket.”

On my way to visit a friend in New Jersey few weeks ago, I stopped at Mac West Indian Restaurant in Hackensack to get some escoveitch fish. While waiting, I noticed they had peppered shrimps and asked the server to add a couple packets to my bill.

I was surprised to see pepper shrimp on the menu at any of the restaurants I frequent. Seeing them brought back memories of some pepper shrimps I bought in the Bronx in the 80s.

I remember Michael driving us back to Manhattan where we were staying and the two of us eating shrimp after shrimp, our mouths ablaze because Ting, the carbonated grapefruit soft drink that someone at the restaurant had recommended, didn’t calm the fire in our mouths. (Apparently, milk is better but I hate milk.)

Michael was swearing like a sailor while I laughed and called him a wimp for not being able to handle “a little pepper.” I still smile at the memory.

Though they weren’t crawfish, the pepper shrimp I bought in Hackensack took me back to Middle Quarters. I could almost feel the sun on my face as I bit into my first one.

Pepper Shrimp
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Ingredients
  1. 4 cups water
  2. 1/2 cup chopped scallion
  3. 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  4. 3 fresh thyme sprigs
  5. 3 fresh Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles, halved and seeded
  6. 2 tablespoons salt
  7. 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  8. 10 whole allspice
  9. 1 lb large shrimp
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients except shrimp in a 4-quart heavy pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, 20 minutes.
  2. Stir in shrimp, making sure they are just covered by liquid, and remove pot from heat. Cool shrimp in liquid to room temperature, uncovered, about 1 hour. Transfer shrimp with a slotted spoon to a plate or bowl and drizzle some of cooking liquid on top.
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall Great House

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall Great House

One slow Friday evening in 2012, I decided to make the 15-minute drive to Rose Hall Great House for their night tour. I was excited.

Years earlier, I’d done the day tour of this great house that’s reputed to be haunted by the ghost of one of its former owners but I had no idea what to expect on the night tour. Would I see a ghost (or duppy) as we call them here in Jamaica?

My pulse quickened as we pulled through the security gate and I saw the great house sprouting out of the hill. I hurried to the ticket window but was crushed when the attendant said they were closed for a wedding reception.

Who’d want to celebrate a joyous beginning in a place rumored to be, and advertised, as haunted? I asked myself as I walked away, aching with disappointment. I didn’t realize until then how much I had been looking forward to the tour.

Disappointment still fresh in my mind, this time I called before heading out. Good thing too because I found out that I could get a $4 discount off the regular US$20 admission price by booking online.

As my friend and I passed through Rose Hall’s manned gate – day or night, it’s quite an impressive view – I stopped and took this photo of the imposing great house whose blacked out windows and muted lights give it a spooky air.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall

Entrance to Rose Hall Great House

But I was skeptical. Can this old house, with its claim to a violent past, release some of its restless spirits on command? How does a property satisfy visitors who’re looking to be scared witless?

Our group, about seven, met our tour guide at Annie’s Treasures, the gift shop on the property and started the short walk along a torch-lit path to the back of the house. Except for a few lights here and there, the grounds are pitch black.

As we got closer, someone screamed.

“A woman! A wo-wo-woman in the window!”

I looked in the direction she pointed but didn’t see anything. Could it have been Annie? We weren’t sure.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall Great House

Approaching Rose Hall

In advertising and marketing, it’s the hook – that story or idea that draws one in or sets one product apart from the rest. In the case of Rose Hall Great House, the story of Annie Palmer, the so-called White Witch of Rose Hall, has become so entwined with the facts, so wildly successful, it’s getting to be difficult to separate fact from fiction.

One story is that Annie Patterson, an English woman, came to Jamaica at 18 in search of a husband. Following the death from yellow fever of her parents in Haiti, Annie’s nanny, a voodoo priestess cared for the girl and taught her the tricks of her trade. By the time of her arrival on the island, she was a voodoo expert.

In another story, Annie was French. (The family being French probably quieted those who wondered what a British family was doing living in Haiti, a French-speaking country.)

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall

at Rose Hall

Whatever. This much is indisputable: Annie married John Rose Palmer, grandnephew and heir to John Palmer’s 6,500-acre estate and 2,000 slaves.

The estate, which had passed from John Palmer’s wife, Rosa, included Rose Hall Great House, a Georgian mansion, which was built in 1750 by Rosa’s second husband, George Ash. A calendar house, it originally had 365 windows, 52 doors and 12 bedrooms.

Entering Rose Hall’s Dungeon

We entered the house from the dungeon, or Annee’s Pub (that isn’t a typo), and Rose Hall’s photographer asked each of us to pose for a photo on the back steps of the great house. (There were “No Photography” signs posted all around the property. I don’t remember them being there when I took the day tour years ago.) We could buy the photo, if we liked, for $10 at the end of the tour.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall

The entrance to the Pub

Fortified sufficiently by Witches Brew, a rum and fruit juice concoction I bought in the Pub, our tour guide began describing Annie’s 11-year reign of terror at Rose Hall. According to our guide, whose name I have totally forgotten, Annie would banish disobedient slaves to be tortured and murdered in the dungeon.

Hearing that, I expected to see a few vengeful spirits – but none appeared. Disappointed, we moved from the dungeon, and as we did, I noticed a figure dressed in white. It was a slave woman – or a contemporary woman dressed like a slave – her bonneted head lowered, she whistled as her bare feet shuffled against the wooden floor.

Our guide explained that slaves were required to whistle as they served so they couldn’t eat or spit into the master’s food.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall

Annee’s

At one point, as she showed us a passage now blocked off, that led to the sea – it’s how they believe Takoo, the slave who ended Annie’s life, entered Rose Hall – a male slave bolted out, slamming the door loudly behind him. It was so absolutely unexpected I almost jumped out of my skin.

If the stories of Annie’s brutality are to be believed, it begs the question: what would motivate a young woman to perpetrate such unspeakable acts of cruelty? Even given the times when savagery on slave plantations was an everyday occurrence, the story of Annie’s acts are shocking and revolting.

According to the legend, Annie was a firm and sadistic owner who killed John Rose Palmer, her first husband after he beat her with his riding whip. Palmer had discovered her dalliance with one of his slaves. The unfortunate man didn’t see the light of the following day. Annie supposedly killed him with a potion.

She went on to marry and dispatch two more husbands – no names mentioned and no reasons given — in different rooms at Rose Hall. A similar fate befell several slave lovers, who it is said she grew tired of quickly, as well as slaves who didn’t bend to her will. According to our guide, she would order the slaves to dispose of her kills only to murder them herself.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall

Inside the Pub

The slaves were so fearful of Annie’s power, they named her the White Witch. One, however, was immune to her. As the story goes, sometime in 1831, Takoo, her lover, found his way into the house under the cover of darkness and strangled Annie in retaliation for the killing of his beloved granddaughter. Takoo was himself killed by an overseer, who was another of Annie’s lovers.

Still fearful of the White Witch even after her death, the slaves burned her possessions, including her photos and buried her in the deepest hole they could dig.

I’ve always heard there were no photos of Annie but during the night tour we were shown a group portrait that included a woman our guide said could be the White Witch. (I did the day tour so long ago, I can’t remember if they showed us this particular photo of Annie – or the woman they believe could be her – or is that another story made up to feed the legend?).

Annie, she explained, was known to dress in red, the same color one of the women was wearing. We were told to walk pass the portrait and watch as the woman in the photo seem to follow us with her eyes.

We saw other ‘apparitions’ – a woman dressed in red sitting casually in an armchair in one of the bedrooms, and a slave man in the dining room – but they weren’t nearly as unnerving as the canned sounds or, I’m sure, a real ghost, or duppy, would have been.

Life at Rose Hall After the Palmers 

After the Palmers, Rose Hall Great House passed to three different owners. One, the Hendersons, were so terrified when their maid fell from Annie’s balcony and broke her neck that they abandoned the house and relocated to Kingston.

Rose Hall was empty for years and was falling apart when John and Michelle Rollins, from Delaware, purchased it in 1965. They spent $2.5 million restoring it with silk wallpaper, chandeliers, mahogany paneling and floors, as well as European antiques.

Rose Hall estate is a mix of properties, which includes three championship golf courses, residential and commercial real estate, and another great house, Cinnamon Hill, which Johnny Cash owned.

Ghost Hunting at Rose Hall Great House

Tomb said to be Annie’s, Rose Hall

Annie Palmer has been immortalized in H.G. Wells’ The White Witch of Rose Hall, which was published in 1928. Some say that it’s the story of this fictional Annie Palmer that has wrapped Rose Hall in intrigue.

As we walked the ink black night towards Annie’s grave, we heard the unmistakable sounds of chains. In Jamaican folklore, a particular duppy called a rolling calf wears a chain around its body and makes a clanging sound when it walks. I didn’t believe it was a rolling calf but I really didn’t want to find out.

Do you believe the Annie Palmer story is true?

Would you visit a place that’s haunted?

A Quick Stop at Columbus Park, St Ann

Columbus Park

According to the history books, Columbus landed in Discovery Bay, St. Ann in 1494. Later, we learned that it wasn’t Discovery Bay but a spot a mile west, at an area known as Columbus Park, now an open-air museum located just off the north coast highway and overlooking the beautiful, expansive bay.

You’ll find several interesting artifacts including a bell from the last steam locomotive used by the Jamaica Railway Corporation, a replica of a Taino canoe, a section of an aqueduct, and a waterwheel.

Columbus Park

Aqueduct at Columbus Park

Columbus Park

Columbus Park

Columbus Park

Columbus Park – Planet locomotive

A Quick Stop at Columbus Park

Mural of Christopher Columbus

A Quick Stop at Columbus Park

View of Discovery Bay from Columbus Park

Though you can see a little of the park from the highway, I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven by it without stopping. Usually, I’d be on my way to some other destination and don’t have time. But in June, I decided it was time.

I was quite surprised to see the park and the number of artifacts there. In speaking with a few locals they said there were plans to turn the park into a heritage site. It seems this plan has been in the works for some time, however I haven’t been able to find out what exactly is planned and when work will begin. Still, it is an interesting display. I doubt there is another similar site on the island.

In addition to Columbus Park, St. Ann can claim a strong connection to the Italian explorer. He spent a year in the parish in 1503 after a ship wreck. It was during this time that the first Spanish settlement, Sevilla la Nueva, was established. Near Seville, as it is now known, is the only statue of Columbus on the island.

Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday, that Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes.

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

Following Emancipation, the colonial authorities in Jamaica looked as far as China and India for workers to replace the formerly enslaved Africans.

Between 1845 and 1917, nearly 40,000 Indians arrived in the island looking for a better life. More than a third were forced to stay after their period of indentureship as they couldn’t afford to pay their way back and the government thought it wasn’t cost effective to repatriate them.

The Indians brought not only their talent and skills, they brought their food and spices, specifically mango, tamarind, jackfruit and several plants. They also gave us curry.

Another of the culinary gifts the Indians gave Jamaica is chutney, mango chutney to be specific. Chutney, a condiment, can be either wet or dry and can contain a combination of fruits, spices, herbs and vegetables.

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney

It’s been several years since I’ve had the kind of mango chutney we make in Jamaica and hadn’t thought about for almost as long. Then a couple of months ago, I got an unexpected treat when I attended a celebration for a longtime family friend.

They served the typical Jamaican fare – mannish water soup, curried goat, escoveitch fish, jerk chicken, rice and peas, etc., and at each table mango chutney along with salt, black and chopped Scotch bonnet peppers.

Having not seen mango chutney for so long, I wasn’t sure at first what it was. But an older cousin, who sat at our table tasted it, a smile slowly brightened his face. This tastes exactly like what my grandmother used to make, he said.

The mango chutney was equal parts sweet (from the raisins and mango), tangy (ginger and vinegar) and hot (Scotch bonnet pepper). When I added it to the curried goat, the flavors danced in my mouth.

When we were ready to leave, I noticed one of the servers packing up left over mango chutney, coconut drops, and suckling pig. I wasn’t shy about asking if I could take some of the mango chutney home.

In talking with her, I found out that her mother had made the chutney. Her mom, she said, had learned the skill from her mother. She introduced me to her mother and I thanked her for the chutney. I had it with crackers, chicken, even fish. I wished I had some now.

Jamaican-Style Mango Chutney
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Ingredients
  1. 6 lb. mangoes
  2. 1 1/2 bottles cane vinegar or white wine vinegar
  3. 2 pounds sugar
  4. 1 ounce Scotch bonnet peppers, minced
  5. 4 ounce ginger, diced
  6. 1 lb. dark raisins
  7. 1 lb. golden raisins
  8. 4 cloves garlic
Instructions
  1. Combine cut up mango, raisins and peppers, add to vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic, onions and other seasonings. Boil all ingredients together gently until chutney is thick and brown.
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/
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