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A Plate of Tropical Fruits

I had several ideas for this week’s FoodieTuesday but this photo of a plate of tropical fruits captured my attention. I stared at the fruits for several minutes, remembering the breakfast that it accompanied, the people who shared the table, the laughter, the view and even the activities we did that day. The colors, in particular, reminded me of the sun and warm temperatures.

A Plate of Tropical Fruits

Slices of cantaloupe, pineapple, lime, paw paw (papaya), mango and banana

Cantaloupe: Though not native to Jamaica, local farmers have been experimenting with and growing cantaloupe. But production is relatively small. Only about 2,000 metric tonnes are exported annually.

Pineapple: It’s difficult to tell from the photo what variety of pineapple this was. You can find at least three different types growing in Jamaica – cowboy, sugar loaf and Ripley.

Lime: Almost every Jamaican has a lime tree in their backyard garden. We use limes to make lemonade (limeade), in cooking and baking. We also use the leaves to make tea.

Paw Paw: Paw paw as we call it here is the reddish orange fruit on the plate. It is probably native to the West Indies. The fruit that is popular now is smaller than the variety I remember (the one I didn’t like as a child). According to the University of the West Indies website, there are 45 species of papaya and the “trees” reach fruit bearing age after only a year. The “Solo” type, with pink flesh was introduced to Hawaii from Barbados and Jamaica in 1911.

Jamaica exports the “sunrise” variety which has a deep red flesh. We started exporting in the 1980s, with more than half of the fruit going to the US. A smaller percentage also made it to markets in the UK, Canada and Holland.

Mango: It’s difficult to say which type of mango this one is, since we have at least 21 different varieties. From the size, I’d guess that it’s either a Julie or Bombay.

Banana: I can say for sure this was not a honey banana, but beyond that I can’t say which type this was as we have several varieties in Jamaica.

Which tropical fruit is your favorite?

 

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Cooking With My Mama

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of my mama, who I lost 13 years ago today. Mama baked almost every Christmas but she cooked only on special occasions so most of my experiences with her in the kitchen center around baking.

Those memories are so clear in my mind, they’d practically overshadowed her visits when she’d commandeer my kitchen and take over all the cooking. It never ceased to amaze me how the same woman who only cooked at home when the “spirit moved” her had the energy and enthusiasm of someone younger once she landed on my doorstep.

Mama would have a meal ready for us every evening except Friday when she’d use whatever was left over to make something new. On Sundays, she’d prepare dinner, as well as dessert.

It was during one of her visits that I asked her to show me how to make escoveitch fish. Although I was confident about preparing most of our staple foods, the thought of making escoveitch fish left me feeling a bit incompetent. Mama was surprised that I didn’t know but eagerly agreed to show me.

That weekend, we bought red snapper and as soon as we returned, Mama set to work preparing it. Mama was nothing but thorough and even though they had cleaned the fish at the market, it wasn’t up to her standards. She found scales they had missed and trimmed any fins that weren’t properly cut. Then she washed the fish thoroughly in water mixed with limes.

Next, she patted them dry with paper towels and set the fish aside on more paper towels to absorb any remaining water. Since we would be frying the fish, she wanted to make sure there was very little moisture left. (You can also coat the fish lightly with flour to avoid having the oil pop.)

Once that was done, Mama measured and mixed salt and freshly ground black pepper. She scored the fish on both sides and rubbed in the salt and pepper mixture. She also rubbed the mixture on the inside of each fish then set them aside to marinate.

While she waited, Mama cut up onions and Scotch bonnet peppers. She also Julienned some carrots and set that aside too.

After she fried the fish, Mama put them in a Pyrex dish. She poured vinegar into another saucepan, added onion and Scotch bonnet slices and pimento berries and let them simmer for a few minutes.

The pungent aroma of vinegar, onions and Scotch bonnet can be an assault on the senses so it’s best to open a window or turn on a fan.

Once the onion had wilted, Mama turned the flame off and poured the vinegar mixture over the fish and let it marinate overnight. Leaving it in the marinade overnight allows the fish to absorb the flavors of the vinegar and pepper.

Mama’s Escoveitch Would be a Hit for Easter

Thousands of pounds of escoveitch and fried fish were eaten in Jamaica between Good Friday and yesterday, Easter Monday.  Easter is just not Easter without it or the ubiquitous bun and cheese.

 

Have a foodie post you’d like to share? Join the #FoodieTuesday linkup and add it here  –

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Jamaica: Gratto Bread

Jamaicans love bread, it’s a staple of our diet, and we have several types. Our hardo bread (hard dough) goes with everything from condensed milk to bully beef, and creamy Anchor butter. The soft, buttery coco bread seems even tastier when it’s enveloping a hot and highly spiced patty.

Peg bread does well with a mug of tea; duck bread is a must at Christmas time, and bammy (cassava bread) and gratto bread aren’t complete unless they’re accompanied by fried fish – especially sprat with the gratto.

When my aunt visited us a few Christmases ago, she brought a list of the foods she had to have while she was home. It included otaheiti apples, gratto bread and fried sprat.

Jamaica: Gratto Bread

Freshly baked gratto bread

I hadn’t seen gratto bread in many years and when my aunt mentioned it, I thought immediately of my childhood and my grandmother who would buy gratto from a bread van that passed by her house with breads and other freshly baked goods a few times a week. But I wasn’t sure where I’d find gratto so I checked with my neighbor.

You’ll have to go to a bakery (rather than the supermarket), she said. It took us a few days and a few bakeries before we found one that sold gratto bread. (One of my aunt’s friends brought her otaheiti apples from her garden but we didn’t find sprat until the evening before we drove her to her next destination.)

What’s Gratto Bread?

The word gratto (sometimes gatto), according to the Dictionary of Jamaican English (Cassidy and LePage), is from the French, gateau. I haven’t been able to find out more about the French connection or the origins of this bread, which the dictionary says “is rolled out flat, folded over, then folded again to produce four layers which are then boiled (or usually) baked.” It seems only a few bakeries still make it.

When the gratto finally arrived, it didn’t look familiar and no matter how much I searched my brain, I couldn’t retrieve an image of the one my grandmother used to buy. This was square, the size and shape of a small sheet cake. There were holes on the edges and in the center, likely to vent it while it baked.

It didn’t look familiar to my aunt either. The gratto bread she remembers had a cornmeal filling. Goes to show that even on an island the size of Jamaica, foods can vary between regions. Despite not recognizing the gratto bread, my aunt was so excited to try it, I barely had time to take a photo before she cut a piece off.

It tasted slightly sweet but the texture was similar to the dense, hardo bread that we normally eat. Although it didn’t have the cornmeal filling that she remembered and she didn’t fried sprat to go with it, my aunt enjoyed her gratto bread and I felt very happy that she was able to cross that off her list.

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Negril’s Rick’s Cafe Turns 40 Years, Folks!

I was rushing towards Times Square around 5:20 p.m. a few weeks ago when I noticed the unmistakable colors of the Jamaican flag high atop one of the buildings in the heart of the square.

I slowed my pace and looked. Sure enough, it was the flag. It was emblazoned on the finely chiseled body of a man, his arms outstretched as he prepared to take a dive, his movements magnified frame by slow motion frame. I was still fixated on his body when I it registered: the Rick’s Café logo.

Before I knew it, before I remembered that I had my digital camera in my bag, the ad was gone, replaced by another not so memorable one. Darn!

I did the next best thing: I took out my phone and sent a text to everyone in my address book. “Rick’s Café is 40, they have an ad in Times Square!!”

Yes, folks, Rick’s Café, voted the Best Beach Bar by the Travel Channel, is 40 years old. Forty? I was surprised. When did that happen? Wasn’t it just the other day? Time sure flies, I thought.

I still remember the first time I heard about it. I was in a taxi on my way to JFK to catch an Air Jamaica flight home. The driver asked where I was going and when I told him, he asked if I’d ever been to Rick’s Cafe. I hadn’t, even though it’s located in Westmoreland, close to where I was headed.

Rick’s Cafe was founded in April 1974 when Negril, then mostly a fishing village with few amenities hadn’t even started dreaming of tourism – at least, not on the scale it is now.

I can’t remember the first time I visited but after that, it became a regular place to hang out and watch the sunset, a place to take friends who were visiting. Seriously, if you’re in to watching the sun as it slowly paints everything in its path orange, purple, red, gold, blues as it moves behind the horizon, drink in hand, then Rick’s Cafe is the place for you. (That finely chiseled body, I mentioned earlier, yeah, Rick’s known for that too. They’re usually several more like him and they’re like the icing on the cake.)

Rick's Cafe Turns 40 Years, Folks!

Rick’s Cafe ad, Times Square

The next day, I told all my Jamaicans friends at work to go check out the ad and I looked for it every day after that, camera and phone at the ready, but I didn’t see it. I was disappointed. Did I imagine it?

I returned for several more days, no luck. Honestly, I kinda gave up. Then one morning, as I was passing through at 8:30, which is late for me, I glanced up halfheartedly, and caught the last frame of the ad. Big smile brightened my face. Okay, I though, it’s still playing. And it seems to rotate on the hour at the half hour.

But just to be sure, I made a plan: I’d pass through Times Square at 5:30 to see if I’d catch it. Sure enough, I did. I left work late, the following evening not even thinking about the ad and saw it again. This time, it was at 6:30.

A few days later, I ran into Paul, one of the people I had told about the ad, in Times Square. He was in the right place – at the corner of 43rd Street and Broadway — but he was looking away from the ad.

I set him straight and we waited together. Several ads cycled through then without fanfare, the Rick’s Café ad appeared. Paul was still holding his cell phone staring at the ad instead of taking a photo – it happened to me too. I shouted at him, “Paul, tek di picture!”

That night, I sent out an email to my friends. We were going to Hell’s Kitchen for dinner the following evening. Let’s meet in Times Square, I said, so we can catch the ad together. Despite the rain, I hustled to the spot we had agreed on but they didn’t make it. Their loss, but I’ll try again. (Seeing it is such a joy, it’s like watching Usain (Bolt) or any of our athletes win. It fills me with tremendous pride, a pride we all share. It’s a Jamaican thing, an island thing. You understand?)

I have no idea how long the Rick’s Cafe ad is running but if you’re ever in Times Square and would like to see it, head for 43rd and Broadway. If you stand at the northeast corner and look up at the billboard above Europa, you’ll see it. It seems to run every hour on the half hour. At least that’s when I’ve seen it.

Happy Birthday, Rick’s Café! You’re aging gracefully and still managing to maintain your wild side. Here’s to another 40 years of providing us the best vantage point to enjoy the most spectacular sunsets in Negril.

Rick’s Cafe is located on West End Road in Negril, Jamaica. 876-957-0380