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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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Culture on Display at the West Indian American Carnival

The Labor Day weekend means one thing to New York’s West Indian American community: the West Indian American Carnival! Now in its 46th year, the Carnival bills itself as the greatest carnival in North America. It is perhaps New York’s largest cultural festival.

The celebration of carnival began in the 1920s as a private event among the West Indian communities in Harlem. It became an official event in 1947, when a Trinidadian woman received a permit from the city to organize a street festival on Labor Day. In 1964, the city revoked the permit because of a disturbance at one event.

The festival resumed in 1969, in a new location – Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway – perhaps following the migration of West Indians from Harlem. It also had an organizing committee, the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, which, under the 32-year stewardship of Carlos Lezama grew into the signature event it is today.

The West Indian American Carnival, 2013

Each year, the carnival kicks off on Thursday with a music festival, featuring some of the region’s popular entertainers. On Friday, there’s a Youth Fest and a Brass Fest; and a Junior Carnival Parade and Panorama Steelband Competition on Saturday. Fat Sunday (Dimanche Gras) features the winner of the steelband competition as well as the king and queen costume winners.

West Indian American Carnival Queen

Taking photos with the queen

And on Labor Day Monday, the activities come to a grand finale with parade which attracts elected officials – the Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz, has been the grand master for the last several years – business leaders, members of the Caribbean diplomatic corps and between one and three million people. They line the Eastern Parkway parade route from Schenectady Avenue to Grand Army Plaza enjoying Caribbean food, the many floats, costumed bands, and the sounds of Soca, Reggae, Zouk, Kompa, Salsa and Calypso.

Junior Carnival, West Indian American Carnival

Watching the Junior or Kiddie Carnival

Like most West Indians, I look forward to carnival and have spent many a Labor Day on the Parkway. Had it not been for my not-totally-back-to-normal-ankle, I would have been there this year. The junior carnival was a good compromise as I’d never been and I was curious to see the youngsters do their thing. Yes, carnival is not only for the adults.

Junior Carnival, West Indian American Carnival

Junior Carnival

It was nearly 2 pm when I arrived at the Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum station. As I exited the subway, I was surprised to see several parents and their costumed youngsters waiting to board. Was the carnival finished? I was relieved when one mom said her daughter had already performed and they were going home to rest. Outside the station, more people were sitting on benches near the museum’s entrance or milling around.

I followed the sound of soca music to the area behind the museum where the carnival was taking place. There were food vendors, face painters and people, lots of people, flags waving, flags tied on their wrists, or dressed in the colors of their respective flags. There was pride and excitement in the air.

There were only a few bleacher seats and they were already taken so I joined a group of people standing partially under the shade of a large tree. But I was so far back, I could hardly see the stage when the different camps danced and paraded before the judges, without raising myself on to my toes – something I could have done easily pre-accident. I was lucky to get a few photos. I’ll just have to get there earlier next time.

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

The Tambourine in Jamaican Culture

The tambourine or timbrel is an important musical instrument in Revival churches in Jamaica. It is also featured in mento, Kumina and Pocomania music.

According to Wikipedia, the tambourine originated in Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, the Middle East and India.

Tambourine in Jamaican Music


The Tainos, Jamaica’s original people, called it the maguey, and used it in celebrations for their ancestors.

There are several references to the tambourine in Jamaican popular culture. In the Anancy story, Tiger Sheep-Skin Suit, Brer (Brother) Tiger plays the tambourine.  Anancy (or Anansi), a spider and a trickster who outsmarts everyone, came to Jamaica from Ghana’s Ashanti people.

Another reference comes in 1837, when Isaac Belisario (1794-1849), a Jamaican artist of Jewish descent, published several paintings on street life, which included costumed dancers and singers who sang to the music of fife, triangle and tambourine.

The tambourine comes in different shapes. The most popular resembles a small drum with several metal disks placed at intervals in the side. To use it, the player shakes the instrument with one hand then strikes it with the other.

Prince Harry Playing the Tambourine in Jamaica

Last year, when Prince Harry was on his official visit to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, he played the tambourine with British vocalist Gary Barlow who was also on the island recording music for an album commemorating the Jubilee.

Pastor Brown’s Eye Catching House

The first time I saw Pastor Brown’s house, I had my friend stop so I could take a photo. It still is the most colorful and eye-catching house I’ve ever seen. My impression then was that an artist or someone equally comfortable with color lived there. Or someone who was absolutely not wedded to the conventions of design, or an eccentric.

Pastor Brown's descending the steps to his house

An Eye Catching House

My first photo was a quick shot, taken as the car rolled to a halt, the engine still running. My friend and I took off as soon as we noticed an elderly gentleman coming down the steps, his hand pointing in our direction. I was sure he would admonish me for taking a photo without his permission, or tell me I needed to pay a fee. And I felt guilty as we sped away. I felt I had invaded his privacy, something I’m very scrupulous about.

A year later, I was once again in Portland. This time, I was with a couple of my friends who I told about the house. I doubt they could imagine what I was trying to describe. It became one of those you’ve-got-to-see-this situations. When we got to the house, we knew we had to stop, and this time I was able to take it all in.

There was color everywhere, every inch of the house, every surface was decorated. There were also signs.

Pastor Brown's wall

Wall at the Brown house

Pastor Brown's gate

Gate to the house

Pastor Brown's sign

Sign and photos of Pastor Brown’s visit to Buckingham Palace

Pastor Brown's colors

Color everywhere

As we approached the gate to the property, a man waved and called out to us. “Come, come in!” he said, as if welcoming long lost friends.

The house is set back a good distance from the road. We walked down a grade, crossed a stream then walked up another grade to the house, which is set on the side of a hill.

Wall detail at Pastor Brown's

Wall Detail

Pastor Brown and Mrs Brown

Pastor & Mrs Brown

As we got to the steps, the man introduced himself as Pastor Brown. He called out and his wife appeared from behind a brightly painted door and joined us on the verandah.  Pastor Brown proudly showed us around his house. He was clearly proud of the work he had done over the years. He was even prouder to show us photos of his travels. Among them, his pride and joy, a faded photo of him standing outside Buckingham Palace. The way he tells it, it sounds like he actually met the Queen Elizabeth.

Pastor Brown's house

The house

For the record, Pastor Brown is a real preacher. He and his wife were so hospitable I even promised to visit the next time I’m in the area.

This post is part of 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.