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Yummy Yellow Yam

Yummy Yellow Yam

Traveling through Jamaica’s rural areas is something I look forward with as much anticipation and excitement as a child waiting for a birthday or Christmas. It’s always a treat because I never know what I’ll see.

Several months ago, I was driving with three of my neighbors from Clarendon on the south central coast back to Montego Bay on the north west coast. Our trip took us through parts of Trelawny, St. Ann and Manchester – all well-known for different types of produce.

This particular Friday afternoon was bathed in the warm, golden glow of the setting sun as, at almost every turn, we saw farmers bringing their produce on donkeys and in small carts from the fields to the side of the road. Pickup trucks would take it the rest of the way to market.

Yummy Yellow Yam

Bringing yams from the field

There were mounds of yellow yams, mostly. But there were also otaheiti apples, Scotch Bonnet peppers, scallion, and thyme.

Most times we’d slow down just long enough for someone to stick their head out the window and ask, “How much a pound is the yellow yam?” or “Do you have any sweet peppers?”

Usually, price dictated whether we’d stop but when we saw this man with his son, something about him made us decide to buy. As soon as we found a good spot to park, all four of us jumped out of the car and ran across the road to choose a piece of yellow yam.

Yummy Yellow Yam

Yams for the market

They were weighing and sorting the freshly dug yam, the soil stubbornly clinging to each piece. They looked so delicious, it was difficult to know which to choose. So we let him decide.

Jamaica grows about eighteen varieties of yams, including yellow yam, St. Vincent, white, Lucy, and Negro. Yellow yam is by far the most popular. Trelawny, the parish we were in when we stopped to buy, accounts for up to 60% of the yams grown in Jamaica and almost half of what is exported — mostly to supply the growing demand in West Indian communities in the UK, US and Canada. (I was surprised to discover that Amazon sells yellow yam. [simpleazon-link asin="B00I12V9IQ" locale="us"]Roundleaf Yellow Yam imported from Jamaica (5 lb)[/simpleazon-link])

Yam adds potassium, protein, vitamins and folic acid to the diet and because it is packed with soluble fiber, it is suitable even for young children. Yams are also great for people with diabetes as it slows down the release of sugar into the cells.

Yams are denser in texture than the potato and can be eaten boiled (and mashed with butter, my favorite) or roasted. One of the things I look forward to on road trips is buying roasted yellow yam and saltfish from roadside vendors.

Most Jamaicans love yellow yam and have it at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is even the title of a popular folk song, When wi roas di yellow yam. Take a listen here.

When Olympic champion, Usain Bolt, won gold in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, his father was reported as saying his speed was due to his diet, specifically the yellow yam. Not surprising as Bolt is from yam country, Trelawny.

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Foodie Tuesday: Codfish Fritters (Stamp and Go)

Codfish Fritters

I love codfish fritters – tasty bite-size morsels of cooked codfish enveloped in light flour – but made them for the first time only last year. Cod or salt fish fritters are very popular as appetizers or snacks and are made by adding flaked codfish to a batter, which is then deep-fried.

Codfish Fritter batter

Batter

Also called Stamp and Go, apparently after the command (“Stamp and go!”) that was given to 17th century British sailors when tasks had to be done in a hurry, codfish fritters are sometimes referred to as Jamaica’s first fast food. They are relatively easy to make, so I’m not sure why it took me so long to make them. Codfish fritters can be eaten by themselves or accompanied by a dipping sauce.

Codfish Fritters

Fritters

How to Make Codfish Fritters

Ingredients

  • 1 cup salted codfish (deboned) 
  • 2 cups unbleached All Purpose Flour
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, finely chopped, seeds removed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks escallion, finely sliced
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 Scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil, plus more for frying
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups water, at room temperature

Instructions

  1. Soak codfish overnight in water, or bring to a boil twice (for 12-15 minutes), draining and adding fresh water after each boil.
  2. Drain and rinse the codfish under running cold water.
  3. Using a fork or your fingers, flake the codfish into small pieces, taking care to remove any remaining bones.
  4. To a small skillet, add oil and allow to get hot. Add onion, garlic, tomatoes and escallions. Sautee until soft about 5 minutes. Add black pepper then combine. Remove from heat and allow to cool
  5. Add codfish to the seasonings. Stir to combine.
  6. In a medium bowl, add flour and baking powder. Stir to incorporate.
  7. Add codfish mixture to the flour and stir to combine.
  8. Add water gradually, mixing by hand until a firm but loose batter is achieved
  9. Pour oil into a 6-qt. Dutch oven to a depth of 2, and heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°. Using a tablespoon, drop rounds of dough into oil, and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes; repeat until remaining dough is finished.
  10. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fritters to paper towels to drain briefly.
  11. Garnish with tomato or lime wedges, chopped scallion, etc., and serve.

Recipe adapted from Enid Donaldson’s The Real Taste of Jamaica.

Although I’ve only used codfish, I’m sure other meats can be substituted. Fritters are not only about meat. Bananas that are very ripe can also be used, though the recipe is slightly different.

 

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Foodie Tuesday: Blue Drawers

Cornmeal cooked in banana leaf to make blue drawers

Welcome to another #FoodieTuesday linkup!

 

Would you eat something called blue drawers?

Don’t answer just yet. Read on then let me know later.

Cornmeal cooked in banana leaf to make blue drawers

Cornmeal pudding wrapped in banana leaf

Jamaicans have a knack for christening people and things with more descriptive names. Some members of my family did it. If someone reminded them  of something else or if the person had a prominent feature, they’d call that person, behind their backs, of course, by that name.

That’s what happened with Blue Drawers. But no one seems to know how this little pudding ended up with this colorful moniker since it’s not blue – though during the cooking/steaming process the banana leaf turns the water a slightly blue color – and it’s not drawers either.

Blue Drawers, also called Tie-a-Leaf or Dukunnu came to Jamaica from West Africa.  Dukunnu, in the Akan language, means boiled maize bread.

Blue drawers on a plate

Ready to eat – blue drawers from my family reunion

Blue drawers is typically made from cornmeal, but it can also be made using green bananas, cassava, sweet potato or yam, which is grated and mixed with sugar and spices. It is then cut in squares, wrapped in banana (or plantain) leaf. tied in small packages with a string (or banana bark, hence the name tie-a-leaf) and boiled or steamed. It can be eaten at anytime.

I hadn’t thought of, or seen, Blue Drawers in several years and was surprised to see it this past weekend at my family reunion. It wasn’t on the official menu but there it was, stacked three or four deep in an aluminum container, next to the usual breakfast items. I didn’t try the blue drawers right away. When I returned later, the container was empty.

How to Make Blue Drawers

Ingredients

1 pound cornmeal
2 ounces white flour
1/2 pound sugar
1/2 cup grated coconut
1 tsp. cinnamon powder
1 cup raisins
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. molasses
2 tsp. vanilla
2 -1/2 cups coconut milk

Banana leaf or aluminum foil
Banana bark or string
Water

Method:

Cut the center vein of the banana leaf. Soften or ‘quail’ the leaf by holding it over an open flame or boiling water until the green leaf turns dark. Set aside.

Put water in a large pot to boil.

Blend dry ingredients and grated coconut thoroughly. Mix wet ingredients, then add to dry ingredients. Stir briskly.

Place enough of the mixture into the center of banana leaf to make a 4-6” square. As if you’re wrapping a gift, fold each side of the leaf to the center; making sure it overlaps to keep the parcel waterproof. Use twine to wrap the bundle lengthwise and crosswise. Repeat until the batter is used up.

Place each package gently in simmering water that should be just enough to cover all the parcels. Cook for about 40 minutes, or until filling feels firm to the touch.

Plate and serve blue drawers.

Serves 8.

Here’s a video demonstrating how to make blue drawers. (As you can imagine, as young people, we would’ve only been able to use name with our friends. In front of parents and adults, it’d be either dukunnu or tie-a-leaf.)

So would you eat blue drawers?

 

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The Breadfruit, Bligh’s Gift to Jamaica and the Mutiny it Caused

Robbie with breadfruit

Looking up at a breadfruit tree laden with fruit, I heard an older gentleman remark to no one in particular, that it’d be a rough year. Breadfruit, he continued, as if revealing some truism that was lost to this younger generation, is always plentiful during hard times.

His words echoed in my head each time I noticed tree after tree that was covered in the slightly oval fruit that grows to the size of a large grapefruit. And as the value of the Jamaican currency fell to unprecedented levels against the US dollar this month, I began to wonder whether this abundance of breadfruit might really be a harbinger of hard times.

Maybe now, I thought, that prices on basic food items begin to creep upwards and salaries that have stayed flat buy less and less at the supermarket, its time to turn to this nutritious, and often overlooked food.

Lone breadfruit on a tree

Breadfruit

How the Breadfruit Came to Jamaica

The breadfruit was brought to Jamaica in 1793 by Captain William Bligh of the unfortunate HMS Bounty, precisely because it was considered an inexpensive and nutritious way to feed the large number of slaves who worked the island’s then numerous sugar plantations.

Bligh, an experienced navigator, who had lived near Lucea, Hanover from 1784-7, had sailed ships of sugar and rum from the island to England while he was in his uncle-in-law’s employ.

His ill-fated expedition to the South Pacific to bring back breadfruit and other plants ended in the now infamous mutiny in which Bligh not only lost his ship, he also lost the specimens he had collected.

He and 18 of his trusted crew were given a small boat which Bligh piloted 3,618 miles to Timor aided only by a quadrant and pocket watch, and his memory of charts he had seen. On his return to England, he was promoted to captain and in 1791, returned to Tahiti on the Providence for more fruit.

It was from this shipment that Bligh delivered specimens to the island of St. Vincent and Jamaica’s Bath Botanical Gardens in St. Thomas, and Bluefields in Westmoreland.

How the breadfruit caused the Mutiny on the Bounty

Breadfruit storyboard, Hanover Museum, Jamaica

Today, hundreds of varieties of breadfruit can be found in nearly 90 countries from the Pacific Islands, to Southeast Asia to the Caribbean and Central America. Left untouched, a tree can grow to about 85 feet, and yield between 150-200 fruits each year. One hundred grams of fruit has 27 grams of carbohydrates, 70 grams of water, as well as vitamins, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals.

Fried roasted breadfruit, ackee, saltfish, Johnny Cakes, avocado

Traditional breakfast, a slice of fried roasted breadfruit on the right. Max Jamaica Restaurant, NJ

While the easily grown trees, with its distinctive large, cut leaves, flourished in Jamaica, it took more than 40 years for the breadfruit — the taste is sometimes described as a cross between a potato and a plantain — to become popular to the local palate. Now, every household has at least one tree in its backyard and breadfruit or breshay is a staple of our diet, eaten at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even as a snack.

It is baked, fried, boiled, jerked, roasted and juiced. We also make chips, porridge, dumplings, salads, fritters, cakes, muffins and puddings from this almost year-round fruit all the while being mostly oblivious to the story behind their introduction to the island.

Given a choice, I take breadfruit over rice every time. A few slices of the young breadfruit give soups ‘body.’ The ‘fit’ breadfruit, when boiled is soft enough to be mashed like potato and eaten with butter. The ripe or slightly ripe better yet a yellow heart breadfruit is mandatory for roasting.

For the unlucky few who don’t have a tree in their backyards, breadfruit can usually be found in local markets. Roasting breadfruit is typically higher in price. Depending on location, they are between $0.50 and $1.00, and between $0.30 and $0.70 for boiling.

One of my favorite breadfruit recipes is baked breadfruit stuffed with ackee and saltfish.

Baked Breadfruit Stuffed with Ackee and Saltfish

Prepare ackee and saltfish, as shown below, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the stem from a medium breadfruit, rub with butter or brush with olive oil, and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake breadfruit for 35-45 minutes or until tender. Test whether a knife or skewer inserted into the breadfruit comes out clean.
Remove the breadfruit’s core (heart), stuff with salt fish and ackee. Rub more butter or olive oil on the outside and return to the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes. Let cool then cut breadfruit in half. Garnish and serve.

Ackee and Saltfish

1/2 lb Saltfish (dried, salted codfish)
12 fresh ackees or 1 (drained) can of tinned ackees
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 Scotch Bonnet pepper
1 sweet pepper, for garnish (optional)
1 chopped tomato
1 sprig fresh thyme
Oil for frying

Soak saltfish overnight or boil to remove the salt. Drain. If boiled, let it cool before removing and discarding the skin and bones. Flake the fish. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Saute onions until transparent then add chopped tomato, pepper and thyme. Add saltfish and mix with onions, tomato, pepper. Fold in ackees and stir gently so the ackees stay whole. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, garnish with sweet pepper or use as stuffing for baked breadfruit.

 

This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos and stories from locations around the world.