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Coconut Drops

Coconut Drops

At the end of a birthday dinner a few weeks ago, the servers distributed small parcels containing coconut drops. Since we’d already had dessert, I decided to take mine home but having it in my hand, I couldn’t resist breaking off a piece and slipping it into my mouth. It was so delicious – just the right balance of spices and sugar – that pretty soon, the package was empty and I was feeling a bit guilty for finishing it.

Coconut drops or just plain drops are a traditional snack that’s very popular with young and old Jamaicans. The name comes from the way that drops are made – by dropping a hot mixture of diced coconut, ginger, spices and sugar onto a flat surface, traditionally banana leaf, to cool. Of course, if you don’t have a banana leaf, a greased cookie sheet will do just fine and because you spoon the mixture, you can control the size of each drops.

Since its such a simple recipe, coconut drops is one of the snacks almost everyone knows how to make, and did I say how tasty it is? In the days before packaged snacks, like banana or plantain chips, were what students reach for, it’d be one of the treats vendors always had for sale just outside the school gate.

A few years ago, one of my friends made coconut drops but she used only about half the sugar the recipe called for. Surprisingly, less sugar didn’t compromise the flavor.

Here’s a recipe for Coconut Drops from Enid Donaldson’s The Real Taste of Jamaica.

Coconut Drops
Yields 12
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Ingredients
  1. 2 cups diced coconut
  2. 1 tbsp powered ginger or 1 tsp grated root
  3. 1 tsp vanilla
  4. 1 lb brown sugar
  5. 1 pinch salt
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients adding about ½ to ¾ cup water to cook coconut. Boil about 20-30 minutes. Stir well and drop by spoonfuls onto a greased tin sheet.
Adapted from The Real Taste of Jamaica
Adapted from The Real Taste of Jamaica
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/
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Crown and Anchor, Jamaica

Crown and Anchor

I was leaving the Accompong Maroon Festival last year when I saw a man standing proudly before his game board. He seemed to be daring everyone to try their luck. I wasn’t sure which game it was then but the colours caught my eye. I was curious. I also wanted to see how this game was played. I wondered if I could beat the dealer. But I didn’t have time to try, my ride was waiting.

I’ve looked at the photo from time to time, trying to figure out which game it was but always came up blank. It didn’t look like any of the ones I was familiar with. Finally, I asked my neighbor. She emails me back – crown and anchor. Of course!

Dealer

The Dealer

Crown and anchor is a dice game that’s been around since the 18th century. Apparently, it’s quite popular with British sailors who likely brought it to Jamaica though I’m not sure when. I’ve noticed that this and other games of chance are played at festivals and around holidays, like Christmas and New Year.

Crown and anchor is played with three six-sided dice, each having the following symbols – crown, anchor, spade, heart, diamond and club. The board also has the same symbols. A player bets on one or more symbols on the board then throws the three dice. The player wins if the symbol he bets on comes on one or more of the dice.

As with most games of chance, the crown and anchor banker has the edge but I’ll still be on the look out for an opportunity to try my hand. He can’t win all the time.

What game of chance would you play?

 

Linking up this week with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to stop by and check out more photos and stories from around the world.

Soursop, The Sweet and Sour Fruit

The Sweetness of Soursop

I blame the names because despite not looking or tasting the same, it took a long time for me stop confusing soursop and sweetsop and I love them both.

While the sweetsop is about the size of an orange, the soursop is large – about 6-10 inches long — and can weigh up to 12 pounds. Both have names that end in ‘sop’ and green skin but that’s where the similarity ends. The soursop has small spikes covering its entire surface and its milky pulp tastes like a cross between a pineapple and a banana.

A native of the Caribbean, Central and South America where it is known as guanábana, the soursop is packed with several vitamins, including C and B6, thiamine, riboflavin, protein, carbohydrates and trace minerals.

Mixed with condensed milk or freshly squeezed lime juice, the pulp of the fruit can be made into delicious juices. The condensed milk makes it thick, like a smoothie, lime juice gives it a light consistency which is perfect especially on days when the temperature soars to 90 degrees and beyond. (When I’m in New York and get a taste for soursop juice, I mix pineapple juice with condensed milk.) Soursop also makes ice cream, sorbet and smoothies

The leaf, fruit, seeds and stem can be used to heal infections and there’s anecdotal evidence that a tea made from the leaves, stem or bark is an effective cancer fighter. Soursop is also credited with lowering blood pressure.

Soursop doesn’t travel well so the fruit is not usually exported. However, you can find the juice in supermarkets that sell ethnic foods.

Soursop Juice
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Ingredients
  1. 1 large soursop
  2. 1 can condensed milk (or, for a lighter drink, use the juice of 10-12 limes, to taste)
  3. 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  4. 1 tablespoon vanilla flavoring
  5. 3 cups of water
  6. ½ cup of ice
Instructions
  1. Wash the fruit to remove dirt or foreign matter. Remove the skin by hand and place the fruit in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add water then squeeze the fruit to remove the seeds.
  3. Pour the fruit and water mixture into a blender with the ice and vanilla. Puree the mixture.
  4. Remove the pureed juice from the blender and sweeten to taste. Pour into a glass then sprinkle grated nutmeg and serve.
InsideJourneys http://insidejourneys.com/
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Jamaica: Gratto Bread

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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