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Soursop, The Sweet and Sour Fruit

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.
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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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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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Expedia Brings Concierge Service to Montego Bay

I don’t remember using Expedia, the online booking agency, to buy airline tickets though I’ve used it to compare prices. This time they had the best price on a nonstop ticket to Montego Bay. That clinched it.

A few days after I’d completed my purchase, I received an email from Expedia introducing my personal Jamaica concierge. Although I didn’t need the complimentary concierge service, which is provided by an Expedia Local Expert®, I was intrigued.

Expedia Concierge ServiceWhen I called the toll-free number in the email, Dania, Expedia’s Concierge’s distinctive Jamaican voice greeted me. Dania explained that she could assist me to book a transfer to my hotel and pre-book any activities I was interested in but since I didn’t need her expertise, I chatted with her instead.

Expedia, she explained, had partnered with Jamaica Tours, a local company, to launch the service, which started last August. According to its website, Expedia Concierge Service is provided by “knowledgeable” local experts in several locations including Hawaii, Mexico, and Las Vegas, Orlando and New York.

Jamaica Tours Limited, a 50 year old company, is the island’s largest ground tour operator and destination management company.

Although I didn’t need Expedia’s Concierge Service this time, I’m happy to learn that they offers it. There’s a lot of information about local attractions online, for example, but when you’re traveling to an unfamiliar destination, it’s helpful and reassuring to have someone who knows the scene help you find what you need so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.

Have you used a concierge service during your travels?