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Jackass Corn

I heard about jackass corn when I was younger but I don’t remember seeing let alone trying it. Lacking any context, I imagined it was a variety of corn – one that jackasses liked to eat. I know that’s pretty literal but what else could I think?

I hadn’t thought of or heard about jackass corn until sometime last year when my friend, Sandra, and I walked into 14 Parish Restaurant, a small take out spot in Hackensack, NJ. The typical assortment of sweets  – rock buns, gizzadas, grater cakes – sat on display in a glass case on the counter but there was one item I didn’t recognize. Curious, I asked what it was.

Jackass Corn

I chided the young cashier for not knowing and he went back to the kitchen to ask.

“It’s jackass corn,” he said when he returned, his face still wearing a puzzled look.

Jackass (or donkey) corn is a hard biscuit made of flour, water, coconut milk, and nutmeg. It is rolled flat, cut into rectangles and baked. According to the Dictionary of Jamaican English, it’s called jackass corn because when you eat it, it sounds like the sound a donkey makes when it’s eating corn.

Jackass Corn

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  1. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  2. 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  3. 1 cup sugar
  4. 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  5. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  6. 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  7. 3 tablespoons water
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, sugar, nutmeg and salt. Stir in the coconut. Add the water and mix, forming a very stiff dough that will not crumble.
  2. Roll out the dough on a floured board to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut the dough into small rectangles. Place the pieces onto a greased cookie sheet and prick each one with a fork. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes, or until brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a plate to cool.
Adapted from Lucinda's Authentic Jamaican Kitchen
Adapted from Lucinda's Authentic Jamaican Kitchen

Jackass corn used to be a popular snack enjoyed by school children as well as adults. It fell out of favor perhaps because it’s likely seen as irrelevant, or unsophisticated next to prepared snacks like potato chips and Cheese Trix.

But one of the unforeseen and unintended impacts of migration is that Jamaicans, like other immigrant communities, cling to the traditions that keep them connected to home. One of the many food items they hold on to is jackass corn, which explains why it would be available for sale in a small restaurant in New Jersey.

As I expected, the owner said he sells mostly to people of a certain age. Since I’d never tried them, I handed over $2 for two biscuits which came wrapped tightly in plastic. My aunt couldn’t believe it when I told her what I had found.

I couldn’t bring myself to eat my treat right away and kept the jackass corn for almost a week before finally ripping off the plastic. I tried the first one.  It was slightly sweet, with a hint of nutmeg, crisp but not as hard as I expected. I made a cup of tea, fresh mint, and had the second one. You can also have jackass corn on its own as a snack.

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For more recipes, check out Lucinda Scala Quinn’s cookbook, Lucinda’s Authentic Jamaican Kitchen

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Knutsford Express Went Above and Beyond For Me

I was exhausted when I got home. We had spent a long and exhilarating day driving more than 200 miles to visit heritage sites in St. Catherine, Jamaica and all I could think of was crawling into bed and getting some sleep.

I was about to turn off the lights when I remembered that I still hadn’t booked my ticket on the Knutsford Express for my trip to Falmouth the next morning. I logged on quickly and was thrilled to see that a bus was leaving Montego Bay at 7:30 a.m. I could sleep a little longer, I thought, as I completed the purchase.

I was ready before my 7:15 pickup but as I closed the gate to my house, I panicked. The bus was leaving at 7:30, I should be at the station at 7:15. I called Eton, my taxi driver.

I’ll be right there, he said. I’m only a few minutes away.

Eton drove like a bat out of hell, collapsing the trip to less than 10 minutes. Thankfully, of seven traffic lights only one was red.

Knutsford Express
Andre Johnson

Walking up to the Knutsford Express counter at 7:25, I told the agent that I had a ticket for the 7:30 bus to Falmouth.

“There isn’t a 7:30 bus to Falmouth,” she said. “The bus left at 7:00 a.m. and there isn’t another one till 9.”

“But I have a ticket,” I protested.

She peered at her computer screen and said to no one in particular, “The computer messed up,” picked up a phone and walked away from the counter.

On any other day, the 9:00 would have been fine. But this was the first day of a three-day historic preservation seminar I helped Falmouth Heritage Renewal to organize. I couldn’t afford to be late.

I pulled out my phone and punched in Eton’s number.

“Yes, Miss,” he said.

By the time I put my phone back in my bag, the agent returned.

“The Negril driver will take you to Falmouth,” she said.

I was stunned. The least I expected was that they’d give me a complimentary ticket but to take me to Falmouth? Wow, that was going above and beyond.

Before I could cancel my taxi, a tall young man with an engaging smile approached.

“Are you the person going to Falmouth?”

He led the way to his bus, a regular 40- or 50-seater. I couldn’t believe my luck. Actually, this was more than luck. This was a gift straight from the gods. How else to explain a bus that materialized right when I needed it?

I took one of the seats directly behind the driver’s and we pulled out of the station.

The first thing I asked was his name. Andre Johnson. Laughing, he added that both his names are common in Jamaica.

I told Andre my story and thanked him for agreeing to drive me to Falmouth. He said he had just come in from Negril and was about to leave when Keisha, the agent I spoke with, told him what happened. I felt even more grateful. The timing was pure serendipity.

I’ve been taking Knutsford Express to Kingston for at least five years and have always been impressed by their reliable and on-time service, friendly and efficient staff, comfortable and clean buses, even the chilled complimentary bottle of water they provide each passenger.

Now, thanks to Andre and Keisha, Knutsford’s stock has increased several fold in my book.

Andre, a 28 year old (he was impressed when I guess his age correctly) father of an adorable little girl and another child on the way, told me he’s been working with Knutsford Express for about nine months. Prior to joining the Knutsford team, he had also worked as a mechanic for a transport company.

Many of the Knutsford’s drivers, he added, are experienced auto mechanics so they know when something is wrong and can tell the company’s mechanics exactly what and where the problem is. Hearing that made me feel more confident in the company.

As we pulled into Falmouth, I asked Andre if I could take his photo for a post I planned to write about my Knutsford experience. He adjusted his tie and struck a pose.

I was smiling all day as I told almost everyone I met about my experience. Everyone was surprised at my good luck.

The next day, as I waited for my return trip to MoBay, I shared my story with Alexia, the Knutsford Express agent in Falmouth. She didn’t seem surprised by how Keisha had handled the situation, adding, “the error was ours.”

Fantastic, I though, Knutsford’s agents have the latitude to problem solve.

A lot of us, especially those Jamaicans who’ve lived elsewhere, are quick to bemoan the service we receive from many of the island’s companies. I can’t disagree: the majority of employees could use customer service training and be empowered to resolve issues as they arise.

And many local companies need to realize that bad service drives customers away. Clearly, Knutsford Express understands this and provides consistent, first-rate service. (The other company, in my experience, that also gets it is Flow.)

So I’m taking this opportunity to ‘big up’ Knutsford Express, Andre Johnson, Keisha, Alexia and the entire team for the service they provide. They really do take you from city to city in comfort and style.

The Counting House at Good Hope Plantation

Good Hope Great House, with its Counting House, came on my radar about 10 years ago when I was looking for a suitable venue for an event I was planning. Since then, I’ve visited Good Hope several times but for one reason or another, have never been able to see the interior of the Counting House. Finally, a few weeks ago, I got my chance. I was only disappointed because I didn’t get to spend the night there.

The king was in his counting house, counting out his money – Sing a Song of Sixpence

Good Hope Counting House
Good Hope Counting House

I don’t know about you but when I hear Counting House, a line from a certain English nursery rhyme comes to mind. The king in that nursery rhyme could well have been John Tharp, the owner of Good Hope Great House.

Tharp, a shrewd businessman, was the richest and largest landowner in Jamaica.

At the ripe old age of 23, he already owned Good Hope. He bought the estates that adjoined it and expanded his holdings to about 9,000 acres. Tharp also owned a plantation about 50 miles away in Water Works, Westmoreland. At his death, in 1804, his property was valued at over 4.5 million pounds.

Counting House, Good Hope
Backview of the Counting House

Apparently counting money in one’s home was believed to bring bad luck so Tharp had the Counting House built just steps from the main house. Remember, this was the 1700s. Jamaica had no paper money or banks until the 1800s. People like Tharp, had to be their own banks.

As I surveyed the room, I tried to imagine how it might have looked in Tharp’s day. Where did he have his vault?

Counting House, Good Hope Great House
Counting House
Counting House
John Tharp’s office

Was anyone else allowed in his Counting House? If only the walls could talk.

Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday, which Nancie at Budget Travel Sandbox organizes. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.


Cheeseberries and Wild Raspberries

I’ve been curious about cheeseberries since I saw them last summer at Holywell Recreational Park in Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains.

Cheeseberries look like orange raspberries and are about the same size but they are sweet, a bit like tangerine. They thrive in higher elevations so you’ll find them growing wild in the Blue Mountain area. As far as I’ve been able to find out, that’s where they’re mostly found.


Cheeseberries, as well as wild raspberries, are popular snacks with hikers who climb the Blue Mountains or hike any of the trails.

Wild raspberries
Wild raspberries

Cheeseberries and wild raspberries are not native to Jamaica. Interestingly, cheeseberries are listed as one of the world’s worst invasive alien species.

Wild raspberries plant
Wild raspberry plant

Would you try fruits that grow wild?

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Ruins of the Slave Hospital, Good Hope Great House Jamaica

When I heard there was a Slave Hospital at Good Hope Plantation in Trelawny, I was eager to see it. At that point, I didn’t know of another plantation that had its own hospital.

Now mostly in ruins, the remains of the 300-bed hospital, which was built around 1798, suggest a large building that was designed in almost the same Georgian style as the others at Good Hope.

Ruins of Slave Hospital Good Hope Plantation
Drawing of the Slave Hospital from

Good Hope Great House & Plantation, one of Jamaica’s largest, was owned by John Tharp, whose holdings at the time of his death in 1804, were valued at approximately $4 million dollars, including 2,800 enslaved. Next to the hospital, Tharp also established a Free School for children who showed promise. A doctor also lived on the estate.

Tharp, who was born in Hanover, Jamaica, was 23 years old when he purchased Good Hope in 1767 from Thomas Williams. He treated his slaves well, making sure they were clothed, fed and housed.

My negroes have increased and are happy. They kill me with their constant visits and attentions. It gives pleasure, though I am fatigued to death before the day is half gone for I must talk and shake hands with every one of them.

That’s not to say that they were free. They were disposable property that were listed among his livestock with a value next to their names. But it’s his making available basic needs that earned their loyalty and explains why Good Hope remained untouched during revolts that destroyed other plantations. Good Hope continued to prosper even after the abolition of the trade in 1838. The sugar estate on the property remained in operation until 1902.

Only parts of the walls and steps of the Slave Hospital remain. The current owners is use it as an aviary.

Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday, which Nancie at Budget Travel Sandbox organizes. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

Jamaican Custard Apple

A few days after I arrived home, Michael knocked on my backdoor. A reddish fruit sat cushioned on the palm of his outstretched hand. I had not idea what it was and I was hoping he hadn’t noticed the slight look of ambivalence on my face.

The skin was smooth, almost velvety to the touch but it had a few marks that made me wonder if a little fruit fly had built a home in it.

Custard Apple
Custard Apple

It’s a custard apple, my cousin said when she dropped by later and I felt silly about my initial ambivalence. Still, I searched my memory trying to recall if I’d ever seen or eaten one before.

The skin gave way easily as I pressed it and a fragrant and familiar scent greeted me when I broke the fruit open. The pulp looked exactly like the fruit we call sweetsop, with the same granular, custardy consistency (probably how it got its name) and just as sugar-sweet. Like the sweetsop, it had small sacs covering black seeds.

So what’s the custard apple? The custard apple (annona reticulata) is from the same family as the fruit we call sweetsop in Jamaica. In fact, when I searched for custard apple, I found several sites that described the sweetsop instead.

Custard Apple or Sweetsop?

I was confused and curious. Did I have the right fruit? I emailed a copy of the photo to my aunt. She confirmed that it was the custard apple. I also asked a friend from Trinidad. Many of the fruits we have in Jamaica are found in other parts of the Caribbean but usually called by different names.

Jamaican Custard Apple
Sweetsop (photo from

I thought Leesha was describing the custard apple until she printed a photo from the Internet and showed it to me. It was the sweetsop (annona squamosa), which is also called sugar apple. I added Jamaica to my search parameters and found one photo that looked like the fruit we call custard apple but she didn’t recognize it. Neither did my friend, Delma, who’s from Grenada.

The custard apple is known by many names including Jamaica apple, netted custard apple, bullock’s heart and bull’s heart (some think it’s shaped like a heart). A native of the Caribbean, it is found in Central and South America, Africa and Asia.

It is full of vitamins, iron, fiber, protein, magnesium, potassium, and other minerals.

Like the naseberry I wrote about in last week’s FoodieTuesday, the custard apple is in season now. So if you’re headed to Jamaica, see if you can find it and give it a try. I think you’ll like it.

Custard Apple Sorbet

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  1. 3 cups custard-apple pulp
  2. 1 cup (8 oz.) plain yogurt
  3. 1 tablespoon honey
  4. 1 tablespoon lime juice
  1. Puree pulp in processor or blender. Add other ingredients. Freeze in ice-cream freezer. Makes about 1 quart.
Adapted from
Adapted from

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Spanish and British History in Spanish Town Jamaica

The British had such a long colonial history in Jamaica (1655–1962) that we usually forget that the island was a Spanish colony for more than 150 years (1494-1655).

We forget, until we come across places like Savanna la Mar, Ocho Rios and Spanish Town. Nowhere else has the struggle for Jamaica played out on a grander scale than in Spanish Town.

Originally called Villa de la Vega (later Santiago de la Vega), Spanish Town was founded in 1534 and became the colony’s second capital in 1538 after Spain relocated the seat of its government from Sevilla la Nueva (New Seville was named capital in 1509).

The Spanish laid out the town with its plaza mayor the administrative center of the capital, which included the governor’s mansion, courthouse and a tavern.

When the British captured Jamaica in 1655, they put their stamp on the capital renaming it Spanish Town, redesigning it on a grid and filling it with Georgian structures.

The center was built on a square that is formed by the intersection of four streets – Adelaide (north), Constitution (south), White (east) and King (west). It is now called Emancipation Square.

Four important buildings, some in ruins, ring Emancipation Square: Rodney Memorial, the Old Courthouse, the Parish Council and the Old King’s House.

Rodney Memorial

Located on Adelaide Street on what was a Spanish tavern is the memorial commemorating British Admiral George Rodney, who defeated a French fleet that tried to invade the island in 1782.

The statue of Rodney, dressed like a Roman emperor, was created by John Bacon in 1801. Two canons flanking the statue were taken from the French ship. The country’s Archives is housed in the building behind the Memorial.

The Old Courthouse

Facing the Rodney Memorial, with the canons trained directly at it, is the old courthouse on Constitution Street, now mostly in ruins. The courthouse was built in 1819 on the site that housed a Spanish chapel and cemetery, and later a British armory. The courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1986.

House of Assembly

The House of Assembly, on White Street, was completed in 1762. It now houses the mayor’s office and the chambers of the St. Catherine Parish Council.

Old King’s House

Built in 1762 on the site of the Old Spanish Hall of Audience, King’s House, located on King Street, was the official residence of the governor of Jamaica until 1872 when the British relocated the capital and the governor’s residence from Spanish Town to Kingston.

Since there are two residences called King’s House, the Spanish Town residence is referred to as Old King’s House. Sadly, Old King’s House was destroyed by fire in 1925. Now only the front of the building remains.

Old King’s House is significant in Jamaica’s history. It was from its steps that the governor read the Emancipation Proclamation on August 1, 1834, which freed the country’s enslaved peoples.

Other Important Events in Spanish Town’s History:

  • Calico Jack Rackham was tried and convicted in Spanish Town in 1720
  • The treaty that gave Jamaica’s Maroons their autonomy was signed in Spanish Town in 1725.
  • Captain William Bligh, who brought breadfruit to Jamaica, visited Spanish Town in 1793.
  • Simon Bolivar, the influential political and military leader from Venezuela, visited the capital in 1815.
  • In 1834, Governor Eyre read the Proclamation, which abolished slavery, on the steps of Old King’s House.
  • In 1865, Paul Bogle was denied an audience with Governor Eyre after he marched from St. Thomas to Spanish Town to plead the case of the people of St. Thomas. This later lead to the Morant Bay Rebellion.
  • Governor Eyre announced the suspension of the constitution following the Morant Bay Rebellion.
  • Queen’s College, Jamaica’s first university was established at Old King’s House in 1883 and operated in Spanish Town for a year.

Spanish Town has also housed the Registrar General’s Department, the Island Record Office and Genealogical Centre, and the Supreme Court. The town has been occupied continuously for almost 500 years.

Linking up with Travel Photo Thursday, which Nancie at Budget Travel Sandbox organizes. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

The Naseberry (Fruit)

On a recent trip from Jamaica to New York, my friend and neighbor asked if I could take some frozen naseberries for a relative of hers who, she explained loves naseberries.

She drove around town until she found a vendor selling the delicious fruit at about $2.50 for a half-dozen. She returned home, flush with a feeling of accomplishment and prepared the naseberries for me to take. Sadly, after all that effort, the Customs Department didn’t allow me to bring the naseberries into the country.

I was disappointed, especially for my friend’s uncle who, I knew, would be anticipating his absolute favorite fruit – the naseberry.

The Naseberry (Fruit)
Peeled Naseberry

Also called sapodilla, the naseberry is a small, slightly round fruit that has the same brown color as a kiwi. The flesh is light brown or rust colored, tastes a bit like cinnamon and is sugar-sweet with small, black seeds. The naseberry is high in fiber and rich in antioxidents.

When ripe, the fruit is firm but pliable so you can just break it apart with the fingers and eat it. Some people also eat the skin but I’ve never tried it.

It’s unclear when this native of Mexico and Central America made it to the Caribbean where it is a perennial favorite. The trees can grow quite tall — up to a 100 feet — but you’ll find at least one in the backyard gardens of many Jamaicans.

Naseberries are now in season so if you’re headed to Jamaica before April or May when the season ends, you might see it at the breakfast buffet table at your hotel. If it isn’t, you can always ask for it.

We typically eat naseberries as I’ve described above but I found this recipe for Pork Adobo with Pineapple-Naseberry Salsa in one of our local papers, the Jamaica Gleaner, that I can’t wait to try. The combination of the pineapple and naseberry is already making my mouth water.

Pork Adobo with Pineapple-Naseberry Salsa

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  1. 600 gm boneless pork butt or loin, diced
  2. 12 garlic cloves, chopped
  3. 24 whole black peppercorns
  4. 3 bay leaves
  5. 250 ml white cane vinegar
  6. 50 ml soy sauce
  1. 1. Place pork in a heavy bottomed pot.
  2. 2. Mix all other ingredients together.
  3. 3. Pour on pork and mix well.
  4. 4. Leave to marinate overnight, or at least four hours.
  5. 5. Place pot on heat, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until pork is tender.
  6. 6. Remove pork from pan, leaving the sauce.
  7. 7. Boil sauce until slightly thickened.
  8. 8. Put pork back in sauce, mix well, season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve with jasmine rice and pineapple-naseberry salsa.
Adapted from The Jamaica Gleaner

Pineapple-Naseberry Salsa

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  1. 1 pineapple, peeled and sliced
  2. Black pepper, milled
  3. 6 oz fresh naseberry, peeled, deseeded and diced
  4. 1 oz Appleton Gold Rum
  5. Chopped, fresh mint to taste
  1. 1. Liberally coat the pineapple with the fresh ground pepper.
  2. 2. Cook on a hot grill for one minute each side, allow to cool.
  3. 3. Dice pineapple and mix with naseberry, rum and mint.


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Colbeck Castle

Leaving Old Harbour, we drive north for about three miles then turn off the main road and into a small community. We follow the signs pointing to Colbeck Castle, our destination, which we reach after going through what looks like a private road.

We drive this narrow road pass a few houses and small farms. Two men, standing next to a car, wave to us as we drive by. A few yards further and I see it, a stone and brick structure which sticks out above the vegetation. It feels entirely out of place and absolutely out of time. It’s Colbeck Castle.

Continuing on the road, the only visible access to the property, we drive around the back and to the side and park near an L-shaped building that is at one corner of the property.

Exiting the vehicle, I take in the imposing and impressive rectangular mansion before me. A stone and brick two-story, it is the centerpiece of the property and is marked off by a rope  – a clear sign to keep our distance from the building, which is now in ruins.

Colbeck Castle was likely built around 1680. It measures about 114 feet wide by 90 feet deep.

Four towers, one at each corner, make up the third story. They provide unparalleled views of the surrounding area and as far as the Caribbean Sea, some ten miles away. The towers served as the castle’s defense system (against the Spanish). Four outer buildings sit at each corner of the property.

Brick ovens in one of the buildings suggest that it was used as a kitchen. This building also has a sunken bath and at least three enclosures that probably were toilets. A three-foot high brick wall rings the property.

Colbeck Castle got its name from its owner, Colonel John Colbeck, who came to Jamaica in 1655 – the same year the British captured the island from the Spanish — as a member of the expeditionary forces that was led by Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables.

As was the custom at the time, Colbeck was given land – 1,340 acres – for his services. During his short time in Jamaica, John Colbeck became of a member of the Assembly and was Speaker of the House from 1672-73.

It is unclear whether Colbeck Castle was ever finished or whether Colbeck lived in it as he died in 1682. It doesn’t appear as if he left an heir as there is no record of the name after his death. He was buried in Spanish Town.

Colbeck Castle, one of the oldest ruins in Jamaica, was declared a national monument in 1990.

Linking up this week with 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.

The Ortanique

The ortanique looks much like an orange and could easily be mistaken for one. The difference is in its shape — it’s typically a bit flat on top and bottom.


This native of Jamaica, a hybrid of the orange and tangerine, gets its name from orange (or), tangerine (tan) and unique (ique). A deliciously sweet fruit, with a hint of tang, the ortanique is a favorite with Jamaicans.

But there’s a bit of confusion about its origin – at least in some circles. Several sites list Charles Jackson as the creator of the fruit, a few others list David Daniel Phillips and still another mentions a Mr. Swaby.

Digging a bit further, I found a post on Facebook that credits David Daniel Phillips as the originator of the ortanique. According to Danielle-Beverley Phillips, a descendant of Phillips, Jackson, Swaby and others got their seedlings and plants from the Phillips nursery, and in 1939, the Jamaica Agricultural Society recognized Phillips as the creator of the ortanique plant and fruit.

Although there is confusion surrounding the origin of the ortanique, there is none about its popularity. The ortanique has been one of Jamaica’s major export products since the 1930s, when it was shipped primarily to Panama, the UK, New Zealand and Australia. Today, the ortanique can be found in supermarkets in the US and Canada.

Boxed and ready to go

Ortaniques are grown mainly in Manchester which, because if its particular soil combination, produces a special type of fruit. However, there are farms in other parishes.

The ortanique in the photo above comes from Good Hope Plantation in Trelawny. Good Hope grows ortaniques along with other citrus fruits, and packages them on site for export. The boxed fruits above were headed to Canada.


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