We are into the month of November and we start what I consider to be the confusing season, meaning that because of our situation, we are not sure if we should start to celebrate our Christmas season or, as some are suggesting, remain steeped in our Barbadian culture throughout the month of November.
The culinary field has not been speared this befuddlement; as chefs, we are expected to be producing loads of our local delicacies such as cassava pone, conkies and sugar cakes, as well as preparing lots of cou-cou with sweet potato, roast pork stuffed with Bajan seasoning and pudding and souse. Our predicament is that requests are already coming in for Christmas cake, baked ham and turkey and even jug-jug.
So what should we do? If we start our Christmas fare, are we being disrespectful or even betraying our patriotism? Does it really matter when we eat these selections of food? Now here’s my question: don’t we eat lots of coconut bread, cassava pone and mounds of cou-cou and pudding and souse during Christmas and if we do, is that a departure from the spirit of Christmas from the culinary perspective? Has our food also become caught in the battle of the seasons?
So now you know the confusion in which we as chefs find ourselves at this time of year in Barbados. Should we be loyal to seasons or should we remain loyal to food, its preparation and how it is presented? Speaking for myself, I have to admit that Christmas is my favourite time of year; there is just no feeling like it, so therefore, the earlier we start, the longer I get to enjoy the feeling.
Now, do I get a comparable feeling from the Independence season? Not really. Although I do understand Independence and everything that goes with it and thoroughly enjoy the healthy serving of old Barbadian music that hits the airwaves during that season, it still does not stimulate my emotions the way that Christmas music seems to do. Who knows, maybe this is because of my strictly religious childhood, thanks to my parents.
Now, for the food! Over the years that I have spent in the field and seeing the development of Barbadian cuisine during this time, I would dare say that has had an effect on the impact of culinary on the season, with the only thing being served up that is not regularly had during the year, is conkies. Although, having said that, I remember purchasing conkies in June and seeing them on certain supermarket shelves during the year.
The same can’t be said for ham, turkey, jug-jug and rich fruit cake; except for the odd occasion at a wedding or a special event where ham will be served and rich fruit cake will be the centre-piece, these items are still mainly seen at Christmas time. Is it here that our culinary culture is being put under the microscope? Is it that we are losing the feel for what have become national dishes? Is this an attack on what is seen as our culinary heritage?
I was having this discussion recently with some of my colleagues, who, though not local, had a lot to say as we were having a healthy discussion about food cultures. One very good question that was posed to me was when did ham become Bajan? I hastened to reply that none of the things that we embrace as Bajan truly originated here, but what makes them Bajan is their availability once they reach our shores and more so, how they are eventually prepared, since they do not arrive here with recipes attached.
So my defense was that ham is in fact manufactured in Barbados from, for the most part, locally-reared pork and we have developed our own flavour and profile which really can’t be found anywhere else. The same can be said for our style of rich fruit cake; doesn’t the infusion of Bajan rum and the baking, in preference to steaming which is its original cooking method, make it Bajan?
I should say here that our Independence offerings have not been spared this scrutiny either, as conkies with their African origin also came under the microscope and so too did cou-cou with its comparisons to tou-fou, fungi and polenta, which are all similar dishes from different cultures. What I took away from that discussion was that much more has to be researched, written and authenticated about our culinary offerings, less it become further diluted in the forest of food offerings on the culinary landscape.
So you can see why I remain a bit confused about how we separate Christmas and Independence and if it is even possible to do so. Maybe we should do what our music has attempted to do in the writing of some really beautiful Christmas melodies which are safe to air in November because they are Bajan Christmas songs. Maybe we need to look at developing some cross-over dishes which our true patriots will be comfortable consuming without feeling that they are betraying their Independence season.
This, I am happy to say, I have seen started with the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation’s (BADMC) new products, one of which is the really well-made Black belly lamb ham. Although I am not very thrilled with the name, this can be one of those flagship products. I have also tasted a number of sorbets and local ground provision-based products that hold great potential in developing such recipes. I look forward to working with some of our local organizations to develop some of these formulas.
Until then, I will continue to enjoy cooking for Independence as well as Christmas, as this art-form still remains my first love and transcends all seasons.
Meanwhile, here is a condiment recipe that can be one of those which spans the seasons, as it is made from golden apples and goes equally as well with conkies at Independence as it does with baked ham and roasted Tom turkey at Christmas.
CHUNKY GOLDEN APPLE SAUCE
4 ozs margarine
4 ozs brown sugar
8 ozs chopped Golden Apples
2 tsp Honey
½ tsp ginger finely minced
1 clove Garlic finely minced
1 pinch salt
1. Heat margarine in a sauté pan. Add sugar and lightly caramelize.
2. Add Golden Apples, honey, ginger , garlic and salt and let simmer until tender.
3. Sauce may be served hot or cold with your favourite dish.