The month of November signals the start of one of our major seasons. I am always intrigued when we talk about seasons, because we automatically think of spring, summer, autumn and winter due to the hype surrounding them, thanks to our friends up north who are pros at building up and commercializing the natural changes in environmental conditions.
That has clearly influenced the thinking of our people because quite often I would hear some of them, when I am discussing menu choices for events, refer to things like summer or spring dishes. It always makes me look at them quite cock-eyed and I become further convinced that they are watching too much American TV, since those seasons and the food influenced by them do not exist in this part of the world.
We do, however, have our own type of seasons, which are influenced not by the changes in the weather, but rather by the changing reasons for our various celebrations. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, our four seasons will have to be Easter, Crop Over, Independence and Christmas. OK, you history buffs, I am talking purely from a culinary perspective, so please hold the bullets! Each of these seasons’ food offerings differ and are purely influenced by the reason for the season.
At Easter, the diet is one in which many people opt to cut back on their consumption of meat and alcohol for purely religious reasons and instead increase their intake of fish and vegetable dishes. Additionally, during the period of Lent leading up to Easter, lots of boiling and steaming are applied to meals being prepared for those 40 days and 40 nights, so requests and fashioning of menus are influenced by this.
From Easter, we move into the Crop Over season where it seems as though we try to make up for all that we gave up during Lent, as the requests for menus change drastically to high protein, high starch items, with livelier cooking methods such as grilling, roasting and baking, as well as a lot more outdoor and active cooking. During this season, lots of spicy sauces and dips are also consumed, with strong flavours being the order for the events. This, of course, pairs with an increase in the use of alcohol and alcoholic beverages, as well as the energetic change in music and entertainment; so the entire feeling from a culinary perspective changes, bearing in mind that the food must match and sometimes even controls the mood.
After Crop Over, we move on to our Independence season which is filled with tradition and high expectations. It is anticipated that we will be fully patriotic in everything that we do, including wearing and flying our national colours of aquamarine, gold and black in every aspect, with this sentiment extending as well to the way we eat. As such, you will find that in discussing menus for events, clients will tend to go for a 100 per cent local fare. Therefore, the chef now has to don his very Bajan hat and pop the cork of creativity as customers have become more discerning and are requiring new ways to serve up their traditional foods and Bajan delicacies.
It is here, though, that the use of sugar increases tremendously, because, when you look at it, lots of our local foods were influenced by what was once our major crop, sugar cane. Even our savoury dishes did not escape the magnetism of sugar; one just has to look at our steamed pudding or even the way we prepare our sweet potato pie and these days, how we formulate our BBQ sauces and other preserves with things like brown sugar, molasses and Falernum being prominent in these concoctions.
For me, that is not necessarily a bad thing, as the flavours do bring back memories of my childhood days running behind the molasses truck and using your fingers to gather some of the gooey nectar that would seep from the vehicles’ tanks as they passed by on their way to the port. One of the benefits of growing up in the Bank Hall area was that this was one of the routes that these vehicles took. This is also fantastic because we have now discovered that there is a lot more to Falernum than just corn and oil and we have come to realize that this sweet and very Barbadian liqueur can be used for much more and should be celebrated, especially during this season, in the same way that the more expensive, imported liqueurs are.
Then, of course, there are the desserts of our Independence season, led, I would think, by conkies, sugar cakes, coconut bread and cassava pone, whether in cocktail or full sizes, as these are the most frequently requested items for our clients’ dessert table. Now, a word about sugar cakes, which are sometimes obviously decorated for Independence, as we see them in blue, yellow and even black colours, no doubt due to requests from customers. These are made using white sugar so as to accentuate the colour, but personally, I prefer to stay traditional, as no sugar cake can carry the flavour like one made with our coarse Bajan brown sugar, aided by some blackstrap molasses and a touch of ginger and fresh bay leaf.
We are still to touch on two of the most important things in our dessert repertoire, conkies and coconut bread, as these two carry a life of their own throughout the season but, unfortunately, we are running out of space for this edition, so next time we will speak about those, as well as Bajan season number four, Christmas, which is my favourite.
Meanwhile, here is a sugar cakes recipe for you to try.
4 lbs Brown Sugar
3 lbs Grated Coconut
4 ozs Molasses
½ tsp Freshly grated ginger
4 Bay Leaves, whole
1. In a heavy saucepan, cook coconut and sugar until sugar dissolves and forms a thick syrup around the coconut; stir constantly.
2. Add all other ingredients, reduce heat and continue to cook until the mixture begins to leave the side of the saucepan or sets quickly when placed on a cool surface.
3. Drop in desired size on a greased, cool surface; allow to stand until set.