Recently, I heard a Barbadian spin put on the 1959 classic My Favourite Things, by local singer, Tamara Marshall. This song was made popular through the musical, The Sound of Music, back in the day. Needless to say, the Bajan version set my brain in motion.
No need to worry though, I am not a singing chef and therefore have no intention of breaking out in song or singing for my supper; instead, I will stick with what I know best: food. The lyrics in the local version painted a vivid picture of Bim – the atmosphere, culture, places of interest, things to do and of course, our produce and food
“…Mangoes, bananas, breadfruit, golden apple, passion fruit, guava, hog plum, sugar apple … we’ve got flying fish, dolphin….peas and rice, cornmeal cou-cou, great cake and coconut bread if there is room…try to see just how much you can consume…” and it got me thinking about my favourite things.
Here’s my list and surprise, surprise, it contains all food with the odd beverage in between. For breakfast, two bakes and fish cakes with cocoa and cow’s milk; boiled eggs and SodaBix slathered with butter; Salt Bread served with a wedge of cheese at room-temperature; and, sometimes, a strong Bay Leaf tea to wash it all down.
At lunch, black eye pea rice and salt fish or stewed yard fowl with lots of fresh herbs and tomatoes. Of course, you can’t forget pork which, for me, can be prepared in any style as I am a lover of pork. However, my favourite way is to have it seasoned and fried slowly in hot oil; this always goes best with a cinnamon sweet potato pie or stretched breadfruit.
Of course, there must be lots of gravy on this and I can hear you saying, “…gravy or sauce, what’s the difference?” I promise that I will tell you what the difference is in another article, but for now, we are just talking about things Barbadian that I love and being in the month of November, just forces them to the surface.
Still on lunch, don’t forget Cornmeal Cou-Cou with Harslet Stew (Harslet is a Bajan derivative of Haslet from the Old French hastilles meaning entrails) i.e. the internal organs of the pig – heart, liver, kidneys and the lungs which were referred to as light because of their lack of weight.
Here I have to pause because I just got that nostalgic whiff of the stew simmering with onions, tomatoes and lots of butter. I can taste it now! Thanks Granny! She used to make the best! For me, Cornmeal Cou-Cou is only a genuine Bajan dish when accompanied by Harslet Stew, salt fish or flying fish in butter sauce.
Not to be forgotten either is a good old rice and stew. Those of you in my generation or slightly older will remember the dances at the popular nightclubs like Millie’s Hideaway, Club Randall, The Liberty, Pleasure Seekers and Emmerton to name a few, where this meal was as important as the dance itself and would be served sometimes with tossed salad; at some dances, you would even get some fried chicken or fried flying fish.
It was from these dances that the popular phrase “dance food” was coined and it referred to how the stew was cooked and eventually flavoured. I can still remember my early days in the industry when, if you made a mess of the stew you were preparing in the hotel, you would be admonished with the phrase “do you think you are cooking dance food?”
There was also the rainy day or Friday evening dish of cream of wheat and bakes. If you were lucky or your parents were in a better financial position at the time, you might also get some biscuits to go with it.
Then there are the beverages; there was always that mysterious drink mauby, for which you really do have to acquire a taste and lemonade because lime trees were everywhere and Bajan brown sugar was plentiful. I am talking about really flavourful lemonade because it was made with the very dark brown sugar with the molasses still oozing out of it.
Back then, we also had lots of jams which we spread on our biscuits and this generally was jam made from guavas, a fruit which was also very common and easy to find in the Barbados of yesteryear.
If you are questioning the depth of our culinary culture, these are only a few of my favourite things. As I think of those that didn’t make the list, it reminds me of the many items which we have sitting in our Bajan répertoire culinaire. Some items appeared to be long-lost and forgotten, but thanks to Independence and this season, we are forced to revisit them and I hope this ensures that they are around for generations to come.
This week’s recipe is for one of my all time favourite dishes, Breadfruit Cou-Cou, which goes well with that Chicken Stew recipe provided a few weeks ago.
Chopped chives, onion & thyme
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Peel and cut breadfruit into dices and boil in salted water until tender.
2. Strain and reserve liquid.
3. While still hot place breadfruit in a mixing bowl, add herbs and mash with a potato masher until smooth. Use reserved liquid if required. This process can also be done in with an electric mixer
4. Add margarine and salt and pepper to taste
5. Place in a baking dish, cover with margarine and bake for 15 minutes in an oven at 350 F
3 lbs chicken cut in pieces
2 ozs fresh herbs, chopped
2 ozs vegetable oil
3 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp Mello-Kreem
2 ozs rum
3 tsp tomato paste
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
3 ozs onions, diced
3 ozs carrots, diced
2 ozs celery, diced
2 ozs sweet peppers, red & green
½ oz fresh ginger
1 ½ pts brown stock or water
1 tsp Flour
Scotch bonnet pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1. In a container with a fitted lid, mix the herbs, oil, scotch bonnet pepper, soy sauce and salt; add chicken pieces and let marinate for one hour.
2. In a hot sauté pan, heat the oil and Mello-Kreem, add the chicken and allow to brown on all sides
3. Deglaze with rum, add tomato paste, ketchup and flour
4. Brown lightly before adding stock or water and allow to simmer for fifteen minutes
5. Add remaining vegetables and simmer until chicken and vegetables are cooked
6. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper