Caribbean Food: Why You Must Eat Your Dad’s Trees

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Caribbean food cinnamon. Pale, dusky brown, with a seductive spicy aroma and a sweet woody taste.

Its soft fragrance fills your nostrils caressing your throat with it’s complex ambrosial flavour. Next to nutmeg, this is probably the most frequently utilised caribbean food spice of my cooking-crazed family. Used in cakes, drinks, and savoury dishes, cinnamon evokes in me strong emotional memories of warmth, safety and celebration.

On my dad’s farm in Jamaica, he had a couple of ever-green cinnamon trees. He said they were ancient, almost antique. I remember, he didn’t touch the outer bark as this might cause the tree to become infected which would make it rot, even die! Instead, he only ever used the inner-bark. As it dries out, the sides of the bark curl inwards and are called ‘quills’. This is what you buy in your supermarket.

I remember, my first encounter with caribbean food cinnamon was as a four year old child. It was winter, dark and cold outside and I stumbled downstairs tousled and sleepy-eyed to watch my dad light the fire in the kitchen. Once it was crackling, hissing and spitting, he went to get ready for work. I sat close to the fire feeling safe and warm, watching the fire dance and skip, impatiently awaiting my breakfast.

After my mum had made my dad’s lunch, she began the preparations for our breakfast. Velvety cornmeal porridge with soft, fluffy, fried dumplings, or freshly baked bread and butter, was a favourite in the winter months. My dad claimed it would make our brains grow. The scoundrel could get away with such claims – I was only young and my dad was the font of all knowledge.

As my mum began cooking the porridge, I watched every movement avidly, eagerly anticipating the flavours filling my mouth. She took out an enormous pot and an old wooden spoon, followed by all the ingredients, and lay them down on our scuffed-up old wooden table.

She measured out a tiny handful of golden cornmeal into the pot. Then, filled the pot with what seemed like an ocean of water and placed it onto our beaten-up old stove. When she lit it, it made a loud whooshing noise and then hissed like a witch all the way through the cooking process. Mum began to stir the porridge and then added the magic ingredient – cinnamon. She stirred for what seemed like hours and went into a trance! Mum had a habit of thinking out loud whilst cooking; to a four year old she was chanting a magic spell.

I watched this spell-making in quiet fascination as the ‘brew’ transformed from an odourless, grey, watery mass into a majestic golden elixir. The smell of cinnamon in the porridge was divine. I devoured it.

Hallelujah for Caribbean Food.

Pic by oiseauxbleu

Pic by oiseauxbleu

CORNMEAL PORRIDGE
50g (2oz)  Cornmeal (I prefer coarse)
1/2 teaspoon  vanilla essence
approx 1 teaspoon of  finely grated cinnamon.
300ml (1/3 qt) water.
100ml (4fl oz) skimmed milk
Brown demerra sugar to taste

Small wooden spoon
small/medium pot

Put Cornmeal, milk and Water into a medium sized pot.
Place on cooker on a low heat and begin to stir.
After 5 minutes, add the cinnamon. Keep stirring.
After another 5 minutes, add the vanilla. Keep stirring.
Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring all the time to prevent lumps.

Your porridge is now ready for eating. Pour into a bowl, add sugar to taste.

Love, laughter and food for all!

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