Blue Mountain

‘Jamaican’ like to live ‘upa hilltop’. Could this be the awesome views, the beauty and biodiversity? Or is it a case of ‘being far from the madding crowd?

The general belief is that people living at high altitude maintain better health, longevity and experience less stress than people surrounded by noise and pollution. 

Their lifestyle runs at a slower pace, with fresher air and food that actually tastes of something.

Driving along narrow winding mountainside roads, you notice houses or shops, up desso, dun desso, over desso, hanging off the lush tropical hill side, others overlooking wide stony rivers with that unmistakeable low water level silvery glint.

If you want the true adventure of a higher mountain like the Blue Mountain, go to Constant Spring, a beautiful hillside suburb, get a bus to the winding Junction Road, on which I counted 131 bends before I stopped counting.

You can access the Blue Mountain from there. At its Peak it is 2,256 metres above sea level. The most westerly part of the journey begins at Junction Road, then stretches through the parishes of St Mary, Portland and St Thomas in the east of the island where the John Crow mountain range is located.

This is a real Jamaican adventure of a natural kind.

Nature lovers can trek through rain forests along trails, pathways, tracks, footpaths or bridle paths. Along the way, the forest’s rich natural heritage is everywhere. Butterflies, birds and more than 500 species of flowering plants, half of which originates from Jamaica. You will see amazing flora such as the famous Jamaican rose, orchids, ferns large and small, bamboos, varieties of fungi, bromeliads and plants with origins in China, Polynesia mountainous places all over the world. There are botanical gardens with forest-plant nurseries. Here you might also find accommodation.

At the mountain peak, from every angle you will see awesome views of distant mountain ranges, cascading streams, and rushing waterfalls flowing down into turbulent rivers.

On a clear day from Blue Mountain Peak you can see as far as Cuba. And with a good pair of binoculars you can see southern Cuba’s Serra Maestro Mountain!

While there are great panoramic view from Blue Mountain, some days can be misty and chilly. So always have a good change of warm clothes, drinks, energy giving food and solid comfortable walking shoes.

La Caribe

Sometimes in life you find a gem without searching too hard. Here is a treat for you if you are ever up in Nottingham.

We visited the city for a few days last April to see an exhibition of black artist at the Nottingham Contemporary Gallery in the Lace making building.

After a long Journey from London with my son, I mention that I wanted to have an evening meal. ‘What would you like to eat mum? I’d like a proper dinner I said. Either Indian food or Jamaican food. I don’t suppose we’ll find anything like that up here I said. To my amazement on the internet he found a tiny Jamaican restaurant ‘Caribe’ near our hotel in St James at the top of the street. What a dinner that was!  The Jamaican style curry goat, festival and wings were the best I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve been eating dinners for a long time!

We take this food for granted so it comes as a surprise

Rundown preparation

As I listen to the heavy rain outside, I think of my grandmother making coconut Rundown, a kind of comfort food she used to make on rainy days. Jamaica is the land of woods and water so we have a lot of rain in some parts of the island. Theres a lot of rain here in London too, so more tasty rundown for us.

These are the ingredients shown here.

Coconut, annatto, a colouring spice from the Americas, tomatoes, thyme, onions.

Finally, we can add salted mackerel when the dish is cooked and has the consistency of a deliciously oily coconut custard.

Pumpkin, yam, taro and green bananas, rice are all foods that can accompany this dish. For more on this recipe, watch this space!

 

Fresh Patties

This year, I celebrated my birthday with a Saturday night gourmet tour of Brixton. Our group of friends and family started with a patty fest at ‘Refill’, a highly successful Caribbean takeaway shop in the heart of Brixton.

Someone there is an artist! The largest display case is a riot of colourful vegetables. Large platters with neat cubes and slivers of baked orange pumpkin, whole green okra, red tomato, yellow sweet pepper,and white yam in light sauce. Other platters show seafood. Snapper, steamed salmon, Jamaican style salt cod and piled mounds of king prawns. And there’s more. Rice and peas, meat, bejewelled vegetable rice. Stews in  takeaway boxes full of salt cod, prawns, callalloo and sliced okra.

Looking for ‘Perfect Patty’ in the ‘Golden Food’ glass holder caused considerable excitement in our group!

For us Jamaicans, the perfect patty is of a fine, buttery pastry like a very very thin salted flaky biscuit and with every bite it melts into the hot peppery fillings of well seasoned, spicy and tastefully savoury lamb or beef, salt fish, callalloo, or pure vegetables.

Snack size pastries with savoury meat are part of many countries culinary tradition. I always enjoyed British cornish pasty, best purchased at a large London railway station. In its shape, there’s a nod to our patty. But, its USP is its broad pastry handle, which enabled Cornish tin miners to eat them free of dirt down the mine. There are Portuguese empadas, tiny perfectly structured crunchy round pies filled with chicken or tuna. Guyanese patties are also round, meaty with a good homemade finish.

In the tightly packed Refill space, there’s the usual familiar camaraderie between Caribbean customers. But, push in and it’s, ‘whe you a do man? You no see we a wait fe we food!’  They come for takeaway patty dinners, snacks and treats for after work, or after heavy shopping.

Afterwards, we hold our patties high for a group photo shoot. For us, this is fun. The ultimate treat on our Caribbean gourmet tour in Brixton. We eat from paper bags, rushing to meet our next booking. Cocktails at Turtle Bay bar & kitchen.

Devon House Bakery Open 247

I love going to the grand Georgian style mansion, Devon House. It is a great Kingston destination to pass a day with friends, family or children in this relaxing ambiance.  It’s a real treat for everyone, incoming tourists, local people and especially a pride for Jamaican visiting from abroad.

Set in 11 acres of garden in Hope Road Kingston, Devon House is now owned by the Jamaican government who rescued it from developers, restored it and created a heritage site house museum. Known to be one of the worlds oldest mansion, it was built in 1883 by the first black Jamaican millionaire George Stiebel. The property is now opened to the public, offering events and tours, with a chance to step back in time. There’s a whole range of decorative period mansion rooms, to see, ballrooms, drawing rooms, all with beautifully preserved shiny lacquered floors and antique furniture. Many of them made in Europe and Jamaica. There are shops selling locally made art pieces, crafts, books, liquor, perfumes and body oils.  

For 20 years until recently, the Brick oven company ran the restaurant and bakery set around the lush tropical courtyard at Devon house. It was famous for its savoury and sweet pastries also ice cream and meals. Most impressive was the huge old fashion brick oven set in the old mansion kitchen. There you could buy traditional Jamaican patties. Most unusual of all and one of my personal favourite ‘Meat loaf’ a savoury meat bread, shaped like a patty. The Devon House company now runs the bakery and the excitingly named ‘I Scream’ outlet selling a range of 26 flavours of ice creams. They now sell luscious fruit and cream filled gateaux and what I call  ‘Perty Lil Patties’  ( as seen above) in flavours such as curry goat, chicken, pork, beef, shrimps, lobster and Fish. Could you ask for more? 

 

Bring Back the Dutchy

JAMAICAN DUTCH POT or Dutchy, is the traditional seasoned cast iron pot used for cooking both in Jamaican homes and across the Caribbean. Many Dutch pots are now made from cast aluminium.

The  Dutch pot dates as far back as the 17thcentury when  cast iron methods were perfected in the Netherlands. These thick sided metal pots came in many styles and became popular in cultures across the world, including Caribbean countries because of their reliability and durability. They are versatile for both baking and making stews.

In traditional Jamaican cooking Dutch pots are also brilliant for making dishes such as pot roasts, curry goat, oxtail stew, baking cakes and puddings in the Jamaican style. They are also perfect for slow cooked Jamaican food such as  ‘Rundown’ and a variety of fish, meat and Jamaican vegetarian dishes.

Do you have a Dutchy story?

I have a few. When I think of the Dutch pot. I imagine proper, proper Jamaican dinners. I was in Nottingham in April for a few days to see an exhibition of Black artist at the Nottingham Contemporary Gallery in the Lace making building. After a long Journey from London with my son, I mention that I wanted to have an evening meal. ‘What would you like to eat mum? I’d like a proper dinner I said. Either Indian food or Jamaican food. I don’t suppose we’ll find anything like that up here I said. To my amazement on the internet he found a tiny Jamaican restaurant ‘Caribe’ near our hotel in St James at the top of the street. What a dinner that was!  The Jamaican style curry goat, festival and wings were the best I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve been eating dinners for a long time!

This was a proper, proper dinner. The curry goat was lean, tender, dark and flavourful, reminding me of food cooked slowly in a heavy based Dutchy.

However, Dutchys can also get you into trouble! It can become irresistible not to open a Dutchy on a stove because you know there’s something wonderful inside it. You are a teenager. You’ve already had your dinner but you are a growing girl or boy and you could just have one more little piece of that dark rich tasty stew that mama’s leaving for tomorrow’s dinner.

Did you know the Dutchy lid rings like the bells of St Pauls Cathedral? Don’t touch that pot! But you do. It makes a little sound. ‘but she won’t hear dat, man’

Try closing it back nuh! The Dutchy nah romp with you?

You try quietly to inch the heavy pot lid back on, or slowly millimetre it back into place. It’s too much for you now. If you are lucky, you will hear a little ping when you place the Dutchy lid on. If you’re not, St Pauls Cathedral will ring! The whole house will know that you’ve been ‘investigating’ the Dutchy.

Next Dutchy story. The famous and much loved minister Vic Watson of our local church came visiting our home one day.

My mother was cooking in the kitchen and invited him in.

One of the many things she treasured about Vic is that he asked what she was cooking, promptly opened her Dutch pot and savoured the aromas.

Dutch Pots are so iconic in Jamaican culture that my mother once said to me “I’d like you to have the kind of boyfriend who will come into the kitchen and ask ‘Hi what’s cooking?’ then open the Dutch pot.”

I imagined that would have been one cheeky, handsome, humorous, young man.

She must have found my then boyfriend very, very dull.

PARCHED PRAWNS WITH JERK SEASONING

Here’s another sharing dish that is this quick, easy and spicy. Perfect to eat hot or cold
 
INGREDIENTS
 
Half a kilo of fresh prawns, washed & dried.
 
SEASONING MIXTURE

Half teaspoon Dunn’s River fish seasoning.
Half teaspoon Grace’s Jerk seasoning.
Half teaspoon tomato puree.
Half teaspoon honey.
1 teaspoon fresh thyme.
1 teaspoon lime juice.
2 bay leaves (finely broken up.)
Mix all seasoning ingredients together.
 
4 pieces of Jamaican scallions  or spring onions chopped finely for garnish.
 
COOKING

Heat Dutch pot until very hot.
Pour prawns into Dutch Pot.
Stir continuously until prawns are pink.
Add all seasoning mixture and stir until totally integrated.
When fully cooked you might want to remove bits of bay leaf.
Put cooked prawns on a sharing plate. 
Garnish with Jamaican scallion or spring onions. 
Eat hot or cold. 
Cooking time 5-6  minutes.