Making bammies - photo by Richmond Talbot

Bammy, a descendant of an old indigenous Arawak indian food, nearly went extinct about 20 years ago. It was saved by the government of Jamaica with help from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and a handful of enterprising and hardworking Jamaican women. This in turn saved the livelihood of many Jamaican subsistence farmers who survived on their meager surplus of cassava root.

Bammies are a simple food, and as with many simple foods, ingredients and technique make all the difference. It was something of an adventure to work out the identity of the single ingredient... but then the technique beat me.

a bammy in the skillet

Here's what the recipes say, and how I did it, and how it worked. The recipes are pretty much in unanimous agreement with Enid's recipe, so I can't blame the recipe.

The technique is strange, but then I am not a 16th-century Arawak in Jamaica...maybe it would be common sense to them.

In the end I found the flavor great but the texture more suited to the heel of a work boot than as an accompaniment to Escoveitched Fish.

Read on and see what you think.

Rum Punch

Jamaican Rum Punch

The classic Jamaican rum punch recipe is recorded in this simple rhyme:

"One of sour, 
Two of sweet,
Three of strong, and
Four of weak"

It works like this:

Sour is usually lime juice, but lemon juice or a mix is OK. 

Sweet is simple syrup or sugar, or any sweet liqueur.

Strong is rum, usually amber, but white is OK.

Weak is water, seltzer, fruit juice, or soda.

It doesn't matter if you use ounces or hogsheads as long as the proportions stay the same.

Combine them all and serve in tall glasses over ice. Garnish with fruit. A 10-ounce serving (less than a can of Coke) has three ounces of rum, so it's an easy-drinking but potent potion.

Here is the formula that I made for John's Jamaican Birthday Dinner

Escoveitched Fish

Escoveitched Fish

Escoveitched Fish is eaten in Jamaica for breakfast, lunch, and supper. I saw it served at the Norman Manley Airport as I was waiting to board my morning flight home, but I had been admonished to wait for a better version on my next visit.

This simple recipe is a cook's delight because it is so amenable to modification both in preparation and in presentation. You can use different types of fish, vary the marinade ingredients, and dress it in any number of ways. 

It's strange, too, in that the fish is cooked and then marinated without refrigeration. That, of course, makes it an excellent choice for a picnic or for a lunch on the beach. I fully expect to prepare this again in the summertime.

Rice and Peas

Rice & Peas"Jamaica's Coat of Arms", Rice and Peas, is a delicious, easy, and substantial dish. It's quick enough to make (if you use canned beans) that I plan to add it to the weeknight repertoire. It was the surprise hit of the night at John's Jamaican Birthday Dinner!

But Rice and Peas has no peas at all - not by the language of New England cooks. By peas, the Jamaican cook is referring to red or green beans such as kidney beans.

Rice and Peas makes a fine accompaniment to many simple fish dishes such as broiled haddock or steamed cod, where the coconut milk lends an island flare.  

Ackee and Saltfish

Ackee and SaltfishThis uniquely Jamaican dish uses ackee, a tree fruit that is not uncommon in the islands, but that is cultivated for food only in Jamaica.

The ackee fruit is rare and expensive in New England markets. I got two cans for $9.99 each at Compare Foods Supermarket in Worcester, but I had to ask for it at the customer service counter.

Pepperpot Soup

Jamaican Pepperpot SoupThis hearty Jamaican classic has a thousand ingredients and it takes a long time to make, but it's bursting with flavor and well worth the effort!

Some of the ingredients are unusual in the typical New England kitchen. Be sure to read about Jamaican Ingredients before committing to this recipe. 

Note that this is not a dish for fussy eaters! If they don't balk at the unfamiliar ingredients, they'll surely shriek at the little bones or the unidentifiable bits of fatty meat from the pig tail. This was food for the slaves, not for the masters. But it is a wonderful mosaic of textures and flavors that will excite the palate of those not so easily intimidated by a bowl of soup!

The Real Taste of Jamaica

I bought Enid Donaldson's at the Norman Manley Airport in Kingston, Jamaica as I was heading home from a brief weekend trip. I had sampled most of the classic Jamaican dishes (and a range of Jamaican rums) so I was eager to try my hand at them when I got home.

Donaldson's book is excellent in many ways, but it has a few flaws that I can address here. To start with the strengths of the book: It is well and engagingly written, and filled with very good photos. It has a good section on ingredients with descriptions, illustrations, and tips. The recipes cover all the bases, from appetizers to desserts and drinks.

The problems are few and most can be remedied with experience and a sharp eye: The photos don't always reflect the dish as the recipe would produce it, so pay attention to the text. In many cases, simple steps are missing, probably assumed; an experienced cook will recognize these and account for them successfully in most cases. The greatest difficulty that I had with preparing the recipes in this book was in finding the ingredients: Donaldson presents the Jamaican names for everything, but the same ingredients are usually sold in the USA in Hispanic markets by their Spanish names. I describe those in a separate post on Jamaican Ingredients.

Satan's Whiskers

Satan's Whiskers CocktailThis is simple to make and delightfully complex to taste. This old cocktail rewards experimentation; the different Artisanal Gins made in New England can change the nature of this drink in unexpected ways, and the two "official" variations described below double the possible permutations. 

It's not a strong drink; equal parts of gin and four other less potent ingredients, plus a dash of Orange Bitters is all it takes. That means you can experiment with a few different gins in one sitting while imbibing no more alcohol than a standard restaurant Martini.

There are two variations of this cocktail.  You can get Satan's Whiskers "curled", as written here, or you can get them "straight" by substituting orange curacao for the Grand Marnier. 

A Christmas Baking Hall of Fame

Dresden Stollen for Christmas Morning

Here's my short list of must-make great Christmas sweets from many lands. Each entry links to a recipe.

Annette's Savoyard Birthday

Annette's Superb Cheese Plate

Annette provided little in the way of guidance for her birthday feast. Getting back to her favorite basics, she wanted only "some good cheeses, and a Mont Blanc".

I fretted about that for a while, until I learned that Savoy, in the French Alps, is known for excellent cheeses and is also home to Mont Blanc (the geological marvel, not the delicate chestnut culinary masterpiece).

Like Vermont, Savoy is ski country and it produces great cheeses. Savoy is the home of fondue, that quintessential apres ski communal party food. It is also the home of Tomme, not to mention Comte, Raclette, Reblochon, and more. Neighboring Jura has more wonderful cheeses.  And Mont Blanc is the border between the Savoy department of France and the Val d'Aosta province in northwestern Italy, home of Fontina and Robiola.

the fondue

A birthday dinner in Chamonix could easily enjoy some wonderful cheeses while gazing upon the snow-capped splendor of Mont Blanc. Obviously a mountain cheese theme was emerging, some sort of December apres-ski casual dinner that included the favorite local fondue, with the eponymous Mont Blanc (the culinary marvel) as the crowning glory.

Here's what we had:

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