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A Caribbean Culinary Christmas Celebration!

by maracatu Fri Dec 26th, 2008 at 06:31:13 PM EST

Christmas is (or should be) a time to celebrate life.  In these days, we should all be celebrating life (just think, in a few weeks, Bush will no longer be President!  Good riddance, and don't even think of coming back!)!  Bring on the Maracatu de Baque Virado!!

Despite the Brasilian overtones, this diary provides a "taste" of Caribbean Christmas season culinary traditions.  The diary is actually just barely over a year old, since it was originally posted last Christmas over at the Daily Kos.  I hope you enjoy it, since it fits in with the festive season.  You may even find some traces of European cuisine here and there.

I have maternal roots in the Virgin Islands, therefore the first recipe I want to draw your attention to is a simple corn meal accompaniment to fried fish (go to link), which is a staple in my West Indian homeland: Fungi  (It is a "must" to accompany the festive Kallaloo soup, further down).  As Carol M. Bareuther notes:

On a historical note, fish and fungi's roots lead back to the days of slavery. Danish Law allowed each slave six quarts of Indian meal and six salt herring per week. Occasionally, there were other foods thrown into the ration like yam and other vegetables, but the mainstay of cornmeal and fish led the African women to the creative result of fish and fungi.

Virgin Islands cuisine was influenced strongly by early French and Dutch settlers.  Although the islands were Danish, mostly people of other nationalities were responsible for their colonization.  Another typical dish from the Virgin Islands is Herring Gundy.

3 pounds salt herring
  • 1 ½ pounds potatoes, boiled
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 green peppers
  • 1 hot pepper
  • ½  cup minced olives
  • 1 pint salad oil
  • ¼  cup vinegar
  • 1 cup diced beets
  • ½  cup freshly grated raw carrots
  • Sprig parsley
  • 3 boiled eggs, chopped

Method:Washing herring, remove bones and skin. Put herring, potatoes, onions, pepper, and olives in a meat grinder. Add salad oil and vinegar. Combine thoroughly. Garnish with grated carrots, parsley, boiled eggs and diced beets. Usually a little diced beets, a few spoonfuls of grated carrots and chopped eggs are stirred into the mixture before garnishing.  {Source:Virgin Islands Native Recipes, The Women's League of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, 1954.}

Now the festive meal of the season in the Virgin Islands and the wider West Indies in general is Kallaloo (similar to the US southern "Gumbo").  Although the recipe is short, it really is a "process", given that the seafood must be cleaned and prepared:

1 ½ lbs. Salt meat, ham bone, pig's tail, pork fat
1 ½ lbs. Fresh fish
3 lbs. Spinach or mixed greens
2 crabs or 1 corned conch
12 okra
1 large onion
1 clove of garlic
1 sprig of thyme, parsley, celery, piece of hot pepper
2 TBS. Vinegar

Boil the salt meat until tender in three quarts of water.  
Boil fish, remove bones and add to stock
Add crabs.
Put greens, okra (after removing stems & leaves), onion and garlic through grinder.  Add to stock and boil rapidly for about 30 minutes.  The addition of vinegar prevents the appearance of slime. (Do not skim while boiling).
Serve with fungi.

I also have roots in the Hispanic Caribbean due to the fact that I was born, raised and have lived most of my life in Puerto Rico.  Although I am fully bi-lingual, I have been obligated throughout my teaching career to translate entire sections of English textbooks to Spanish for my students. Due to exhaustion, I'm settling for a ready-made English translation of our traditional Christmas dish (while reading, enjoy the musical interpretation of Aguinaldo Yaucano by noted pianist Luciano Quiñones (An aguinaldo is our Christmas music; Yaucano means from Yauco, which is a southern town):

Roast pig is the traditional dish for the Christmas festivities, picnics and other outdoor entertainments.  A suckling pig, three or four months old with an average weight of 30 pounds, will yield about 15 pounds of roast meat.  There is much waste due to losses in dressing and during roasting.  ... When the pig is slaughtered the blood is collected for preparing blood sausage.  The internal organs are removed carefully: liver, heart, lungs and kidneys, to be used in a stew "gandinga".  Sections of the intestines are saved for the blood sausage.  They are cleaned and washed with sour orange or lemon juice.  For a home party the pig can be baked at home.  The baking pan should have a rack so fat will drip.  The temperature is 325 degrees, and for a pig weighing about 25 pounds, the roasting time is from four to five hours.  For outside parties, the pig is roasted on the spot, adding more interest to the entertainment.  When the pig is cleaned, the belly is opened in the center, leaving an opening only large enough to remove the internal organs.  Once the pig is dressed, a pole is passed through the body.  The pig is roasted on an open fire of live charcoal, placed over a layer of stones.  The stones will get hot and keep a constant temperature.  At both sides of the fire two forked poles are driven into the ground to hold the pole with the pig over the fire.  The pole is turned slowly all the time and the pig is basted with achiote coloring so it will roast and brown evenly.  Roasting time is from four to six hours, according to size of pig:
One 30 pound suckling pig, ready to cook
Two whole bulbs of garlic
½ Cup salt
4 Tablespoons of marjoram
2 Tablespoons of pepper

Mix salt, pepper, garlic and marjoram and chop together thoroughly.  Make deep gashes in shoulder, loin, legs, hips, under legs, in jowl and neck and also inside body.  Then rub generously with dressing.  Place in refrigerator over night, as it is better to dress the pig several hours previous to roasting.  Place pig in baking pan with rack.  Bake in a moderate hot oven 325 degrees for about 5 hours. {Source: Puerto Rican dishes by Berta Cabanillas & Carmen Ginorio, associate professors of home economics, University of Puerto Rico, 1956}

I witnessed and even took part in the slaying of the pig at a friend's home during my high school days.  I remember he instructed me how to kill the pig (one heavy well placed blow to the back of the head while he held it down), but I was unable to muster enough energy to do it correctly the first time (I will spare you the lurid details).  I also remembered a trick which is supposed to retard the spoilage of the pig (since it was basically left out overnight fastened to the pole, as it wouldn't fit in the fridge). You had to split the spine from inside and remove the nerve, which was like a long thin rubber band.  I will never forget that Christmas.  Want to know how to prepare blood sausage and gandinga?  While you are preparing the following dishes, listen to a more upbeat Christmas carol of ours, roughly translated to Donkey of the Plains; (You can imagine the rambunctious donkey prancing all over the plain - think of it as the Democratic "Donkey" stomping all over the Republican "Elephant" during the elections!  Cheers!)

2 lbs. Gandinga (liver, heart, lungs and kidneys)
2 chopped onions
2 chopped tomatos
2 chopped peppers
1 chopped sweet pepper
1 sprig minced cilantrillo
1 chopped clove garlic
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon powdered oregano
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 TBS. Vinegar
1 TBS. Anatto coloring
1 TBS. Capers
½ cup olives
1 lb. quartered potatoes

Cut gandinga into 1 inch cubes, put in large pot.
Add the onion, tomatos, peppers, cilantrillo, garlic, oregano, salt, water & vinegar.
Stir well.
Add 3 Tablespoons of lard (or other shortening), capers and olives
Cook over low heat for 45 minutes.
Add potatoes and serve when the potatoes are done.

Morcilla or blood sausage
2 TBS. Diced cilantro
2 chopped sweet peppers
3 chopped hot peppers
1 ½ TBS. salt
2 ½ cups pigs blood
¾ cup fat from intestines
1 yard of pork intestines

1.Remove some of the fat that is found surrounding the intestines of the pork.
2.Cut the fat into small pieces.
3.Stir blood to cut clots.
4.Add seasoning ingredients and mix thoroughly.
5.Wash the pork intestines carefully turning them inside out so that they will be clean.
6.Rinse with water mixed with sour orange or lemon juice.
7.Tie one end of the intestine and stuff using a funnel.  The sausage filling should be somewhat loose.
8.Tie the other end and cook in boiling salted water for 25 minutes.
9.When done, the sausage should be firm. Drain and keep in the refrigerator.
10. Fry for a few minutes before serving. Drain.
{Source: Puerto Rican dishes by Berta Cabanillas & Carmen Ginorio, associate professors of home economics, University of Puerto Rico, 1956}

Now, what would a Christmas meal be without dessert?  From the Virgin Islands, we have the traditional Sweet Bread (unfortunately, I am not good at making cakes or breads and this recipe is quite old; some of the terms are a mystery and there seem to be some errors - try to approximate it as best you can):

Sweet Bread
1 yeast cake
1 cup warm water
3 lbs. Flour
1 TBS sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon
1 ¼ lbs. Shortening
1 ½ lbs. Sugar
6 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
½ lb. Currants
½ lb. Raisins
½ lb. Prunes
¼ lb. Citron
1 teaspoon mace
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
4 teaspoons orange peel
1 quart of milk (hot)
2 ounces of bitter almonds
¼ lb sweet almonds

Dissolve the yeast cake into one cup of warm water.
Add flour enough to make a stiff batter.
Add one tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon; beat until smooth, cover and set to rise.
Cream shortening, sugar; add eggs one at a time, add prepared yeast mixture and salt.
Add fruits and beat well.
Sift flour with spices, add alternately with hot milk.
Beat until light.  Add nuts.
Pour into greased tins, allow to rise double in size.
Brush with syrup before and after baking (syrup is made of brown sugar and water)
Bake at 375 degrees F for half an hour or until ready.
{Source:Virgin Islands Native Recipes, The Women's League of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, 1954.}

As for Puerto Rican desserts, I am opting for a recipe that the younger generation may not be familiar with.  It has gone from ubiquity to scarcity or virtual extinction: The elusive but delicious majarete.  Although the Dominicans have a majarete, they prepare it differently from us (theirs is cornmeal based).  What distinguishes a Puerto Rican majarete is (or was) the use of rice flour:

6 tablespoons of rice meal
¾ teaspoons of salt
5 tablespoons of sugar
2 cups of hot milk
1 piece of lemon rind
ground cinnamon

Mix rice meal, salt and sugar.  
Add milk and lemon rind.  
Cook at low heat, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.
When mixture thickens, pour in dishes.
Let cool and sprinkle with cinnamon
{Source: Puerto Rican dishes by Berta Cabanillas & Carmen Ginorio, associate professors of home economics, University of Puerto Rico, 1956}

Merry Christmas and Felices Pascuas to all at ET!

Thanks your for this very interesting and tasty dairy, maracatu.

Hope you enjoyed your family dinner and a belated - Felices Pascuas. :-)

by Fran on Sat Dec 27th, 2008 at 09:09:23 AM EST
Thanks.  I have no more blood relatives anymore here in Puerto Rico and I didn't get a chance to visit the VI (the closest place where I do have relatives).  Nonetheless, I did have a good rest (not too much partying this time around).

"Beware of the man who does not talk, and the dog that does not bark." Cheyenne
by maracatu on Sat Dec 27th, 2008 at 02:42:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this diary, Maracatu!
It made me want to have a Christmas meal in the Virgin Islands...
I wish you a nice end of the year.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sat Dec 27th, 2008 at 09:49:33 AM EST
In lieu of a Christmas meal in the VI, I occasionally dial in to their web-cams and pretend I'm over there.

"Beware of the man who does not talk, and the dog that does not bark." Cheyenne
by maracatu on Sat Dec 27th, 2008 at 02:48:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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