Jamaican Retro Food: Classic Coconut Delights

Juicy Chef contributed this mouth-watering birthday wish for Jamaica’s 50th and I found her description of Jamaican cuisine to be utterly delicious. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article (and recipes) below:

I tasted Jamaica before I knew Jamaica. I am from the UK’s Jamaican Diaspora — my grandmother came from the Windrush generation and sent for my mother, who left after Independence. My father left before Independence. My parents met in the UK, a part of the large Jamaican community there. I am first-generation British, but was always told that I am Jamaican, too, and was lucky to move here as a teen to fully immerse in the culture and know where I came from. I felt blessed to have had a great Jamaican experience before I left for many years, then returned a few years ago. Even though my existence is a duality straddling two cultures, I feel so proud to have my roots come from one of the world’s richest cultures. [. . .]  I grew up exposed to cosmopolitan flavours, but Jamaican food was always present. One of the Jamaican treats I fell in love with as a child was grandmother’s coconut drops. The just-right-sized coconut chunks with a caramel and crystallised texture with bits of ginger were so delicious. She took joy and pride making her drops, making sure she found prime coconuts at the market, usually from an Asian vendor as, at the time and still today for the most part, they carried the produce that was familiar to fellow Asians, and African and West Indian minorities. [. . .] The coconut, for me, was symbolic of Jamaican food. Yes, sometimes coconut cream was bought for our rice and peas, but I loved to watch my grandmother crack the coconut, cut it into chunks and grate it, squeezing out the milk to add to a special dish.

I remember being introduced to Busta sweets, “coconutty”, with that sweetness of molasses, hint of ginger and toffee-like consistency as you chewed and it got stuck in your teeth — a real exercise for the jaw. I also fell in love with the gizzada, with its buttery crust and shredded coconut filling with brown sugar, laced with spicy nutmeg and cinnamon. Grater cake was also a delight; I think the pink layer attracted me at first, being so girly, with its dense, almost fudgy consistency, vanilla lurking in the background. [. . .] I fondly recall her making another sweet treat, toto, the dense coconut cake [. . .].

Another big fave of mine is sweet potato pone which has an addition of grated coconut and luscious coconut cream pie. My grandmother also used to make a coconut and pineapple drink which was creamy and fruity and for me, the taste of paradise, especially when it was cold, grey and dreary. The coconut is high up in my esteem. From its healthy water, the jelly and the flesh which is so multi-faceted in its uses, as well as the oil which is flavoursome and great for cooking. Before vegetable and olive oils, it was coconut oil which Jamaicans used traditionally. It has now been proven to be a healthy fat. So for me today, as I write this piece on Independence Day while drinking Blue Mountain coffee and eating hominy corn porridge enriched with coconut milk, it became obvious to me that I should start the first in a series of articles on Jamaican retro flavours in honour of our 50th anniversary, on the humble yet versatile coconut.

Grater Cake: This very sweet treat is very indulgent; a little goes a long way. Once again, it is very easy to make and consists of simple ingredients. This recipe is for one batch that you will have to do twice to make the coloured batch, therefore will need double the ingredients stated below.

2 cups grated coconut
3 cups granulated (white) sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp vanilla (optional)
Pink food colouring for second batch
Lightly grease baking pan and set aside.
In a thick-bottomed saucepan add coconut, sugar, vanilla, if using and water.
Cook over medium heat until the water evaporates and the mixture is sticky. Remove from heat and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture can hold together for about a couple minutes.
Add mixture to prepared pan and press down mixture with back of the spoon.
Next prepare the second batch using a couple drops of food colouring and then spread on top of the original batch. Once set, cut into squares.

Contact the cook at juicycheffoodmedia@gmail.com

For full article and other recipes, see http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/food/Jamaican-Retro-Food–Classic-Coconut-Delights_12217418

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