This Hearty Stew is a One-Pot Lesson in Grenada’s History

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Scott Neuman, for NPR’s “The Salt: What’s on Your Plate,” writes about the significance of oil down in Grenada’s cultural history. Here are excerpts; for full article and a luscious-sounding recipe go to NPR.

When describing the cultural history of the Caribbean island of Grenada, it’s the cooking pot rather than the melting pot that springs to mind. And there’s no better culinary metaphor than “oil down,” the peculiarly named national dish of Grenada, a mix of meats and vegetables.

Nearly every ingredient in this hearty stew has a unique origin and story to tell: For instance, callaloo, a leafy vegetable somewhat similar in taste to spinach, and the same plant’s root, known as dasheen, are indigenous to the Caribbean and were cultivated by Grenada’s earliest Amerindian inhabitants.

Beginning in the 16th century, bananas came from Asia via European explorers and settlers. A few centuries later, slaves from West Africa arrived here to work in the sugarcane fields, and brought with them their tradition of one-pot meals.

Pig snout and tails were scraps from the plantation master’s house. Salted fish (originally cod) imported from Canada was meant as a cheap source of food for the slaves. So was breadfruit, that starchy, nutrient-packed fruit famously associated with the 1789 “Mutiny on the Bounty.” This South Pacific staple arrived in the Caribbean on a subsequent expedition led by the hapless Capt. William Bligh. Decades later, turmeric — known locally (and confusingly) as “saffron” — was introduced by South Asian immigrants, who themselves were meant to fill the labor vacuum left by emancipation in the 1830s.

Although the island nation has been independent from Britain for barely four decades, most Grenadians are quick to note (with a hint of patriotism) that the mélange of colors in oil down are reflected in the country’s flag – green for callaloo, red for carrots and gold for the curry-like hue of the turmeric.

Today, oil down – which gets its name from the layer of coconut oil and meat juices that settle to the bottom of the cooking pot — is a staple at the family table and at special gatherings, during the annual Carnival bacchanal or simply as a weekend feast.

“Oil down is a social thing,” says Simeon Cornwall, a television producer who has researched the history of the dish for Grenada’s National Museum. “If you’re cooking oil down, it’s because you have a group of people gathering to eat.” [. . .]

For full article and a luscious-sounding recipe, see http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/09/11/493157111/this-hearty-stew-is-a-one-pot-lesson-in-grenadas-history

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