Jay’s parents came to Grenada for a few days recently to visit with our family and experience a little of what the island has to offer. One of the fun things we did was to go to the House of Chocolate in St. George’s, a lovely little shop with a mini-museum to explain how they grow and process cacao. And, of course, there were treats: homemade chocolate ice cream, gourmet chocolates, brownies, and other delicious confections. My personal favorite is traditional coco tea, a mixture of pure cacao (with the cocoa butter), hot water, and brown sugar. The first time I tasted coco tea was on the boiling lake hike in Dominica when our guide shared his thermos with us. I bought the ingredients to make some at home.
This has been one of my favorite parts of traveling: to eat and drink new things, and to meet locals and ask how they prepare their favorite foods and beverages. Whether it’s shrimp-and-grits in Charleston, Maryland crab-cakes in the Chesapeake, conch fritters in the Bahamas, fish tacos in Puerto Rico, painkillers in the BVIs, or fried breadfruit in the Windward Islands, I will eat, drink, cook, and mix just about anything.
Our trip through the Caribbean has been wonderful for culinary experimentation. While we missed the summer fruit of the United States this year, peaches and plums were replaced by mangoes and papayas and new fruits we’d never even heard of. With rum distilleries on every island, we’ve also tried all sorts of new drink concoctions. I can make a mojito with just about anything—mango (BVIs), watermelon (St. Lucia), or fresh ginger and passionfruit (Nevis). I’ve had a traditional rum punch in Anguilla, and the Ti’Punch in Martinique.
Sometimes the experiments don’t end well—we didn’t really like the fire-roasted breadfruit I bought in a Bequia market, and the first bite of fresh cashew-apple given to me in Montserrat was the last. (I eventually figured out how to peel and make a jam out of French cashew apple.)
But other times, we have added new foods and drinks to our repertoire. A friend of ours here in Grenada told me to mix “five fingers” (a.k.a. starfruit or carambola) with lime to make a delicious juice—I added ice and blended it to make a fabulous smoothie. A farmer’s market in Union (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) yielded some Christophenes (a.k.a. chayote) and a conversation with two lovely ladies who argued good-naturedly about the “correct” way to prepare it. I have found over and over again that the fastest way to break down a cultural barrier is to ask a local in a market how to prepare something. You’ll get more than just a recipe—a little piece of history, some culture, and maybe even a new friend.
3 cloves garlic
4 stalks chopped scallions/green onions
Peel and julienne the Christophene. Place in a steamer basket over boiling water for no more than 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and scallions. Remove Christophene from steamer and place in hot oil. Sauté lightly for another 2-3 minutes. It should be crisp-tender and not mushy. Add salt to taste and serve.
Cashew Apple Jam
A dozen freshly picked cashew apples
3 cups cane sugar (turbinado or demerara)
6 small limes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Peel and chop the cashew apples, removing the pit. Place in medium pot with sugar and add the juice of six limes. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 30 minutes, until cashew fruit is softened and mixture is bubbly. Use a potato masher or a blender to purée the fruit, and return to pot. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and stir. Cool in the pot for 30 minutes, then put in mason jars. Use boiling water canner to preserve, or store in fridge.
Five Fingers and Lime Juice Drink
3 large “five fingers” fruits a.k.a. Star Fruit or Carambola
The juice of 6 fresh limes
1 cup water
3 tablespoons cane sugar (turbinado or demerara)
Remove ends of five fingers and chop into large chunks. Place in a large blender, adding water, sugar and lime juice. Purée the fruit on high, and add ice cubes until the juice becomes slushy. Serve immediately.
2 large, firm almost-ripe mangoes
½ cup chopped red pepper
1 tablespoon minced jalapeño, if you like spice
½ cup chopped red or sweet onion
¼ cup minced cilantro
Juice of 2 small limes
Salt to taste
Chop the mangoes, squeezing the juice from the seeds into a medium bowl. Add mango chunks, lime juice, chopped onion, cilantro, bell pepper and jalapeño, if desired. Add salt to taste and serve with fresh fish, grilled shrimp, or jerk chicken.
Basic Mojito (1 drink)
10 fresh mint leaves
Juice of 1 small lime (or half a large lime)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 oz. white rum
6 oz. club soda
Muddle mint leaves, lime, sugar, and rum (and any add-ins) in the bottom of a glass. Add ice and club soda and stir gently.
1 teaspoon diced fresh ginger root and ¼ cup fresh passion fruit juice
¼ cup fresh mango puree
1 slice watermelon, seeds removed (about ¼ cup)