Whatever its origin, the Jamaican patty has distant worldwide relatives. Caymanians like their patty, too.
Even expats can’t resist the scrumptious, savoury beef-pot aroma of the patty, with its golden-yellow crust, encasing finely ground meat, onions, hot peppers, bread crumbs and spices as the perfect on-the-go food.
The first time I ate a patty, it was made by a Caymanian bakery – I was attending John Gray High School and it was love at first bite.
I liked it for breakfast and ate it for lunch. It has been more than 10 years since I tasted Wholesome Bakery’s rich, flaky, spicy beef patty, which came delivered hot to the school each morning.
I also fell in love with Hyacinth Myles’ home-baked Caymanian curry patties, which had a smoother textured dough and yellow colouring from the curry spices, but just as good.
Local businessman Edwardo Miller has put his stamp of approval on one local patty baker. “What makes Ms Elrita Seymour’s patties so special is the flavour and colour; they are not flaky like the ones that come from Jamaica.”
Among the Jamaican community, great debates have ensued over whose product is better; Tastee or Juici.
Some older Caymanians say they were making patties since 1935, but like I say, whatever the origin, patties are to us what the empanada is to the Latin community, the hot pocket to the Americans and meat pastries to the British – everyone loves the snack. So whatever the case, don’t let a patty cross your path without tasting one.
‘Took off like hot cakes’
Even the late Sir Vassel Johnson enjoyed a good hot patty in his day.
In his book As I See It, he shares a discussion with the late Norberg Thompson about wealth and money and who would be Cayman’s first millionaire, while enjoying a hot patty made by Cissy Bryan, sold from her shop on North Church Street in the 1930s.
“She was known to make the best patties in town,” he wrote.
According to 79-year-old Mary Thompson, the wife of the late Norberg Thompson and owners of Wholesome Bakery Ltd, Caymanians learned about the patty when Jamaicans started coming to the island, and it was her husband who first started making patties on a much bigger scale for retail in Cayman.
“My husband started making patties in the 1960s. The Jamaican baker who he had employed to make breads suggested we make beef patties, which took off like hot cakes,” said Ms Thompson.
She said the bakery first started making breads, which were sold for sixpence, and a half-loaf for one and tuppence. It also supplied patties island-wide to the schools, shops, restaurants and anyone who wanted to sell patties in those days.
“I don’t believe it was one person in Cayman who did not work in the bakery, I remember waking up wee hours in the morning to collect workers from East End to West Bay because transportation was few and far apart those days.
Wholesome Bakery held the reputation as the tastiest patties on island,” she added. “The dough was flaky and melted in the mouth. The special recipe for the stuffing and the dough was created by me and the baker.”
Mrs. Thompson said the dough was put through a special process which gave the crust that flaky texture, and the stuffing was infused with flavour from the different spices.
“A patty and a Wholesome Bakery milkshake was the best meal on island for locals and tourist those days,” she added.
According to Mrs. Thompson, the bakery also made chicken, vegetable and cocktail patties for parties.
When the bakery closed in 2000, Mr. Thompson had added cafeteria style dining to his establishment.
Now retired from making patties, 91-year old Francis Seymour said Caymanians made their own style of patties.
”Plenty people used to make patties in my days. I used to get a lot of praise for my patties, especially from Donley boy who would buy up to four dozen at one time.”
Ms Francis starting making beef patties Saturday mornings more than 50 years ago, but she was positive they were being made long before she started.
“I remember Miss Doris Ebanks making them to sell at her little store on the waterfront; Hyacinth Myles did her own style, Elrita Seymour, Elaine Seymour, Mr. Pete, and even Ruth Seymour, who used to make unique crab patties.
Some of those dear souls have passed, but I am sure there were a lot more people in the community who made patties,” she said.
Ms Francis said her patties were such a hot commodity she did not have to take them to a shop to sell. “Before they even cooled properly they were finished. I remember getting up wee hours in the morning to bake patties so they would be ready early in the morning for my customers.”
“The patties that I see selling today are not like the ones we used to make. They don’t have enough meat and I don’t like the flaky pastry. You have to use good shortening to get nice tasting patties.
I don’t fancy the Jamaican patty like those made by Caymanians, although people have their own preferences,” she added.
Miss Francis’ daughter Emily agrees with her mother that her patties were much better than the Jamaican patties. “The Cayman patties have a better dough, more meat and much fatter and taste much better.”
Her sister Jane said she watched her mother bake patties to learn the trade and could turn out a delicious tasting patty herself, but because the kitchen gets very hot, she seldom bakes.
Elrita Seymour said she remembers going from house to house to sell her patties.
Baking patties only on special orders these days, she can’t find the time to make them as often because she cooks local food to sell.
Wholesome Bakery tradition
Ms Seymour was handed down the tradition about 40 years ago from watching her grandmother bake and from working at Wholesome Bakery.
“Those days a meat grinder was used to blend together the spices and meat. Nowadays they just put the ground beef in as is. Another thing that’s different about my patties – my pastry is smooth compared to the ones from Jamaica, which are flaky. Some of the seasoning that is used is also different from what I use. I use just black pepper and salt, onions, seasoning and hot peppers and ground beef. That is what makes my patties stand out”.
A genuine Jamaican patty is made of ground beef, usually spiced with onions, pimento (allspice), thyme and the heat of Scotch Bonnet peppers, and then wrapped in a flaky pastry crust with a distinctive yellow-orange colour, which comes from various sources like annatto seed, turmeric or food colouring.
They are eight-inch-long rectangles with a half-moon shape.
Many like them wrapped in coco bread, which is a large bun that is opened and the patty stuffed inside.
Favourite brands are Tastee and Juici Beef, which can be found island-wide.
Cayman Island Taste patties has also made their mark on the tantalizing taste buds of Caymanians.
The patty originated sometime in the 1960s and for the last 35 years have been producing their own unique version of the Cayman patty, which consist of beef, chicken or vegetable.
Back in 1975 Virginia and Graham Thompson started the business, and today locals and visitors alike savour the delicious goodness on offer.
When biting into a flaky dough Jamaican patty, the crumbs rain all over the lap, on the desk top, in between the computer keys, and if you are not careful, the hot oozing meat can give quite a nasty burn.
So be careful, but enjoy!