A journey down memory lane saw East End youths enjoying Cayman’s culinary heritage recently.
They learned how to make fish in coconut stew.
At Countryside Church on John McLean Drive, youngsters watched as cooks demonstrated how older folks prepared a days’ meal.
Senior resident Elaine Rankine, 67 realised there were too many young people walking up and down the street in East End doing nothing and set about getting them involved in some of activities. The learning day was one of many fun activities and outings planned for the Youth-in-Action – Hands Across East End group during summer camp.
Under the wing of seniors Raymond Conolly and Marylou Rankine, youngsters prepared salted ocean turbot fish, which had been left hanging on a clothes line for the past three days, and breadkind to complete the traditional dish.
“People had to be very careful with their dried fish in those days because people would steal it off the line,” said Mr. Conolly, chuckling. ”They would put it under their jacket and dance all night with it until they were ready to leave,” he said.
“Come young man dig the cassava from under the caboose stove like you have strength,” said Mr. Conolly. “The reason the cassava was buried was to keep it fresh and preserved because there was no fridge in those days. The breadfruit was also put into water overnight to preserve,” he explained.
Demonstrating breaking the coconut, Mr. Conolly explained how the meat was grated and used in a number of stews. “It was used to make coconut oil and the water was the healthiest natural drink you could find. The husk was used for lighting the caboose fire and burned for mosquitoes. Dinner was started as early as 9am so that men returning from the land tending grounds would have food on the table.
Taking up the sharpening rock to put an edge on the knife before cutting up the breadkind and fish to go in the pot, Mr. Conolly stopped a moment to introduce a young lad to the rosemary broom from a collection of Caymanian artefacts on display.
Marylou Rankine, dressed in traditional women’s wear used in by-gone years; a flowered patterned cloth tied around the head and waist to protect her from the smoke and soot demonstrated how to grate coconut on a perforated old time tin grater.
“In those day there were no strainers so folks would strip the bark from the coconut tree to use as a strainer. The trash was flung on the ground to feed the chickens in the yard. Nothing was wasted those days,” she said before patting the cornmeal dumplings to be added to the pot. “One dumpling and one of every other thing in the pot was placed on the plate; if you wanted two dumplings you would have to swap with someone for a piece of breadkind or fish.” Mr. Conolly finished explaining how the fish was taken up every evening and placed indoors before the evening dew fell.
Besides learning to cook traditional foods the youths were also introduced to a 100-year-old pot used for steaming fish and the smoke pan. “In those days donkey dung was used along with wood chips to ward off the mosquitoes. This was packed in a paint can punched with holes to let the air in. ‘Swing that smoke pan’, they would shout to get the fire going,” Mr. Conolly said.