Local farmers Zelmalee and Willie Ebanks sell seasonal fruit, treats
Zelmalee Ebanks enjoys the fruits of her labor – and many others do as well.
The North Side resident operates Whistling Duck Farm with her husband Willie Ebanks. They grow a wide variety of fruit and vegetables: mangoes, lemons, limes, soursop, papaya, seagrape, plums, grapefruit, guava, cassava, yams – and the list goes on.
“There’s a lot of work to it, but I enjoy it,” she says. “The reward for me is knowing other people can enjoy it.”
It’s one of the reasons they got into the business, she notes. “There was so much fruit on the farm, it was just going to waste.”
The couple sells seasonal fruit, juice, jams, jellies, fresh-fruit smoothies and other goodies at the weekly Wednesday farmers market at Camana Bay and at the Saturday Market at the Grounds at the Agriculture Pavilion in Lower Valley. They also operate a roadside stand, Willie’s Fresh Fruit & Juices, just east of the Grand Harbour Shopping Center in Red Bay.
Born-and-bred Caymanians, Zelmalee and Willie, a former seaman who returned to Cayman in 1967 to farm, have been married for more than 40 years. Zelmalee turned her talents to farming in 1999 after retiring from teaching. She has since earned numerous accolades at the annual Agricultural Show in a broad range of categories, with the couple claiming the title of Most Outstanding Farmers of the Year several times.
Along with the fruit stand, Zelmalee is famous for her award-winning culinary creations that include heavy cakes, cookies, jellies and jams, usually made from mango, guava, soursop, seagrape and plum. Her baked goods and preserves are big sellers during the holiday season.
“Christmas is a busy time,” she says, noting many customers put in orders early for her seasonal treats.
Zelmalee makes sorrel jelly and mint – green and red for the season. “I also use my local apple that I’ve preserved during the year to make Christmas fruit cake – and it’s a genuine fruitcake.”
Apple and starfruit are the main ingredients, with raisins and preserved watermelon rind and orange peel also in the mix. She preserves the fruit until it is nearly dry, then in October begins soaking it in wine “so that it can really marinate and be ready for November baking.”
Zelmalee shares a couple of traditional recipes to help celebrate the season.
1 pound fresh sorrel
1 gallon water
1/4 pound ginger, crushed (alternately, use four sticks of fresh cinnamon)
1 to 2 tablespoons rum (optional)
Sugar to taste (optional)
Wash sorrel, and place in large pot with the crushed ginger (or cinnamon sticks). Once it comes to a boil, turn off the heat, cover and let steep overnight. In the morning, strain and add sugar (if desired). Chill and serve.
Note: Sorrel is available at the Wednesday farmers market in Camana Bay, as well as local supermarkets, during the holiday season.
4 lbs grated yam
8 cups boiled coconut milk
4 cups brown sugar
1/2 lb butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp salt
Blend/grate 2 dry coconuts. Squeeze to yield 8 cups.
Add sugar and spices. Boil until oil breaks in liquid.
Reserve 1 cup of liquid.
Add hot coconut milk and butter, 2 cups at a time to the yam.
Stir briskly until all liquid is completely absorbed by yam.
Pour into well greased baking tin.
Bake at 350 for 3 to 4 hours, basting with reserved liquid after approximately 1 hour and then every 1/2 hour until cake is done.
Cake is done when sides loosen from edges of tin, top is browned and knife inserted in centre comes out clean.
Christmas Beef and Pork
5 lbs local beef
5 lbs local pork with some fat
2 tsp salt
1 large scotch bonnet pepper
1 large onion
6 large season peppers
Season meat. Let stand 1 or 2 hours or even overnight.
Sear meat in dutch pot, pork first to render oil from fat.
Cover tightly and cook under low fire until meat is tender.
Serve with rice and beans, local fried plantains, breadfruit, cassava, sweet potato, and all of your other favorite sides.
Remember to include a slice of your favorite heavy cake – yam, cassava, sweet potato – for dessert as well as a glass of sorrel drink.