Camana Bay’s Farmers Market is a treasure trove of delights, featuring row upon row of stands offering visitors the chance to buy wonderful “Made in Cayman” foods, jewelry, arts and crafts and so much more on a Wednesday afternoon.
A colorful stall that immediately catches any browser’s eye is that of Ivolyn Thomas, known by all as Ms. Ivy. Her Cayman treats are a glorious color-filled array of pickles, sauces, seasoning rubs and baked goods that she has hand-crafted to perfection.
Cooking is in the blood
Back in her native Jamaica, Ms. Ivy says she came from a long line of farmers and cooks.
“I used to love watching my mother and grandmother cook in the kitchen when I was young,” she says. “My grandmother was the greatest cook that ever lived and had her own little cook shop in Jamaica. I wanted so much to learn how to cook!”
Ms. Ivy’s first love was baking, and she would make wonderful coconut confectionery that continued when she moved to Grand Cayman in 1984 with her husband.
“I really wanted to open up my own restaurant because I loved to cook so much,” she says, “but in the end I worked in the hospitality industry, which I really enjoyed, including at the Royal Palms, Hyatt and Beach Club resorts, working at the front desk or in food and beverage.”
After Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Ms. Ivy says she decided to bake in earnest, and that began her journey into producing “Ms. Ivy’s Cayman Treats.”
“My son is a chef on island and I got the idea for creating my own hot sauces from him,” she says.
A great hot sauce
The bright red pepper sauce has a rich and rounded flavor, she says, made with both local seasoning and Scotch bonnet peppers.
“That one is my favorite,” she says.
The other is a bright yellow Scotch bonnet sauce, made for the heat purists who demand nothing but the hottest sauces on their meats.
“It’s really fiery, but people just seem to love it,” she says.
Her deep brown jerk sauce is what Ms. Ivy calls “her baby.”
“I’m really proud of this sauce,” she says. “In Jamaica, of course, they are so well known for their jerk sauces. They include a lot of molasses in their ingredients and I wanted to be a bit different, so I add soy sauce to give it the lovely deep brown color and lots of tangy flavor.
“My sauces also have a lot of fresh ginger and garlic, which is really good for you. They aren’t just sauces, they are really flavorful, really spicy and you just want to keep eating them!”
Her hot pepper jellies came about because she says she could never find a pepper jelly on island that was hot enough for her.
“I like to flavor my pepper jellies with locally grown fruits as well,” she says. “Sometimes it might be with the lovely mangoes that are now in season, making the jelly a beautiful orange, or sometimes it might be with papaya, yielding a darker orange jelly.”
In a similar vein, Ms. Ivy says she could never find a really good jerk spice rub that delivered the true depth of flavor she was looking for in her cooking. Eventually, she decided to make her own and regularly ships in fresh spices like pimento, six different types of pepper, plus parsley, thyme and celery, from Jamaica to make two kinds of rub: a fiery hot jerk spice rub that’s heavy on the pimento, perfect for chicken or pork that is going to be baked, barbecued or “jerked” and a milder, all-purpose seasoning rub. The latter is great sprinkled on salads and on potatoes, she said.
Also sitting proudly on her display table at the Farmers Market are rows and rows of multicolored pickled vegetables, a uniquely flavorsome way of getting some of your five-a-day vegetables.
Ms. Ivy has not forgotten her greatest passion, that of baking, and stacks of her sweet treats sit alongside myriad savory seasonings and sauces. She enjoys baking all things coconut – grated coconut cake, coconut drops and so much more.
“I’ve always had a love of baking with coconut,” she says. “It’s plentiful and so nutritious and so many just go to waste if we don’t use them.”
Along with her coconut cake sits a real Caymanian tradition, that of cassava cake.
“When I first came to Cayman, I didn’t know about cassava cake,” she says, “so I approached a Caymanian friend of mine and she gave me a recipe. Another friend gave me another recipe and eventually I have combined the two and perfected the recipe to make my very own cassava cake.”
Adding to her ever-growing repertoire of homemade goodies, Ms. Ivy now also produces her own homemade jams, made, of course, with locally sourced fruits such as guava, mango and sour sop.
“In fact, anything that’s in season,” she confirms.
Judging by the way items were flying off her stand during the course of our short interview, Ms. Ivy has clearly built a niche for herself in the locally made spice rubs, sauces, jams and baked goods department. Visitors to her stand can definitely feel they have taken away a little piece of the island with them.