Four years ago, Samuel and Elkie Rose’s eldest daughter asked a question which set in motion the creation of a new Caymanian tradition.
Puzzled as to why Cayman did not enjoy a country-specific Thanksgiving celebration like the U.S., or Canada and other countries, Kayci posed this question to her parents. In response, Elkie Rose and friend Faith Gealey-Brown created a Cayman-styled Thanksgiving which has since spilled over from their homes into the calendar of many on island.
A celebration of this type is important to Cayman, explained Samuel Rose, now a Cayman Thanksgiving Planning Committee member alongside his wife Elkie, Gealey-Brown, Kerry Forbes, Pilar Bush, Laura Young and Anthonia Spencer.
“It’s about openly expressing our gratitude for the everyday miracles such as surviving another hurricane season, which we experience as part of life in a safe, caring and prosperous community,” Rose said.
“Our troubles, although real, are microscopic when compared with the rest of the world. It is one day where we find common ground or have a brief détente from the usual bickering that regrettably becomes a part of our community,” Rose said.
“And it is an open invitation for those who have come here to live and work to not only to share a meal around a table, but to try cooking something Caymanian and participating in our culinary heritage.”
Cayman Thanksgiving is now the first weekend of December. This year, events will take place on Dec. 6 and 7. Previous years have seen the event kick off with a homecoming concert, which attracted around 1,000 people last year, but this year will be slightly different, with an event at the Agricultural Pavilion.
“We have brought the musical entertainment together with the market to create ‘Market & Music at the Grounds’ on Saturday, Dec. 6, during the daytime,” said Rose.
The event is free to attend, allowing “more money to be spent with market vendors, getting a plate of food and letting your children participate in some of the fun family-oriented activities,” explained Rose.
Market & Music at the Grounds will showcase local talent including Swanky Kitchen Band, Impulse and JR Douglas, and is an event the entire family can enjoy.
“We will have a number of local high schools competing in a cook-off with Cayman-styled beef as the main dish and all the other ingredients have to be ‘purchased’ from vendors at the grounds,” planning committee member Kerry Forbes said.
“We will also have lots of other prizes, surprises and tons of the freshest produce and local food on sale.”
Sunday, Dec. 7, is the pinnacle of Cayman Thanksgiving, with the enjoyment of Thanksgiving meals inside and outside the home. Gealey-Brown, one of the original organizers, said there are many ways to celebrate on the Sunday.
“You can either host a dinner or be a guest, and can either prepare your own Caymanian dishes using locally grown produce, or go to one of the many restaurants putting on a Cayman Thanksgiving-themed menu.”
She added: “We also always encourage people to openly express gratitude by attending a worship service of your choice during that weekend and performing a random act of kindness, such as donating your extra food supplies from hurricane season to a needy family or a local food pantry.”
Forbes explained the variety of foods that will feature in Thanksgiving meals in Cayman.
“Caymanians love a variety of foods. Cayman-styled beef, salt beef and beans, lobster, conch – stewed, scalded or cracked – turtle stew, whelks, rabbit, as well as fish in an array of styles from escovitch, steamed, minced, roasted, or in a rundown. All of these are safe choices for main-courses.”
Side dishes include breadfruit, custard topped cornbread, pumpkin, cassava and other locally grown produce.
“You can make a big effort with desserts, whether you make a heavy cake or something more fun such as ice-cream made from local fruits including papaya, coconut, or guavas,” Forbes said.
“We want people to go to town with it and have a blast in their kitchens engaging with, interpreting and enjoying our culinary heritage.”
From its beginning four years ago, Cayman Thanksgiving is enjoying a well-deserved increase in popularity, Gealey-Brown said.
“Cayman Thanksgiving is slowly but surely creeping into the local psyche and is becoming recognized and celebrated by more members of the community each year,” she said.
“We have more families preparing meals, more restaurants putting on Cayman Thanksgiving menus, and businesses as well as individuals are adding it to their annual calendars. People are aware, they recognize the name, and they know the reasons why we celebrate and should celebrate.”
Participating CITA member restaurants offering Thanksgiving-themed dishes will be listed on the Cayman Thanksgiving website, caymanthanksgiving.ky. For those hosting at home, Gealey-Brown has supplied some local recipes for people to enjoy.
Cayman Style Beef
- 5 lbs fresh Cayman beef (stew beef cuts)
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2 season peppers
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Slice onions and peppers and mix with seasonings
- Wash the beef and trim excess fat from meat
- Rub the seasoning mix into the beef
- Using a large Dutch pot with a secure lid, cook the meat slowly on low heat, turning the meat occasionally as it browns
- The meat should yield its own water (gravy) but if it doesn’t, you may add small amounts of hot water, a little at a time
- If the meat is tough, add peeled slices of green papaya or add a well washed nail to the pot to tenderize
- Meat should be ready in 3-4 hours. May be mashed/shredded before serving
Cayman Fish Rundown
- 3-4 lbs white fish (such as turbot)
- 6-8 cups of coconut milk (store bought or homemade)
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2-3 Cayman limes
- 2 hot peppers or 3-4 season peppers
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 lb cassava
- 1 lb sweet potato or yellow yam
- 1 lb breadfruit
- 3 green bananas
- Cornmeal dumplings (store bought or homemade)
- Cut fish into pieces
- Clean the fish very well with limes and water. Season with salt and pepper and set aside
- Peel, wash and cut all of the breadkind (cassava, sweet potato, breadfruit and bananas)
- Put coconut milk in a pot and heat until it breaks oil
- Add onion, thyme, salt, pepper and whole hot peppers to the pot with the breadkind and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the vegetables are almost cooked through
- Add the fish and dumplings to the top of the rundown and allow to cook for another 15 minutes or until the fish is cooked through
- Cayman Cornbread
Courtesy of CNB calendar
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 2 tsps baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 stick margarine
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 1 tsp vanilla flavoring
- 1 cup milk
- 1 pinch salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Grease a 9” pan and set aside
- In a large bowl, combine cornmeal and all purpose flour and stir well
- Add remaining ingredients, beating until batter is smooth, if batter is too dry add
up to 3/4 cup water until well moistened
- Pour batter into prepared pan
- Bake to a golden brown for 1- 1 1/2 hours or until inserted toothpick/knife comes out clean
Courtesy of Sarita Ebanks
- 3 lbs grated cassava
- 2 lbs Dixie Crystals brown sugar
- 3 cups freshly grated coconut milk
- 2 tbsp vanilla essence
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup anchor butter
- Place grated cassava in a large mixing bowl
- Put butter, sugar, vanilla, spices and coconut milk in a Dutch oven to boil, using medium heat
- Once boiled mixture has reduced, take a small portion and set aside for basting the cake while it bakes. Use the remaining liquid and pour over the grated cassava, folding it into the cassava until evenly constituted and desired consistency is achieved
- Pour into a greased baking tin in a 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours until cake is golden brown, basting it with reserved liquid until evenly baked. Please note, baking time can be extended if size of cake warrants it.