For Bodden Town residents tasked with securing food for their families in Cayman’s earlier days, a combination of hunting, farming and fishing along with a healthy dose of cooperation usually ensured no table went bare.
Out of necessity, Cayman’s early settlers had to be self-sufficient. Life was hard, and people ate what they were able to grow in the garden plot, shot in the wild or caught from the sea.
When it came to hunting, Bodden Towners relied on creativity, patience and ingenuity.
Men in the neighborhood, and some women too, shot wild birds and rabbits for Sunday dinner. Grand Cayman “rabbits” are actually agouti, rabbit-sized rodents. Introduced to the islands by early settlers as a source of food, rabbits were frequently hunted in the backlands of Cayman. While agoutis are not native to the Cayman Islands, the shy creatures are regarded as having minimal impact on native wildlife.
Back in the day, Cayman rabbit stew was just as popular as turtle stew and fish rundown. Late in the evening, when the men went hunting, the far-off pop of a rifle signaled that someone would be having rabbit dinner that Sunday.
Rabbits were also a nuisance to farmers’ crops and some landowners were only too willing to grant hunters access to their properties to keep them at bay.
Local lore has it that, long ago, there were so many rabbits running loose on the island that the government was shelling out big bucks – three shillings plus bullets – for every head brought in.
Early rabbit hunters would head into the bush just before nightfall, then wait in the trees for the wild birds and animals to show up. Hunters would pick an advantageous spot up a tree in the woods, set some food at the base, and simply stay put until a good size rodent came along.
Getting up high, above everything else, on a tree or lookout perch was the best way to sight a target, and reduced the possibility of human scent being noticed.
After an evening’s work, successful hunters would head home with 10 to 12 pond fowls and two wild rabbits on a thatch line.
When tending the livestock and growing produce, very little went to waste. For instance, the peelings from produce were used to feed a family’s farm animals.
A family’s cow and pig would be slaughtered during Christmas. After being apportioned among friends and family, some of the meat was cooked, and the rest salted and cured to be cooked later with coconut milk and ground provisions. To cook the fresh beef, a hole with dug in the ground, the pot of beef and vegetables placed on a bed of hot coals, covered and left to slow-cook for hours
This meat could keep throughout the holiday season because it was cooked with its own fat. When the meat cooled, the fat hardened around it, preserving the cooked meat. And when it came time to eat, a piece was taken out and reheated.
Chickens were slaughtered on Sundays but most of the time they were kept for their eggs. In those days, it is said, each chicken knew its own yard. When it came time to roost after socializing, it would make its way home to its own coop.
Fish and other seafood, such as conch, lobster and turtle, were eaten throughout the week but on Sundays the ladies would prepare the meat from the land.