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A bucket full of fruit

Located just below the westernmost tip of Jamaica is Savanna-la-mar. The graceful capital of the parish stretches east and west along a broad avenue that leads a mile from the beachside market to a cluster of modern uptown shopping centers. It’s a conglomerate that resonates with both traditional rural infrastructure and modern consumerism. The beachside market is powered by surrounding farms where produce is organically grown, freshly harvested, and transported on Wednesday night by clever small business developments to sell before sundown on Saturday. This traditional supply line carries food for the workers of the nearby tourist centers, as well as for the visitors themselves and feeds the resident workers of the city and its economy. A survey of products in the crowded market reveals the truth of the saying that Jamaica is the center of the world.

If you approach Savanna-la-mar from the East Coast Highway at harvest time, loaded trucks may slow your car with delight and carry berry-bearing branches of a Jamaican native forest tree. to process them into world-famous spice blends. At the market, the smell of hot pepper wafts from the burnished, dark green leaves on the twigs piled along the sides of the open stalls. These may be flanking other products that were native to the island and that were cultivated by the Tainos before the arrival of European adventurers. The best known are the golden ears of corn, which are usually sold wrapped in long light green leaves and deep amber cones with their crown of dark green spikes. Less commonly found off the island are the dense spherical purple star apples, the unmodified giant papaya, and guavas twice the size of pears. Custard apples, sour sops, sweet sops and blackberries, all clusters of seeds encased in rich pulp and encased in textured skins, appear to be native fruits of Jamaica, though they now grow in all tropical latitudes. The chewing tobacco rolls, as well as the fresh loose leaves, remind us of the origin of a widespread habit derived from the sacred ceremonies of the Amerindians, while the round bammy cakes are the processed yucca of the Tainos, separated from the juices. poisonous to make their staple food edible and easily transported. . They are available in glass cases along with crispy and spicy fried escovitch fish.

Other market stalls specialize in flavors imported by Spanish settlers between 1509 and 1633. Juicy, coiled ginger roots nestle around cans of carefully caked wet sugar or may have been squeezed into cane juice jugs using Spain’s import from the north of Africa. A variety of citrus, sold in abundance, come from extensive orchards, some of which were originally Spanish owned. Navel oranges are bold and voluminous. Ortaniques, squeezed a little flatter than a sphere, invites the buyer to squeeze its pulp for its richness in vitamin c. Tangerines are bright orange in color and crumble to the touch. Lemons are thick-skinned and gnarled and limes range from yellow to deeper green, allowing you to select for sweeter or more tart flavors. Grapefruits can have pink or creamy flesh depending on their variety, and the luckiest buyers will find ugly fruit that was grafted onto orange and grapefruit to capture liquid sunlight within its smooth, flowing interior. While pomegranates also came from Spain, they were adopted and renamed “pomgonuts” and are easy to find on the market. The grapes, also originally planted by the Spanish, are increasingly available from roadside stalls although they can now be imported from America.

If your goal is a hot drink in the morning instead of refreshing juices, you can buy pressed balls of “country chocolate” to grate into boiling water. This use of cocoa, introduced from South America and planted as cacao walks during the Spanish occupation, is often flavored with nutmeg, from Mauritius, and cinnamon, from Ceylon, both brought by the East India Company to Jamaica a century after the Spanish departure. You might want a cooked breakfast of breadfruit, brought back by Captain Bligh on his second botanical voyage after the disastrous mutiny on the Bounty. Its first specimen, legend has it, was planted next to a stream in Bluefields and still survives. If you want a bland meal to fill you up, you’ll buy a green fruit, or if you prefer a sweetness comparable to roasted chestnuts, you’ll buy a breadfruit turned to bake whole or spear-fry. This self-perpetuating crop has protected many generations of Jamaicans from starvation and malnutrition as it was brought from the Polynesian islands along with jackfruit, otaheiti apple and many other less common fruit varieties freely available to customers. From the market.

The capitalists of Bligh’s day were not alone in their preoccupation with feeding moneyless mouths. Enslaved plantation workers cultivated their own orchards on five-year leases that allowed them to clear outlying land and plant plantains and bananas, yam stands, and melon and pumpkin vines. The results of their work prepared for the crops of the towns of freedom in those hills that, to this day, supply the market of Sabana-la-mar. Not to be forgotten is the native ackee tree, whose seed stalks are removed from the pod to accompany salt cod, transforming a sailors’ tough meal into a gourmet’s delight in a way developed only by Jamaicans.

The knowledge of Moravian missionaries and other immigrants from Germanic lands effectively propagated delicately flavored rose apples such as Cairn Curran, and deep red sorrel flowers that are used for Christmas drinks, sauces, tea and jams and provided arrowroot for picky eaters. His era also brought indentured workers to the cane fields of eastern India, and with them prized mangoes such as the East Indian and Bombay varieties that command high market prices. These travelers also brought marijuana, known locally as ganja, an herb with strong medicinal properties but the sale of which is prohibited due to various social complexities. Sadly too, economic pressures have reduced the amount of local rice once produced by the descendants of these same immigrants, but, hidden in odd stalls, those interested can still find a few pounds for sale.

Rich green bunches of callaloo and spinach are kept fresh at the market by sprinkling them liberally with water, and in addition to these refreshing mounds, a variety of other vegetables are sold, from the ubiquitous collards, carrots, beets, and turnips to tropical dishes like chopsticks. chos. , pumpkins, sweet potatoes and Chinese papchow. While rosemary and thyme feature in old English folk songs and salty potatoes were returned to their native shores as a delicacy called “Irish potatoes”, tomatoes, onions and skellion are so standard in Jamaican cuisine that they are sold in especially convenient packages at thoughtfully affordable prices. costs for busy market customers.

Wander through this market with me in your imagination while you save up for that poignant experience of the smells, sounds and rainbow colors of a Caribbean market. Prepare your taste buds by shopping around the world’s food islands from multinational supermarket chains and experiment in your own kitchen with a few selections from your local Jamaican takeaway to guide you. Read West Indian children’s books to your children and grandchildren and snuggle up with Caribbean novels on chilly nights to soak up the culture that fought for freedom, revels in the fertility of its hills and celebrates its cuisine with world-renowned enthusiasm. The center’s central rotating point will draw you in by thought or deed as you savor the riches of the world brought to the center as fuel for your spirit or body.


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