Caribbean Food: Cinnamon and spice and all things nice

Even when catering for a funeral, cooking on the Spice Island is a celebration of life.

THE SMALL leaflet advised me that "when one gets a chill, first to offer in a house is a hot cup of cinnamon tea". Wandering around the Saturday market in Grenada's capital, St George's, the leaflet had caught my eye as I passed stalls selling nutmeg still in their shells, packets of feathery orange mace, loose rolls of cinnamon and long, brown tonka beans that smelt of almond and vanilla.

Steaming in the noonday heat, I wondered when anyone might need cinnamon tea here. There were also instructions for making hot chocolate, but surely only a lunatic would want it in this weather.

Three days later, I found myself on a balcony in the hills above St George's clutching a huge mug of the stuff. This time I was with caterer Dorothy Lessey, who'd spent the morning cooking for a funeral and showing me how to rustle up a few of the local spiced-up specialities. The hot chocolate was certainly one of those: Grenadian cocoa beans, dried, roasted and ground with bay leaf and cinnamon, then cooked up with water, milk and sugar.

"Bay leaf?" I asked, puzzled by this unusual use of an otherwise unexotic plant. Dorothy said: "Most put bay leaf. Some put a little tonka bean, a little nutmeg; makes it taste good." She was right; it was delicious.

It had been an action-packed morning on the culinary front, particularly for Dorothy who had cooked enough pelau for 200 people. She'd started the day before, marinating a huge quantity of chicken overnight in a mixture of cive, thyme, seasoning pepper, onion and garlic. "I add salt to taste and black pepper, preferably hot pepper, because people like a little hot pepper in their food." Then she'd made a browning with butter and dark sugar to cook the meat and colour it, before adding rice and vegetables.

It was a straightforward dish to prepare and one you could cook back in Britain with few modifications. You might need to cut the quantities, but cive turned out to be a close cousin of the spring onion, and sweet red pepper could stand in for the seasoning pepper.

That same mixture of cive, thyme, onion, garlic and seasoning pepper turns up in the Grenadian national dish, oil-down. So while I peeled and chopped them, Dorothy made coconut milk, whizzing chunks of fresh coconut in the blender with water. Then we were ready to pack the oil-down in the pot, starting with the meat.

"You can use any meat, but English people wouldn't eat pig tail," Dorothy pointed out. I had to agree. So we compromised with chicken, and built a little igloo of breadfruit over it. Then came carrots, chunks of cabbage, coils of dasheen leaves, and blugga, one of the 10 types of banana that grow here. So what about the spices?

"Some people like curry in it," Dorothy said. "But I don't think it's oil-down without curry." Judging from the colour, the main ingredient was turmeric, but Dorothy had thrown away the bag it came in. Last in was a different type of thyme, with large furry leaves, and the coconut milk. Now all it had to do was boil down until it was almost dry.

While that cooked, we prepared the callaloo and pumpkin, neither of which featured spices at all. It seemed a strange omission on an island famous for them, but that was before I learnt that nutmeg wasn't introduced to Grenada until 1843. Even now, there are people who use spices mostly for special dishes.

"Did you buy spices in the market?" Dorothy asked. "No? Then you must have some of mine." She scooped handfuls of nutmeg into a bag, enough to last several lifetimes, and added some tonka beans. Then she gathered a great bundle of cinnamon. It seemed rude to refuse. Anyway, now I know what to do with them. More hot chocolate, anyone?

Claire Gervat travelled as a guest of Grenada Board of Tourism and Caledonian Airways, which flies from London Gatwick on Wednesdays and Fridays. Return fares start at pounds 230 through Golden Lion Travel (01293 567800). Cooking lessons with Dorothy Lessey can be arranged by appointment (00 473 440 7674). For more information contact the Grenada Board of Tourism, 1 Collingham Gardens, London SW5 0HW (0171-370 5164)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

    Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

    Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

    £70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

    Day In a Page

    Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

    Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
    General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

    All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

    The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
    How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

    How Etsy became a crafty little earner

    The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
    Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

    King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

    Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

    Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

    The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
    Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

    Don't fear the artichoke

    Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
    11 best men's socks

    11 best men's socks

    Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
    Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

    Paul Scholes column

    Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
    Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
    London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

    Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

    Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

    Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

    Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
    Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

    Khorasan is back in Syria

    America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
    General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

    On the campaign trail with Ukip

    Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
    Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

    Expect a rush on men's tights

    Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
    Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

    In the driving seat: Peter Kay

    Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road