A Jamaican Chrismus

There was a song that went like this:

We don’t have no snow,
We don’t have no sleigh,
But fun we do have
At Christmas J-A.
So run and come to sea and sun
At Christmas J-A.
Snow and sleet
You’ll never meet
At Christmas J-A.

I moved away from the sea and sun over 10 years ago and now the snow is actually piled high outside my door since the last week. A new shower is expected tomorrow.

I fondly remember my childhood Christmases back in Jamaica. The dominant factor was FOOD. Yes, we had a tree, the house full of new things and well-decorated, and mom would buy us new stuff, and when I became an adult, there was shopping and parties (so many parties!) but above it all, there was great food.

On Christmas mornings, when I was very young, once or twice we went to a Christmas Grand Market affair downtown. These were done outdoors by the malls and the vendors sold toys and other trinkets that they brought from overseas. I don’t think they still have those.

Some people dressed up in their finest (their “Sunday best”, as we called it) and went to a church service. Then they’d return home and have a lavish breakfast.

In the evening, there was dinner. A traditional Jamaican Christmas dinner was rice and beans, a leg of ham (unless your religion prevented it), some variation of chicken and/or curried goat and/or roast beef, and of course, there would be some vegetables. Plates were piled high.

SorrelThere was sorrel chilling in the refrigerator all through the season. This was a drink made from boiling the sorrel flowers with ginger and cloves. After the mixture cooled, you’d sweeten with brown sugar (no self-respecting Jamaican would ever use granulated sugar) and some amount of port wine. I’ve been having this since I was a child – with wine – and never got drunk. One of my friends’ mom back in the day would kinda get tipsy though, but she was very generous with the wine and rum.

irish-whiskey-cake1

Irish Whiskey Cake

And then there was cake. A fruitcake, but not like the fruitcake that people in the US seem to despise. This was a dark cake (1lb sugar, 1lb butter, 1 lb flour, 10 eggs, various spices) laden with 4lbs of currants, raisins, prunes, and cherries which had been soaking in rum and port wine sometimes for months. It’s very moist and takes at least 2 hours at a very low temperature to bake. But when it’s done…mmmmm!! This is also the basis for a traditional wedding cake and is based on an Irish Whiskey Cake recipe. So many of the things we did are based on Irish, English, or Scottish traditions.

As a young adult, when I lived alone, my friends and I would cook dinner together (always a ham present in the recipe) and we’d go and spend time at the beach. No kids, no husband/wife, not a care in the world.

Life was great!

These days, I’m so very far away from home but I try to continue some of the traditions. I usually have sorrel, but not this year. But, there’s always a ham and a big meal at Christmas and I spend an inordinate amount of time baking these delicious wine-laced, fruit-laden, calorie-ridden cakes.

Snow outside notwithstanding, feels like home again.

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4 replies

  1. Oh what fun it must have been, even though ten years have past, it is like yesterday in your memories! I have always loved my Mom’s fruitcakes, one was dark and rich with flavor, moist also like the one you mentioned. Then, the other was like a butter pound cake but packed with whole nuts and dried fruits. This was very moist and buttery tasting. The first had brandy or some kind of chosen alcohol, the second one was non-alcoholic. I love hearing about traditions! Happy New Year and the rest of the holiday season.

    Like

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