By Kellie Magnus
There’s no denying it: food and drink are an integral part of Jamaican culture. From our national dish, ackee and saltfish to our favourite Jamaican rum, Jamaicans love to celebrate with our stomachs.
It’s no wonder then that books about Jamaican food and drink have been a popular staple in the island’s book industry, wooing both local readers and visitors to our island eager to take the taste of Jamaica back with them.
According to Novelty Trading Company, the leading national distributor, the best-selling Jamaican book of all time isn’t a work of fiction or a controversial memoir. It’s Enid Donaldson’s Real Taste of Jamaica (Ian Randle Publishers). First released in 1993, it was a risky move for its publisher, which was then primarily focused on academic titles. It went on to become a market-leading title for decades, was reissued in 2000 and still sells well today.
Real Taste elevated its author Enid Donaldson-Mignotte to the status of a culinary legend. Before passing away in October 2013, she had amassed a slew of awards for her contributions to Jamaican cooking, including the Chairman’s Award at the Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards in 2003.
The secret to the book’s success? “The recipes resonate,” says Ian Randle Publisher’s Christine Randle. “Mrs. D was a beloved figure and a pioneer in writing about Jamaican food. Real Taste is Jamaica’s version of The Joy of Cooking. Everybody who cooks has to have it. It’s more than recipes; it’s an introduction to the food and its history. Especially for people abroad, it provides a tangible and practical connection.”
Even non-cooks have weighed in. Anthropologist and historian, Barry Higman’s Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture (UWI Press) offers a rigorous analysis of why Jamaicans eat what we eat; while my book Street Food strays far from the kitchen and takes readers on a tour of Jamaican food available in the streets.
Whatever their angle, it’s the enduring appeal of Jamaican food guarantees these titles a place in Jamaican homes, says LMH Publishing’s founder, Mike Henry. Food and drink titles are a central part of the LMH catalogue. Henry himself, co-wrote Jamaican Cooking and Menus with his now deceased brother Leonard (Sonny) and his wife Dawn; and collaborated with his sister-in law Alice and niece Michelle on Gifts from a Jamaican Kitchen.
For Henry, food and books are integrally and equally important as proponents of culture. “As a publisher, I’ve always fought against limiting Jamaica to sun, sand and sea,” says Henry. “Jamaica’s food and drink put us on the global stage on par with major world cuisines. These books have a long shelf life and introduce our country and culture to increasing audiences.”
“There’s still a lot of opportunity for Jamaican writers and publishers to do books about food,” says Novelty’s Gillian Morgan. “Some of the Jamaican cookbooks that do well are published overseas, but the ones that stand out are the ones that are authentic.”
The anthropologist and historian Higman has also noted the opportunity for more to be written on the role of food in Jamaican society and religion, in festivals and rituals, and in politics and culture.
“These books are more than books,” says Henry. “They’re a celebration of Jamaican culture. They allow us to package and preserve some of the things we love the most about life here and share it with friends near and far.”
Tropical Guava BBQ Chicken
1 – 2 tbs Walkerswood Mild Jerk Seasoning
3 tbs Walkerswood Guava Jam
1 Whole chicken quartered & cleaned
1 tbs olive oil
1 1/2 cups orange juice
1 tsp fresh Jamaican ginger – minced
1 clove garlic – minced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbs tomato ketchup
- Rub chicken with Jerk Seasoning and olive oil, allow to marinate for 1 hour (preferably over-night)
- To make tropical guava BBQ sauce – combine remaining ingredients into a sauce pan and simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes
- Cook chicken on BBQ grill for 45 minutes until cooked through
- Baste chicken repeatedly during the final 10 minutes of cooking.
Busha Browne’s Smokey BBQ Beef Slider
4 oz Busha Browne’s Jerk Smokey BBQ Sauce 2 lbs premium ground beef (80% lean / 20% fat) 1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
3 tsp fresh garlic minced
1 tbs olive oil, plus extra for brushing the grill 2oz mayonnaise
1 dozen slider rolls or dinner rolls
6 oz romaine lettuce leaves
3 med. tomatoes cut into 1/8” slices
2 med. purple onions cut into 1/8” slice
- Combine the beef, salt, pepper, garlic, 2oz Jerk Smokey BBQ Sauce & olive oil – mix gently with a fork.
- Shape the meat into 12 patties and place in your freezer while you light your BBQ and get to med/high heat.
- Oil the grill just before putting the patties to cook for 5 – 6 minutes per side, depending on your preference for medium to well done.
- Combine mayonaise and remaining Jerk Smokey BBQ Sauce and dress top & bottom of slider rolls.
- Dress sliders with lettuce, tomato and purple onion.