roadside rasta fruitstand

If you’re driving around Jamaica and see a homemade sign with the scrawl “ice cold jelly,” take heed and stop. It means there’s cheap, cool refreshment to be had in the form of coconut jelly, the slightly sweet, delicious slime – for lack of a better word – that forms inside the fruit of an immature coconut and tastes like, well, jelly. Even better: if you’re cycling through the jungle and happen upon a roadside Rasta fruitstand, make a pit stop for a banana or two and some intensely hydrating fresh coconut water. Don’t be put off by the half-dozen or so ganja-smoking Rastas under the lean-to, they’re stoned out of their minds. More formidable is Mamma, who despite seeming to have never discovered the benefits of wearing a bra is outfitted in a pair of Gucci sneakers and fisherman’s cap. She’s the one in charge here, so ask the boss for a coconut water then watch as one of her boys hacks at the fruit with a machete before handing it off to you with a straw. While you’re drinking it down let Mamma show you the rest of her fruit:  plantains, baby banana, cassava, breadfruit, lemon, lime, and curiously conical pineapple. If you’re lucky she’ll also enlighten you to the fact that she’s no Rastafarian – her family are Maroon, from up in the hills. When you ask about the Maroons she’ll tell you something else you didn’t know: the Maroon were runaway slaves who banded together and took to the hills, establishing a communal hunter-gather society. On other Caribbean islands the runaways were quickly overcome by white settlers and hunters, yet in Jamaica Maroons thrived and grew powerful enough to fight the British colonists to a draw, eventually signing treaties which not only freed them a good half-century before the abolition of the slave trade but also guaranteed them autonomy. Their continued isolation has essentially kept the Maroon separate from mainstream Jamaican society to this day, which is why you might struggle to understand Mamma’s patois yet still grasp her sense of pride.

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when life hands you blueberries

Regular readers might recall my virgin attempts at pickling earlier in the spring.  Having just consumed the last of the pickled ramps some three months after the experiment – with a really nice piece of aged goat cheese – I can honestly say that it turned out to be a great way to extend the life of those ethereal spring onions.

The newly empty canning jar, however, turned my thoughts to wondering what’s in season right now.  Blueberries, which a week ago were as expensive as semi-precious stones, are suddenly everywhere and cheap as chips.  They’re bursting with sweet berry flavor, too – which means this long hot summer has kicked the growing season up a few weeks.  I’m thinking crumble, pie, cobbler; but more urgently I’m thinking I don’t want to turn on the oven.  Eventually I figured out that using the cook top I could make a syrup, which would not only be more in line with my attempts at seasonal preserves but also a significantly less intense dose of heat infusing my already overheated apartment.  And yet again, like with the pickling, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the whole affair turned out to be:  5 cups of berries mashed up with 1 cup of water and simmered for 20 minutes.  Drain through a sieve and reserve the liquid, discarding the solids. Rinse the pot, adding two cups of water, two cups of sugar, the zest of a lemon and bring to a medium boil.  Add reserved berry liquid, a few tablespoons of lemon juice and cook for one minute.  Remove from heat, let cool, then discard zest and pour into bottles.  Voila!

In addition to these two bottles, which should last for six months in the fridge, I got the accidental benefit of some fresh jelly, too.  “Leave to cool,” you should know means just that:  let it cool down and then pour into storage containers.  I on the other hand left it to cool for most of the day.  As a result when I finally checked up on my syrup a gelatinous skin of jelly about an inch thick had formed  across the top.  It tasted intense and looked eminently spreadable, so I put it in a jar for later.  The syrup, I am happy to report, is rich, thick, and bursting with a concentrated ripe-fruit flavor. Now I’m craving pancakes, as well as musing on all the  items that will get the blueberry treatment in the coming months.

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