Book: Memba When: The Jamaican cookbook that takes you on a trip down memory lane
Author: Renaee Smith
Reviewer: Dr. Glenville Ashby
Renaee Smith may have come up with a unique formula to produce entertaining, spirited books that are at the same time quite informative. On the heels of Freddie’s First Race and The Great Compost Heap, here comes Memba When: The Jamaican cook book that takes you down memory lane. It is loaded with all the ingredients to make you smile with nostalgia. Oh, how readers will wish for the good ole days.
Smith writes with an enviable joie de vivre – a kind of palpable energy that travels through her every line. She manages to fuse Standard English with Patois with deftness and ease. As for Patois, some might argue that it makes for difficult, incomprehensible reading, despite the book’s glossary. For others, though, it only adds to the richness of her work.
Smith is quick to point out that this is not your regular recipe book, but a showcase of cuisine prepared without measuring ingredients – food made with a sense of feeling. Flour, salt or sugar is dashed several times until our palates are satisfied. It is cooking from the soul. She goes on to identify the famous spots to enjoy roadside food. Little Ochie in Alligator Pond, Manchester and Middle Quarters in St Elizabeth, and Sotchies in Montego Bay, make the cut.
Smith shows how our tastes change through the years, depending on circumstances and our biology. “Memba when you go on school trip and yu mother or yu father give you money to buy lunch? You can’t wait to get to the first stop so you can get pan chicken and roast corn…As you get older you start to look for roast fish and roast yam.”
She recalls childhood years as a time of fun – free from responsibility – care free – nothing in the world to stem our excitable thirst for pleasure. She pens, “Yes school days was the best. You memba when we used to get lunch time and we try fi squeeze in a game of dandy shandy or site an site, in de river on de banks, Hop Scotch, Roundas – box down and box away, stuckie. Man dat was fun. Mi still have a scar on mi knee from a romp during lunch time inna mi new shoes no less and nearly dig off my foot.”
And what is Caribbean literature without an injection of tales that scared us silly but now serve up a hearty laugh?
“You memba black heart on Rolling Calf? The good Lord above know seh mi did fraid like puss. Black heat come fi tek yu weh. Him did drive one black car and wear black clothes.”
And her days at UWI saw the reign of canned foods. And when money was difficult to come by, Smith’s experience gives weight to the adage: Necessity is the mother of invention. With flour and cornmeal, chicken back and seasonings, “our parents and grandparents were able to feed a whole heap of people,” with cuisines she believes died with them.
Memba When is a must read for cultural aficionados. And for chefs or those moved by Jamaican cuisine, this is an essential work. Smith offers instructions on preparing sardine fritters; fried spat; tomato sandwiches; tap it a pass; fried boiled dumplings; bulla and pear; condensed milk sandwich; cho cho and saltfish; salt fish fritters (stamp and go); and other sumptuous meals. And don’t worry, she has not omitted ever hearty drinks. And there are lots to choose from: bebige, cherry drink, milk and syrup, and bissy tea.
Yes, a parade of foods that makes us proud of our Caribbean heritage. And another inventive idea by Smith.
Memba When by Renaee Smith
Ratings: highly recommended
For info on availability contact the author at www.renaeescakes.com
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