Remembering Beryl, an Unforgettable Jamaican Mom

A portrait from Boston and Jamaica

This Cultures Capsules portrait memorializes a beloved mother through the recreated experience of the Sunday dinners she offered to friends.  Here you will find the recipes, music and stories that capture the spirit of these dinners, and through them, we begin to know a bit about the woman Beryl was.



Who Was Beryl?

My friend Aretha often speaks lovingly about her mom, Beryl, a strong, opinionated and caring woman from Jamaica, W.I. Whenever Aretha shares her story about her first time cooking a meal that wasn’t Jamaican, I always pictured Beryl sitting in her kitchen looking at her with an “Oh no, you did not just say that” look on her face.

Aretha got “the look” when she complained about having to eat Jamaican food all
the time and had the gall to ask her mother, “Can’t you cook something else besides Jamaican food?” to which she got the prompt and facetious response, “Well, if you don’t like what I cook then go cook your own damn food!!!”

Aretha, wanting to eat, had to start cooking for herself.

Beryl had a larger than life personality—think Bobbi Adler from Will & Grace. Beryl was a big influence on Aretha who is strong, full of love, curious, and had an amazing spirit of generosity. Aretha often mentioned her mother to me. She spoke of the times they spent together and would share stories of the mother-daughter trips they took to Italy. So, it was hard for me to learn that Beryl had health issues which eventually led to her death in 2017.

I offered Aretha the opportunity to create a Cultures Capsules portrait as a way to help her encapsulate and share the memory of her mom, Beryl. I am thankful to Aretha for sharing some of the spirit of her mother, as well as the time and effort she spent creating this with me.  I am grateful that I was able to create this in memory of Beryl, and I do look forward to creating tributes of other people in the future.

Our tribute to Beryl began with a playlist of reggae, Soca and Lover’s Rock music because she always had music in her home and the meal was an important way in which she showed her love for her family and friends. The menu below was special; she wouldn’t make it for just anyone.


Beryl’s Playlist

Remembering that music was important to Beryl, before proceeding, please push play on this free Spotify playlist.  It contains songs from several of her favorite artists. 

When the “Money in My Pocket” song came on, Aretha chuckled and told us that her dad would sing that to her mom.


Remembering Beryl

Before we provide the overall plan for making this Jamaican feast, here’s a quick peek into the way Beryl’s kitchen worked. She did not suffer any fools in her kitchen. When Aretha complained one-too-many times about the food her mom was making, Beryl simply stopped cooking and turned the reigns over to her daughter, and made her do the cooking for them.

The first meal that I made after my mom’s rebellion (haha!) was chicken fricassee. I remember not liking it because a core ingredient was mushroom soup (brown the chicken then braise it in the mushroom soup) which I never had before and so it was an acquired taste. Besides, the soup made the dish too salty.

My mom tasted it in front of me and said, “Taste like shit!” I just wanted to cry. But that made me more determined to cook my own meals and I got really good at making meals that were not Jamaican, and over time she came to trust me. She would say, “I feel like eating something different today.” So, I would make Shrimp Fra Diavolo, Chicken Marsala, Osso Bucco, etc. and she loved them all. 

Because I learned to cook with different herb and spices, I was able to take artistic liberties with certain traditional Jamaican dishes which are now better than hers. She even admitted that to me. A big win for me was the fact that she became addicted to rosemary on chicken and turkey. Every time she roasted a chicken or a turkey she had to put rosemary and oregano on it. She even put basil in her pasta. We were able to travel to Italy multiple times due to the fact that she had become comfortable eating foods that were not familiar to her.  It was a journey with her.

Aretha reflects on what she cooked for Beryl


Planning for a Jamaican Feast

Do Ahead:

  1. Marinate the goat meat in the fridge a few days ahead.
  2. Make the Apple Crisp topping, if you’d like. You can keep it in the fridge for a few days but it just takes a few minutes so it’s not needed.

Day Of:

  1. Get the Apple Crisp in the oven.
  2. Brown the goat meat in a dutch oven and get it cooking in water, covered.
  3. Boil the peas (i.e. red beans).
  4. Continue tending to both the Goat Curry and Rice & Peas while you:
    1. Make the Carrot + Lime Juice.
    2. Cut and arrange the tomato and cucumber slices.
  5. When curry and rice are about done, and just before you’re ready to sit, fry the plantains and serve them hot.
  6. Enjoy!


Apple Crisp

apple crisp and rum raisin ice cream
apple crisp and rum raisin ice cream


Curried Goat

jamaican goat curry
jamaican goat curry


Rice & Peas

Beryl believed that the generosity of a person was visible in how much their rice fluffed up.

If a pot of cooked rice appears to be more than expected from the amount of dry rice used, Beryl believed this signaled that the person who made the rice had a generous heart.

Yes, our rice puffed up that evening.

jamaican rice and peas
jamaican rice and peas


Carrot + Lime Juice

carrot lime juice
carrot-lime juice


Tomato & Cucumber Salad

As with the amount of fluff in the rice, the tomato and cucumber salad was another place Beryl kept her eyes peeled. If she asked you to help her with this salad, she would be taking note of the care you took in slicing neatly and evenly, and how beautifully you arranged it all on the plate.

cucumber and tomato salad
hmm. not my most beautiful preparation ever. I will do better next time, Beryl!


Fried Plantains

fried plantains
fried plantains