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.
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.
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
Marinate the goat meat in the fridge a few days ahead.
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.
Get the Apple Crisp in the oven.
Brown the goat meat in a dutch oven and get it cooking in water, covered.
Boil the peas (i.e. red beans).
Continue tending to both the Goat Curry and Rice & Peas while you:
Make the Carrot + Lime Juice.
Cut and arrange the tomato and cucumber slices.
When curry and rice are about done, and just before you’re ready to sit, fry the plantains and serve them hot.
Don't forget the rum raisin ice cream!
KeywordApple, Jamaican food, Jamaican recipes
2poundsGranny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 1/2cupground cinnamon
1tbsplemon juice, freshly squeezed
12tbspunsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the baking dish(1 1/2 sticks)
1 1/2cupold-fashioned rolled oats
1/2cuppacked light brown sugar
ice cream for serving
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a baking dish.
In a large bowl, whisk sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch together to break up any lumps. Add the apples and lemon juice and toss gently to coat. Transfer to the buttered baking dish and spread evenly.
Topping: In the same large bowl you have just emptied, put the oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt and stir until combined. Pour melted butter and vanilla over the oat mixture and stir until just combined. Scatter the topping evenly over the apple mixture, leaving large clumps intact.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the fruit juices are bubbling (won’t be too dramatic) around the edges of the baking dish and the topping is golden and firm to the touch.
Let the crisp cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. If transporting to a picnic or party, let the crisp cool completely to give the fruit filling time to set.
Note to self: Next time, try cardamom instead!Adapted from The Kitchn
2whole scallion stalks, chopped('escallion' in Island grocery stores)
4cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2whole Scotch Bonnet pepper, chopped(note: this looks like a green habanero but is NOT a habanero!)
Trim goat meat, cut into bite-size pieces and wash in a mixture of water and vinegar.
Add 1 tablespoon curry powder, chopped onion, escallion, garlic, ginger, thyme, scotch bonnet pepper, black pepper, and salt. Rub the seasonings into the meat, cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for at least 8 hours.
Heat sunflower oil in a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon curry powder. Add the marinated meat and allow it to sear. Turn the meat and add 4 cups of boiling water. Cover and allow to simmer for about an hour and a half, or until the meat is tender.
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.
Rice & Peas
As you may have guessed, Red Beans and Rice goes by “Rice and Peas” in Jamaica.The original recipe came from Beryl and Aretha learned to make it by feel, and also adjusted it to her liking over time. We have carefully measured and tested amounts so you can replicate it.
KeywordJamaican food, Jamaican recipes, Rice
1 1/2cupsred kidney beans(the amount is dependent on the number of servings you plan to make)
1cancoconut milk(2 cups)
6sprigs of fresh thyme(Jamaican thyme provides a more authentic flavor to the dish. If you are in NYC, you can find this thyme in Flatbush: Nostrand Avenue, Utica Avenue, and Church Avenue)
1/4cupred bell pepper, chopped
1/4cupgreen bell pepper, chopped
1whole green Scotch Bonnet pepper with stem intact
salt and pepper to taste
3cupslong grain rice(we used basmati rice)
Pick through kidney beans and rinse them with cold water.
Put the kidney beans in a 5-quart pot and cover with coconut milk and cold water.
Add garlic cloves and garlic powder to the pot.
Set pot on medium-high heat, bring to a boil then lower flame and let simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Check beans to see if they are beginning to soften.
Once the beans begin to soften, add all ingredients from the scallions (make sure to bruise the stalks) through the salt and pepper.
Allow to simmer for another 20 mins to get all flavors to meld. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings to your preferred taste.
Rinse the rice with cold water until the water runs clear. Add to the pot. The liquid in the pot should cover the rice. (To get the right texture for the rice. you should adhere to the rule of thumb of 2 cups water to 1 cup rice).
Half cover the pot to let the steam out. (Failure to do this may cause the contents of the pot to spill over onto the stove.)
Check rice to see if the coconut milk mixture is fully absorbed and evaporated. Once this has happened, lower the flame to low, cover the pot completely and let the rice steam for about 10 mins.
Stir the rice and check the texture. If it’s not fluffy, add a little more water and let it continue to steam until you get delicious, fluffy rice.
Juice the limes, and keep aside in a large pitcher.
Using a food processor or blender, grate the carrots.
Switch the attachment to blender/puree, add some water to the carrots, and pulse briefly.
Working in batches, push the carrot mixture through a sieve so that the juices run out and the solids are left behind. Add the juice to the pitcher, and keep the carrot solids aside. Continue with the remaining carrot mixture until you've fully separated the solids and juice.
Return the solids to the food processor, add a bit more water, and repeat the process to extract more juice.
Stir sugar or simple syrup into the juice mixture, taste, and adjust with sugar or lime if desired.*
Serve over ice.
* Experiment with the lime and sugar per your taste, sweeter or more tart. There are as many recipes for this as there are chefs
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.
4tbspsunflower oil(enough to cover the bottom of your fry pan)
In a small fry pan, heat the oil. If the bottom of your pan is not covered with oil, add more.
Meanwhile, quickly peel the plantains and slice them on a slight diagonal, about 1/4 to 1/3 -inch thick (maximum 1cm). Keep aside.
When the oil is hot, put in the first batch of plantains, being careful to put them in quickly, but do not overcrowd the pan. Allow to cook for about 2 minutes, or until browned, then flip using tongs. When well browned on each side, allow to cool on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
Repeat for remaining slices of plantain.
Enjoy while still warm!
Beryl would typically not add any salt – just plantains fried in oil.
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