Remembering Beryl, an Unforgettable Jamaican Mom
Story: Remembering Beryl through her food, favorite music, and little stories about her.
Eats: Curried Goat, Rice and Peas*, Fried Sweet Plantains, Sliced Fresh Veggies, Carrot-Lime Juice, Apple Crisp with Rum Raisin Ice Cream
Playlist: Hit play on this free Spotify playlist to hear some of Beryl’s favorite music.
In this archived Cultures Capsule, we offer to you an in memorial experience of a beloved mom, immortalized the food, music and stories that made her unique, and continue to live on in the life of her daughter.
My friend Aretha had spoken often and lovingly about her mom, a strong, opinionated and loving woman born in Jamaica, and who brought Aretha to the US when she was a child. When I heard the below story about her first cooking experience, I could picture Beryl sitting there in the kitchen with that “Oh, no. You didn’t just say that.” look on her face, telling Aretha if she wanted to eat she better get working in the kitchen herself. Her mom’s personality seemed larger than life, and clearly a big influence on Aretha, who was strong herself, and also full of love, curiosity, generosity, possessed a strong work ethic, and some of the highest intelligence and thinking abilities I’ve ever known.
Aretha would often mention her mom, and I knew how much time they spent together, and even heard stories of their travels. Knowing how close they were, it was hard for me to hear when her mom was struggling with her health, not to mention when she passed.
I wanted to offer Aretha a way to encapsulate and share the memory of her mom and offered to create a Cultures Capsule with her, via an intimate cooking session and dinner party at my home. She agreed to do it so long as we weren’t oversharing. I am thankful to Aretha for her sharing some of the essence of her mother, as well as the time and effort she spent creating this with me. I had been wanting to create an in memorial capsule for someone for quite a while, and I’m grateful she was game to do it.
We began with a playlist and a menu, because Beryl always had music on at home, and food was an important part about how she showed her love. The meal offered below was special; she wouldn’t make it for just anyone.
Sounds & Stories
Remember, music was important to Beryl, so before proceeding please push play on this free Spotify playlist going. It contains songs from several of her favorite artists. The quote in the playlist is a common refrain from Jamaican moms who don’t let their kids – or husband – pull a fast one on them: “Yuh tink mi bawn behine cow?” (i.e. ” You think I was born behind a cow?”)
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 didn’t 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. Here, Aretha reflects on what she cooked:
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.” 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.
Here’s the overall plan for this 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 the in 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 and Peas while you:
- Make the Carrot-Lime Juice.
- Cut and arrange the tomato and cucumber slices.
- When curry and rice is about done, and just before ready to sit, fry the plantains in order to serve them hot.
Adapted from the Kitchn. Makes 10 servings, and don’t forget the Rum Raisin ice cream!
- 1/2 c granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1.5 tsp ground cinnamon (next time cardamom instead!)
- 2 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 c old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 c all-purpose flour
- 1/2 c packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the baking dish
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp cinnamon (next time cardamom instead!)
- ice cream for Serving
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the baking dish and melt the butter used for topping.
- Prepare the apples: In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch together to break up any lumps. Add the apples and lemon juice and toss gently to coat. Transfer to the 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 the butter and vanilla over the oat mixture and stir minimally to combine. Scatter the topping evenly over the fruit 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.
Preparation time: 30 minutes + a few days of marinating + actual cooking time 1h 30m
Makes about 6 servings
- 3 pound(s) goat meat
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 whole scallion stalks, chopped (‘escallion’ in Island grocery stores)
- 4 clove(s) garlic, chopped
- 1tsp ginger, chopped
- 2 tsp thyme, chopped
- 1/2 whole scotch bonnet pepper, chopped (note: this looks like a green habenero but is NOT a habenero!)
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 c sunflower oil
- 4 c boiling water
- Trim 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 vegetable oil in a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat and add the remaining one tablespoon curry powder. Add the marinated meat and allow to sear. Turn the meat and add 4 cups boiling water. Cover and allow to simmer for about an hour and a half, or until the meat is tender.
- Serve with Rice & Peas.
Rice and 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 to let you replicate it.
- 1.5 cups red kidney beans (the amount is dependent on the number of servings you plan to make)
- 1 can (2 cups) coconut milk
- 3 cups cold water
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 3 stalks scallion
- 6 springs 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)
- 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 1 whole green Scotch Bonnet pepper with stem intact
- 2 tbsp butter
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cups long 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 the coconut milk and the cold water.
- Add the garlic cloves and garlic powder to the pot.
- Set pot on medium-high heat, bring to a boil, lower flame and let simmer for about 20-30 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 ingredients of the coconut milk mixture in the pot to simmer for another 20 mins to get all flavors to meld. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings to reflect 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.
Beryl believed that the generosity of a person was visible in how much their rice fluffed up: if once cooked the amount of rice appears to be more than what would have come from the amount of dry rice the chef started with, she would be sure the person who cooked it had a generous heart.
Carrot + Lime Juice
Makes about 2 quarts of juice.
- fine mesh sieve
- Food processor or blender
- Large pitcher
- 1 lb carrots
- 3 limes, +/- to taste*
- 3/4 cup sugar, +/- to taste*
- Ice for serving
* Experiment with the lime and sugar per your taste, sweeter or more tart. There are as many recipes for this as there are chefs.
- Juice the limes, and keep aside in a large pitcher.
- Using a food processor or blender, grate the carrots.
- Switch the attachment to the 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 fully separated solids and juice.
- Return the solids to the food processor, add a bit more water and repeat the process to extract more juice.
- Stir the sugar or simple syrup into the juice mixture, taste and adjust with sugar or lime if desired.
- Serve over ice.
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 cucumber
- fresh ground black pepper
- Know that if Beryl were looking over your shoulder, she would take note of the salad preparation carefully, even the slicing, to create intentional and beautiful plating.
- Peel the cucumber, and slice the tomatoes and cucumber into thin rounds.
- Arrange the fruits in careful rounds on a platter. Top with freshly ground black pepper.
- 3 ripe plantains
- 4 tbsp sunflower oil
- 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 not overcrowd the pan. Allow to cook for 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! Note: Beryl would typically not at any salt – just plantains fried in oil.