The Rich Red Earth of St. Elizabeth

I saved this for last.  For a moment when the stress of real life returned in full force so that I could go back to my photos and take a deep deep breath of beautiful St. Elizabeth in snapshot.

In the cool of the morning in St. Elizabeth my cousin Mac would take me down to the Lookout.  We walked 20 minutes down and 40 minutes back up a red dirt road through the hills pregnant with crops taking pictures along the way.

Red dirt road to Lookout

We would pass the odd field, freshly ploughed and waiting for seed, smelling of bauxite (or what I would imagine bauxite to smell like) and the broken stems of plants.

Ploughed field waiting for seed

The tomato fields are bedded with straw and on one of our walks we saw a man weeding, using his machete to slide under the straw and break up running roots of creeping weed.  As they start to change colour the tomatoes are picked because once the ripening begins it is a quick run to red.

Tomato and mellon often grow side by side.

Mac and I climbed to the Lookout point around rocks and cactus flowers to see the breathtaking view of the coast of South St. Elizabeth.

Climb to our favourite spot at the Lookout

CONQUEROR

From this perch the view is AMAZING!  To the West is Treasure Beach.

Treasure Beach from Lookout

Much of the coast is uninhabited and anyone who has survived a hurricane can well imagine why.  The wind against the face of these mountains can destroy like no force of man.

To the East of the Lookout we are able to see Lover’s Leap.  The place is named for two slaves who loved each other very much but whose masters intended to separate them.  They jumped from the place marked with the lighthouse at the top of the mountain.

Lighthouse at Lover's Leap

To the South we see the far fall or steep hike down to the Caribbean Sea.

Far fall to the Caribbean

On the way to and from the Lookout we would pass friendly neighbours and their animals.  This little guy got my heart, bucking and bucking at his mom to let him near enough to get some milk.

Baby Billy getting his milk

And this dainty little one came pushing up toward me.

Curious Kid

We would also pass papaya trees,

Papaya tree loaded

gungo peas,

The Gungo Pea, also known as a Congo Pea, and closely related to the Pigeon Pea

rows of corn,

A row of corn by a tomato patch

carrots,

Carrot head just out of my shadow

rosemary,

Rosemary grown but not often used in St. Elizabeth

and thyme.

Used to cook just about everything in Jamaica, the Thyme plant is a must have in every St. Elizabeth garden.

There is always something small to snack on like the little tomatoes,

Little hands full of snacky tomatoes

and Star Apples, sticky and sweet in their tropical richness,

Star apple, not to be confused with the Carambola known as Star Fruit. Both are grown in St. Elizabeth.

and Strawberries.  Who would have thought, right?

St. Elizabeth strawberries. There are two varieties in the family garden - these are the smaller ones.

What comes to the table depends very much on the season.  In another season it would be Ortaniques (a unique orange variety), Star Fruit, Mangoes of every variety, Naseberries, Sweet Sops, oh my goodness I could go on but not without getting very hungry.

Aunty makes Bammy, a Jamaican cassava bread rich in fibre and mild in taste, to go with my lunch, a simple variation of the Jamaican national dish of Ackee and Saltfish – without the Ackee.

Handmade Bammy - I am truly blessed!

At the end of a blissful morning with a long walk to get my blood flowing, fresh air to fill my lungs, the sight and smell of crops and animals to give me a sense of peace, I sit down to a lunch of traditional Jamaican food, fresh off the land and out of the pot.

Lunch off the fat of the land

Lunch off the fat of the land

I hope you’ve lived vicariously and enjoyed my time in St. Elizabeth with me.  It won’t be long before I’m back there in another season with other fruits and learning new things.

Related Posts:

  1. First day in Kingston
  2. Journey to St. Elizabeth
  3. Flowers of St. Elizabeth
  4. Life in St. Elizabeth

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Pieces of Sunshine for Aunty

Aunty J had a stroke.  She’s in the hospital.  Daddy was so upset he sent it to me on blackberry messenger and my blood went cold.

You know the piece of sunshine in the family, the woman who is always doing something, always taking care of others with never a moment for herself.  Always cooking, ironing even my undershirts, scolding me for not dressing for the weather.  Her house always smelled of ripe plantains and was as warm as Jamaica even with the snow falling outside.

Grandma died when my dad was a toddler and Aunty J, even from a distance, has done her very best to fill the gap.  She is the grandmother I know.  Her home was my home when I moved north for university.  She cooked countless Sunday dinners and sent monthly care packages full of her special banana bread, chocolates, coconut cream, ackee and salt fish.  Always ackee and salt fish.  In a brown shoe box.  I would get a slip in my mailbox saying to please collect the large package at the porter’s desk.  Where Aunty got all those shoe boxes I have never thought to ask but there they were in a steady, reliable stream, one for every month of four years.

The cake would last from month to month with the new one arriving just as the last crumb of the old one disappeared.  The rice and peas didn’t come out right the first few times but soon I was a professional.  But the major hit was the ackee and salt fish…

Aunty would be on the phone on a Sunday – we always spoke on Sundays – and walk me through every step of ackee and salt fish until I got it right.  And if I were to take the train ride down to her for the weekend she would have the fish soaking in the kitchen as she boiled the water for my hot water bottle on cold nights.  I would wake to ackee and salt fish on the table with fried dumplings and fresh fruit with coffee and orange juice every morning that I woke up in that house.

Some people light candles.  I, like Aunty, prefer to cook as I pray.  Yesterday while she was in the Intensive Care Unit I was picking fresh ackee out of the red shell. This evening after hearing of her improvement and her move out of the ICU I poured hot water over the golden ackee flesh, boiled the salt fish and shredded it, and threw them together in a pot with thyme, onion, a spoon of oil and family secret pepper sauce.  I will send up savory steam rather than smoke, heavy with the smells of our shared experiences and a bond like no other.

I pray Aunty will soon be back on her feet and taking care of everyone again.  Cooking delicious tropical delights in a grey wintry northern city, ironing, sending birthday cards (never does she forget a date), cooking, walking to the post office, taking the bus to the grocery store, cooking and being the rock that so many of our family have been built on.  And cooking.  But today I am doing her cooking for her.

Get well!