What’s for dinner?
I met the most delightful lady last week in Duanvale, Trelawny. Born in 1900, Violet Brown is a feisty and funny 115-year-old; perhaps the oldest in the country. Her mind is sharp, and she still walks unaided, doesn't wear glasses to read, and has her own teeth.
Miss V indulges in the occasional beer and loves cake. Nearly four decades past her three score and ten, I was sure Miss V had learnt along the way the secret to long life and lasting love. I asked her what it was.
Her response was the simplest and perhaps the most profound I've ever been told: "Cook coconut sauce."
Coconut sauce goes by many names in Jamaica, the most common being 'run down' and 'dip and fall back'. The liquid from a grated coconut is boiled to a near custard state and highly seasoned. Sometimes curry and salt fish are added and the delicious end product is served with ground provisions.
Already a staple in my own kitchen repertoire, I felt good. Miss V's entire face lit up when she spoke about how she used to cook for her now-deceased husband. She told tales of serving him 'matrimony' (fruit salad with condensed milk) in her matrimonial home and shared with me in great detail how her love story hinged on her ability to feed her husband.
Miss V's lesson
On the drive back to Kingston, as I mulled over Miss V's lesson on living and loving, I realised that the important part of her message was not WHAT you cooked but THAT you cooked.
In the words of Mr Lex, the inadvertent relationship counsellor:
Gal, yu betta can cook.
Think yu deh ya fi yu pretty looks?
Yu waan live a restaurant and come done man bank book?
Cook! Heh, recipe book.
Gwaan inna di kitchen 'cause yu han dem nuh nook.
The adage, 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach', was true in the time of Miss V's love and apparently still holds. Anecdotally, when you ask men what makes a good woman, somewhere in the top five most desired qualities is that she must be able to cook. Her dexterity in the kitchen is used to judge her as both wife and mother material.
I have such great memories of watching my mother cook when I was a child. The smell of dinner being made is one of the most homely, most comforting things I can imagine. And cooking invariably results in people sitting to eat together. I truly believe that a lot of what is wrong with our country can be fixed by bringing the family back to the dining table.
joy of dinner time
I would be doing my children a great disservice if I robbed them of the kind of laughter we shared around my childhood family table. At dinner time, we disconnected from all things electronic and nothing mattered there and then but food and family. We laughed, swapped stories, talked about our day, and made memories.
However, in a time of fast food and microwave stew peas and frozen dinners, the art of cooking is dying with my generation and those that follow us. Things and times change, but perhaps some things shouldn't.
Mothering, for most, is no longer a full-time job and the home-cooked meal has become a casualty of work. Yes, life gets hectic and work gets demanding and the chores never end, but we must still find time to cook; to provide nutritious meals for ourselves and for our families. We must still provide that forum that is 'dinner time' for families to reconnect.
According to Miss V, we have to cook to live long, keep the family together and hol' di man, (not to be confused with tying the man). I think she's right, so rest assured that for dinner tonight, I'm making coconut sauce.