Thu | Sep 21, 2017

A sweet Independence treat

Published:Thursday | August 6, 2015 | 8:00 AMMikala Johnson
Freshly baked slices of Miss Shirley potato pudding and toto.
The grated potato with some of the ingredients on top, cornmeal, flour, nutmeg and sugar.
A pot toto batter as it slowly bakes.
The pudding while being baked.
Delighted with the outcome of her toto, Miss Shirley gladly holds the pastry for our camera.
The pudding while being baked.
Knox Hamilton dips in for one of Miss Shirley’s sweet treats.
A pot greased with butter sits on top of a bucket waiting for the potato pudding batter to be added.
A proud Miss Shirley walks down the road skilfully balancing a basket filled with pudding and toto on her head.
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As the country celebrates Independence Day, Food wishes to remind you of special Jamaican treats.

Many of us tend to crave traditional Jamaican food and sweets at this time of the year, but it can be challenging to get our hands on them. This is not the case for persons in the small community of Cheesefield in Linstead, St Catherine. They have easy access to all bona fide Jamaican treats, courtesy of Dothlyn 'Miss Shirley' Clarke.

Originally from Springfield, St Catherine, Miss Shirley moved to Cheesefield more than 30 years ago when she met her husband, Solomon. Quite a character, Miss Shirley has a voice you will never forget - when she speaks it sounds as if she is singing. With silver-like hair and a constant radiant smile, she can be spotted from a mile away balancing her basket of goodies on her head.

Drops, grater cake, peanut cake, potato pudding and toto are her speciality. She told Food that she learnt to make them as a child, listening and watching her grandmother and others making these treats that were very popular. Thirty years later, she is still making them to sell around her community.

The very first sugary treat Miss Shirley started selling was the traditional coconut drops. A few years later, she 'tried her hand' at the peanut and grater cake. She told Food that the first time she made both peanut and grater cakes they were not perfect, but that didn't stop her. She tried again and the second time around they were.

Most of her treats have one ingredient in common - dry coconut - whether it's the trash or the milk. Miss Shirley gets her weekly supply from persons in the community or at the Linstead Market on a Tuesday. However, she has to journey across Flat Bridge into Spanish Town to get her weekly supply of peanuts.

Miss Shirley sees no challenge in what she has to go through to create her products, as she tells Food, it's her livelihood and how she earns her honest bread. And she confesses that selling them is just as much fun. She heads out with her basket of goodies and return home, having sold everything.

Whenever visitors from overseas are in town, they make sure to get Miss Shirley's potato pudding, toto or some coconut drops to take back with them. Miss Shirley sells her product by order as well as her routine walks through the community on Mondays and Fridays.

As Food waited for a fresh batch of toto, Miss Shirley shared some of her most precious childhood memories, recalling how much she enjoyed eating sweets like stagga-back (busta), asham, paradise plum, and of course - lolipop.

She recalls her days of going to the spring to fetch water as a little girl, carrying butter pans on her head. She says it was fun trying to balance the pan on her head as she walked home. "When I used to guh school them neva sell slice toto. Is one toto them sell, they used to drop it like flittas." In addition to the toto, she also loved eating red herring and crackers or bulla and milk for her lunch.

Miss Shirley says she normally bakes her goods on a Sunday afternoon after she gets home from church, or sometimes she will get up as early as 4 a.m. and head to the kitchen to bake up a storm. She says she bakes two to three times per week and she enjoys every moment she spends in the kitchen. Although she tends to bake traditional pastries, Miss Shirley is also good at Christmas cakes, cupcakes, and has even baked wedding cakes in the past.

So if you're ever in Cheesefield, make sure to stop and ask for Miss Shirley and sample a few, if not all, of her delicious treats.