Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Then and Now: The evolution of Jamaican food

Published:Thursday | July 29, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Traditional sweet potato pudding!

For those of us who grew up in the country or with our grandmothers, no one could make a meal that tasted as good as theirs. But today, with so many gadgets to make our time in the kitchen easier, it makes it harder to achieve that distinct taste of old. To celebrate Independence Day, Food journeys back, way back, to tell you how it was done.

Run dung

Real run dung is nothing like they make it today. To get the real thing, grandma used to grate the coconut, strain the milk them boil it until a custard began to form at the bottom and the pure oil began to settle on top, then she would fry the seasoning (include a few pimento grains), before adding the flaked mackerel and simmer. It was finger-licking good. Today, the ready-made substitute pales in comparison!

Sweet Potato Pudding

This is another treat for which most of the fun was the time it took to grate every ingredient including the yam (not a lot of flour for short-cut binding).

Did you know that much later (in the '70s), some housewives boiled the sweet potato then blended it to make the pudding? The resulting texture was as smooth as a cake batter. All the other ingredients like sugar, spices butter was then added and they used more or less liquid depending on how hard or soft the pudding was preferred. I like the soft-top kind.

Nowadays, there is even a pudding mix, but many modern cooks simply dice the potatoes and use the coconut milk (blended from fresh coconuts) as a liquid base to puree the potato in the blender, before mixing all ingredients in the bowl.

But there is nothing like tasting real sweet potato in a pudding of the same name. Some of the commercial types merely have the flavour.

However you do it, I think we should do all we can to preserve this part of our culture ; in other countries, pride is taken in doing things the old fashioned way - hence the meaning of 'heritage tourism'!

Sweet potato pudding


3 cups sweet potatoes, grated

1/2 tsp. mixed spice

11/2 cups coconut milk

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup sugar

1tsp. baking powder

1 cup flour

1 tbs margarine-melted

1 tsp. nutmeg

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup yellow yam (grated)

1 full tsp. cinnamon or 2 cinnamon leaves.


A few months ago my mother taught me how to do this the old fashioned way. It may be long but it's definitely sweeter.

Grate the sweet potato and yellow yam and combine with hands while adding flour. Your hands help improve the texture of the pudding.

Grate and squeeze coconut (the packaged/canned stuff does not work). Put coconut milk to boil with sugar and vanilla and cinnamon leaf until sugar is dissolved.

Remove from heat. Add butter and raisins, and mixed spice to potato mixture and continue to mix. Then, add liquid mixture and stir with spoon until desired consistency. Place in greased tin and bake for an hour and a half or until knife inserted comes out clean at 180C.

Rice and Peas

Still a Sunday staple in most homes, it's not real rice and peas unless you use real coconut milk, not the ones from the pack or can. And, don't forget the pickled meat (tiny bits of pig's tail/salt beef/smoked turkey neck), depending on what your religious persuasion permits you to have. Pimento seeds are a must and many people add a little ginger or a table spoon of brown sugar. Yup believe it or not these ingredients can take your regular rice and peas up several notches.

Now, remember that for best results, soak red peas overnight. If you forget, just bring them to the boil quickly, pour off that water and then cook them slowly thereafter.

Some people add the coconut milk when the peas are almost cooked, others cook the peas in the coconut milk, garlic, pimento grains and ginger, so all flavours blend together from the start. When the peas are cooked, it's time to add the rice, and the liquid should just about cover the rice and peas, and you turn the flame to low. Add scallion, thyme, a little margarine and a juicy green scotch bonnet pepper, then cover till cooked.

Leave the lazy method to the bachelors ... you know, canned peas, canned coconut milk, etc.

And for goodness' sake, use nuff peas!

Coffee with a twist

For most of us, the day begins with a cup of coffee. But faithful Food reader Elevena Reittie told us about her twist on this old-time favourite.

She uses coconut milk to set her coffee soaring to new heights. She told Food that it gives it such a taste you would drink several cups.

However, the choice of coconut used is important, and she recommends the native coconut as opposed to its dwarf counterpart which is not as flavourful. You can spot the difference as the native is long and pointed.

You grate and squeeze the coconut using a very small amount of water and then freeze the milk it in ice trays. Whether you prefer decaf or regular, after adding sugar, you put one cube of frozen coconut milk in your cup of coffee, and enjoy an old-time favourite with a new twist. Give it a try.