Coal a hot item in Hartlands
Even as kitchens evolve with modern conveniences, coal producers continue to keep the fire burning and pots bubbling in the homes of St Catherine’s rural heartland.
Residents can still be seen hauling bags of the pitch-black gold along streets of Hartlands in the old rice and sugar cane belt of the parish’s south.
The burning of coal has been a decades-old tradition in the district, with several residents depending on the labour-intensive task for their livelihood and survival.
“The coal is what save me, as I usually raised chicken, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, I couldn’t buy feed, so I start burn coal,” said Yeon Henry.
The 45-year-old, who was observed at a large kiln in the community recently, sought to package 100 bags from his efforts – a process that lasts around seven days.
Households and rustic restaurants that cook with coal, a tradition that harks back to the days of plantation slavery, cherish the relaxed style of outdoor cuisine. But before plating fried fish and chicken or curried goat, the preparation of coal is a long, tough, and tedious process involving the methodical inputting of grass and dirt in the kiln in just the right proportions.
“It is very hard to deal with. It start with the cutting of the tree, then trim and dress it (cut it in suitable pieces), and we move it to the kiln and light it,” Henry told Food.
Delon English, 22, also burns coal to ‘put his pot on fire’, popular vernacular for survival.
He primarily uses cassia and logwood, which offers better cooking quality.
“Is last week I burn 45 bags, and all of it sell already. We sell it for $800 per bag; but it get more expensive sometimes, and we get $1,000 for each bag,” English said.
Meanwhile, Christine Thompson and her daughter, Chris-Ann, were seen braving the heat to gather pieces of coal from a kiln in a wooded area. Christine Thompson works in partnership with her husband.
“I am here to bag the coal so that we can keep the customers happy. I am aware that it’s a difficult task, but I started five years ago, so I am coping easier nowadays,” she said.
The mother of four added that she isn’t daunted by the soot, which sometimes causes eyes to water and triggers respiratory woes. Meanwhile, Chris-Ann is happy to be able to assist. “I am just here helping my mother with packing the coal in bags, as she needs help, and I don’t find it difficult to assist,” Chris-Ann said.
The elder Thompson said that before the coal business, she sold auto parts. But her new-found income stream, she said, is fulfilling, despite the difficulties.
Those challenges include the plunder of coal by migratory thieves who raid their community.
“We are not worried about the selling of the coal, as people come from all over St Andrew, St Ann, and other places to get the Hartlands coal, so we only need to be protected from the criminals,” a farmer said.