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'Yard food' for Labour Day

Published:Thursday | May 17, 2012 | 12:00 AM
If you are vegetarian or just want to skip meat, simmering some vegetables seasoned with onion, peppers and thyme will be a great meal for you after a hard day's work. Have with a staple of your choice. - File

Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor

Good Jamaican food is peasant food. Unabashedly calorie-laden, rich in memories for those who can recall ... .

- Barbara Gloudon in Real Taste of Jamaica by Enid Donaldson

Labour Day is the ideal workday to 'run a boat' as you want 'yard food' - something different from the daily chicken or curried goat. It is also a day when you would not want anybody to spoil the pot so an easy-to-prepare meal must be planned. Naturally, 'salt things' - protein - comes to mind and with it you could have home-grown staples such as breadfruit, dasheen, green bananas and flour to make dumplings. However, you must fortify the flour dumplings with cornmeal, sweet potatoes or carrots.

Green-banana dumplings

As a nostalgic flashback, try making green-banana dumplings - it is a taste to die for! If you grew up in the country and had regular treats of bush cooking, the coco or banana leaf became your 'natural' plate. When that could not be found, breadfruit tree leaves were just as good.

Run Dung

Typically, you could mix your everyday greens like callaloo or pak choi with salt fish. But you may want to be adventurous and try any variation of 'run dung' or 'dip and fall back' as in the dish, susumber with salt fish with a hint of curry.

Run dung was made by simmering salted fish - mackerel, salt fish, shad - with vegetables and lavish amounts of fresh seasonings in coconut milk until the milk 'cooked down' to a custard-like consistency.

Dip and Fall Back

For 'dip and fall back', the dip is literally dipping the starchy accompaniments into the protein-kind made to 'run down' and the 'fall back' is throwing the head back to strategically place the blend of the 'run dung' in the mouth. As part of our West African heritage, commu-nally, food was eaten with the hands where a doughy starch like fu fu made from cornmeal or fu tu made from plantain and cornmeal is used to scoop up the liquid sauce, then the head is thrown back to eat while another person takes his or her share from a central dish.

Salt fish and susumber

Susumber, also known as 'gully beans', is a relative of the eggplant. Ironically, Jamaicans eat susumber, but Haitians are said to be afraid of eating it for religious reasons. Some say susumber is as "bitter as hell" (as if they had been there and back), but unripe susumber with salt fish gives a bitter, musky taste that leaves you wanting more as a result of its unique taste that grows on you. Susumber and codfish with a hint of curry is my grandmother's creation and was a regular part of meals when I was growing up in Somerton, St James.

Susumber and Codfish with a hint of curry


2lb salt fish, soaked in water overnight

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 stalks scallion, (spring onions) copped

1 onion, coarsely chopped

4tbsp coconut oil

1tbsp curry powder

2 cups susumber (gully beans)

1/2 cup coconut milk, freshly squeezed

Scotch bonnet pepper


1. Chop garlic, sweet pepper, scallion and slice onion.

2. Flake codfish and remove bones and set aside.

3. In a heavy-bottom skillet, heat oil, add curry powder and garlic and sauté for one minute.

4. Add onion, scallion, susumber and coconut milk to curry in skillet. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add codfish and pepper. Cover and continue cooking over low heat for five minutes.

Serve with cornmeal dumplings, boiled green bananas, ground provisions or roasted breadfruit.

Cho-cho and salt fish

For a variation to the susumber recipe, you could use three whole cho-chos in the same way, in place of the susumber. The only difference is that you would not have the bitterness.


If you want to go without 'animal food' on the workday, simply simmer vegetables in 'run down' style, highly seasoned with onion, garlic, thyme, Scotch bonnet pepper and scallion. You may also add yam or bammy as the starch to the 'run dung' to truly get a 'one-pot' meal. Highly seasoned ackees with breadfruit or yams are foods to be considered for the day.

Your 'sweet endings' can come from fruits - mangoes or star apples or otaheiti apples, all of which are currently in season. Your 'bebridge' or beverage would be 'wash' or lemonade made from limes. Part of the nostalgia of cooking in the yard or in the bushes was the cheese tin used to drink your lemonade. Literally, this would adequately 'wash down' the food. You may then want to sleep after a hearty meal and a day of labouring with love!