By Cynthia Hew
Enjoy a Cayman Christmas full of fun and flavour
with some of our Islands’ traditional eats.
Coming from very humble culinary beginnings, foods like fish and “bread kind” (sides such as cassava, sweet potato and breadfruit) were the main ingredients of daily meals for Caymanians. Accessible and plentiful, families learned to use local spices and their creativity to serve up the same ingredients in a variety of ways, including stews and rundowns. However, once a year, families would save up and prepare a special Christmas meal with “meat-kind,” meaning beef and pork.
Still today, ingredients such as scotch bonnet peppers, thyme and garlic create a potpourri of scents in homes when families gather to prepare their Christmas feasts. Christmas beef is a holiday staple and a unique Caymanian dish where locals credit the use of Cayman beef for its rich earthy flavour.
(From Chef Tanya Foster, Foster’s Food Fair)
Ingredients: (yields 4 to 6 servings)
5 #pounds bottom round roast beef
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 #stalks green onion, chopped
3 tablespoons thyme
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 #tablespoon ginger (fresh), chopped
½ teaspoon Season-All
2 #tablespoons Kitchen Bouquet
½ cup olive oil
1 #hot pepper or season pepper (depending on how spicy you like your food, season pepper being the milder choice)
½ #teaspoon Nature’s Season’s Seasoning Blend
Cornstarch for thickening the gravy
Directions: Begin by preparing the marinade. In a blender, blend the onion, green onions, thyme, garlic, ginger, seasonings and olive oil.
Trim the bottom of the round roast flat. Using a small pairing knife, pierce holes all over the meat to allow the aromatic herbs and spices to permeate deep into the meat. Next, pour the thick marinade mix over the meat. (Note: It’s important to work the marinade deep into all of the piercings in the meat. Marinating not only adds flavour, but it also tenderises the meat.) After marinading, place the meat in the refrigerator for around 24 hours.
When you are ready to begin cooking, place the meat in a Dutch oven (a large pot) on top of the stove and add the marinade ingredients. The meat should be halfway submerged in liquid, so if the marinade is too low, add some water. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for two to three hours until the meat is meltingly tender. It is important to check the meat frequently to ensure that it doesn’t dry out. If it looks a little dry, add some water to the pan. Place a lid on your Dutch oven to retain moisture or use tin foil to cover.
Once cooked, take the meat out of the pan and remove the meat from liquid; allow to rest. The meat should be cooked through with no sign of pink. Strain the liquid, re-season and thicken with cornstarch to serve over beef. When you are ready to serve, slice or shred the beef, depending on your preference. Place on a serving platter and pour the gravy from the pan over the meat. Extra gravy can be served in a bowl for guests to help themselves.
Weeks before Christmas, families would harvest their bread kind, which include the Cayman yam, pumpkin, cassava and breadfruit. Root vegetables and fruits were less expensive than grains, and their high starch content would satisfy the appetites of even the largest of families. Today, these ground foods are still a part of a traditional Cayman meal.
Ingredients: (yields 4 servings)
1 cassava root
1 quarter/half slice of local pumpkin
2 Cayman yam/sweet potato
Directions: Peel and slice the cassava, Cayman yam and plantain into large quarters or chunks. Peel and slice the breadfruit and pumpkin into four pieces. (Make sure to remove centre core before cutting into large quarters or chunks.)
Place the pieces of fruit in a steamer or in 3- to 5-centimeters of lightly salted water. (Note: Do not completely immerse.) Add salt, pepper, garlic or other seasonings as desired. Steam quarters for 10–20 minutes or chunks for 10 minutes or less, until tender and the fruit can be easily pierced with a fork. Length of cooking depends on the variety. The firmer and denser the flesh, the longer it will take to cook. Overcooking will make the bread kind mushy and waterlogged. Remove cooked fruit from the pan and prepare as desired — fried, baked or steamed. Cooked fruit can be refrigerated for several days or frozen in plastic bags for one to two months.
Combining sweet with savoury, Cayman’s heavy cake is a must-have treat. Prepared in a square baking pan, the thick, caramelised corners of this dish make its crusty edges the first thing to go when serving up this local favourite. The cake, commonly referred to as “stretcher,” is made from cassava, along with a heavy combination of butter, sugar and spice. Its unique texture and flavour make it irresistible.
(From East End’s Frank Connolly)
6 pounds grated cassava
3 large dry coconuts
1 gallon water
4 pounds dark brown sugar
1 pound butter or margarine, softened
2 teaspoons salt
2 #teaspoons mixed spice (nutmeg and cinnamon)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons water
3 cups water
Directions: If using frozen cassava, make sure it is thawed. Pry the coconut meat from the shell, peel off the brown skin, and then cut the white meat into small pieces. Put the coconut in the blender or food processor and process until fine. To make the coconut milk, combine the meat and 1 gallon of water in batches in the blender. Once blended, strain the mixture into a large (8 quart) pot.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the pot on boil and keep the coconut milk at a low boil, uncovered, until oil forms on the top (about an hour). Slowly stir in the sugar, then the butter or margarine and mix until blended. Bring the mixture back to a boil, then reduce the heat to an even boil and boil down until thick (about an hour longer). Remove 1 cup of the mixture and reserve as a basting juice. Blend the cornstarch and 3 tablespoons of water to make a smooth paste and stir into the mixture. Next, add the 3 cups of water and mix until blended well, then add the salt and spice. Continue boiling the coconut mixture until it turns very thick (about an hour longer). Turn the heat off and prepare a 14” x 21” baking pan.
Pour reserved juice into the pan (enough to cover bottom of pan) and place in the oven for about 15 minutes or until it turns dark brown and begins to caramelise. Do not allow it to burn.
Remove pan from the oven and pour the cake batter into the pan and bake for one hour. Remove and generously baste the top of the cake with some of the remaining juice. Bake another hour at 350, and then baste again with remaining juice. Reduce the heat to 200 degrees and bake for one hour longer. Remove from the oven and let cool. Do not cover the cake until it is completely cooled and do not store in the refrigerator — heavy cake is served at room temperature.
Cool down and celebrate a Cayman Christmas with the refreshing taste of spiced sorrel over ice. This zesty hibiscus plant blooms once a year, in the late Fall. Enjoy it warm or cold with the taste of ginger and spice,
bringing home the traditional flavours of a Cayman Christmas.
(From Miss Cleo’s Cayman Kitchen: Treasured Recipes from East End)
4 cups dried sorrel sepals (flowers)
2 pieces cinnamon stick or
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
12 whole cloves
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 cups brown sugar
2 quarts boiling water
White or light rum – to taste, if desired
Directions: Remove the seeds from the sorrel. Place sorrel, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and sugar in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Cool and let stand, loosely covered for two or three days at room temperature. Strain the liquid into another container, discard the solids and add rum if desired. Let sit, covered, for two days to age. Makes about 2 quarts. Store in refrigerator and serve chilled over ice.