Aromas of a Jamaican Christmas

4 years ago

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It is the time of year when holiday gastronomic aromas fill homes, restaurants, and social gatherings throughout the world. Their bold, unique DNA is created from the countries and cultures that birthed them. From notes of nutmeg and pimento found in Scandinavia’s delectable gingerbread and warm gløgg, to the rich undertones of lime and vanilla beans baked into Nigerian Christmas chin chin, to the mouthwatering smells of slow-roasted pig seasoned with garlic and bitter orange that emanate out of every Puerto Rican neighbourhood, they all let you know that Christmas is here!
So, what are the aromas of a Jamaican Christmas? Growing up in the United States, for me, Jamaica’s Christmas smells were found when entering the homes of my family where I was engulfed in the bold presence of sorrel being slowly simmered over the stove. It somehow danced perfectly with the savoury but sweet aroma of ham being roasted in the oven. As a budding chef, I thought I knew it all when it came to Jamaica’s Christmas aromas, but boy was I wrong. After living in Jamaica for three years, I discovered aromas that forever changed my idea of what a Jamaican Christmas smells like. I would like to share my top 3 newly discovered ones:

  1. Fresh Gungo Peas: You see, growing up in the U.S., it was unheard of to have fresh gungo rice and peas for Christmas dinner. I have been missing out! Even the frozen ones that have recently reached American shores do not compare to a bowl of rice and peas made with fresh gungo peas! I clearly remember two years ago when a cousin from Clarendon sent me a bag of multicoloured gungo peas during Christmas time! She forever damaged me! The smell of them cooking down with coconut milk and rice will forever be etched in my heart! Now, for me, Christmas isn’t Christmas without a pot of rice and peas made with fresh gungo peas! No more of those dried, canned, or even frozen ones.
  2. White Sorrel: Back home, I was lucky to see fresh red sorrel during Christmas, so to hear of a white one was mind-blowing. This discovery was a very welcome one while celebrating Christmas in Jamaica. Being who I am, I, of course, wanted to experiment with options of preparing this unique take on a traditional Jamaican Christmas drink. I found that infusing it with a white wine such as a pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc with a touch of white rum did the trick!
  3. Blue Drawers (Duckunoo): I know that they are not only for Christmas, so don’t come for me! It was during this season of the year that I finally discovered duckunoo. For some mysterious reason, my family never introduced this treat to me in the States nor during my frequent visits to Jamaica when I was growing up. But now I am a duckunoo fan! The smells of cooked coconut, sweet potato, and green banana wrapped in a melody of fresh banana leaves with hints of brown sugar is all you need in one dessert!
    Thanks to my life in Jamaica, the smells of Christmas have forever been changed for me. And I am thankful for that. Through my travels, the smells of Christmas have created a unique tapestry that allows me to enjoy the best that various cultures bring to the table during this wonderful time of the year, and to discover new ones that were right in hands reach!

By Jeremiah Knight

Former Counsellor of Public Affairs at U.S. Embassy Kingston