Christmas in Canada is widely different than Christmas in Jamaica, but with some traditional dishes, Tracy-Ann Smith-Thompson is bringing a little spice to the holiday season on P.E.I.
“It’s one big party in Jamaica,” said Smith-Thompson.
Her husband Dennis added, “Christmas in Jamaica is the best Christmas in the world.”
Smith-Thompson lives in Summerside and is waiting for her permanent residency. She has been coming to Canada for about 10 years for work, while this will be her husband’s second Christmas in this country.
“The party is never ending in Jamaica. Stores are open all day and all night. The kids are out in the day, and the evenings are for adults. Christmas Eve is called Grand Market, where people are out all day long celebrating,” explained Smith-Thompson.
Recently, Smith-Thompson made traditional full breakfast and supper meals that would be eaten in Jamaica, walking through the process for a reporter.
“It varies on the family, but we always have ackee and salt fish. Ackee is a fruit that doesn’t have a strong flavour and it tastes sweet, salty or sour if you make it that way. And then we mix it with salt cod and vegetables and deep fried dumplings,” she said.
Supper consisted of curried goat and gungo peas and rice.
“Gungo peas are called pigeon peas in Canada. We cook it with rice, different vegetables and seasoning, and then we add curried goat.”
She also made two drinks, a chocolate tea, made from the purest form of chocolate, and sorrel drink that is hibiscus steeped in water, gingerroot and sometimes alcohol.
Many of the ingredients can be found in the international foods aisle in the grocery store, or the Asian market in Charlottetown.
Smith-Thompson started cooking by boiling salt cod about three times to get rid of the salt.
“While that boils I cut up the vegetables. Right now I’m putting hot peppers, green peppers, onions, add Jamaican seasoning or various spices you like and mix it up.
“Then in a separate pan I put the vegetables in oil to sauté them. I drain the water from boiling the cod and then add the cod to the pan with the vegetables and spice to give it flavour.”
Then after a few minutes, Smith-Thompson added a can of ackee.
She let it sit for three to five minutes and then served it on a plate.
Simultaneously, she was frying dumplings in oil.
“The dough is just flour, salt and baking powder, mixed with water, and there you have it. You put enough oil in a pot to fry them and then take small pieces of dough, round it into a flattened ball and then place in the oil. Make sure the oil isn’t too hot or the dough will burn.”
Once that was finished, she and her husband chowed down.
After cleaning the kitchen and washing the dishes, she started on supper.
She marinated the meat the night before with curry, onions, garlic, Jamaican thyme and pimento.
“You can put whatever vegetables and seasonings you want. We like the curry powder.”
With the meat ready, she placed it in a pressure pot with water and let it boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Then she added more water and secured the lid.
“With a pressure pot it won’t take as long, but you can cook in a roast pan in an oven all day or a regular pot.”
Then she went to work on preparing the rice and peas.
She drained a can of gungo peas and put them in a pot with coconut milk, a green onion stalk, garlic cloves Jamaican thyme, black pepper, salt, all-purpose Jamaican seasoning and three or four pimento seeds.
“Bring it to a boil for 10 to 20 minutes because you want the milk to cook properly. Once ready, pour in rice. Make sure you have enough rice to absorb the milk, and then steam until ready.”
Smith-Thompson says her favourite part of cooking at Christmas is making food for the family.
“At Christmastime you get to see people from different areas come into your home. The kids are running around, people are laughing and I love seeing them happy.”
In the future, Smith-Thompson would like open a Jamaican restaurant.
“There isn’t anywhere on the Island to go, I’d like to start my own.”
Gungo Peas and Rice:
1 to 2 cups of coconut milk
1 can pigeon peas
1 green onion stalk
A couple sprigs of Jamaican Thyme
1 tsp all-purpose Jamaican seasoning
Pinch of black pepper/salt
3 or 4 pimento seeds
Rice of your chosing
Drain fluid from can of peas, and bring ingredients to a boil in a large pot for 10 to 20 minutes.
Add enough rice to absorb liquid, steam until tender.
Fruit wine or other alcohol (optional)
Bring gingerroot to a boil in a pot of water. The amount of water will determine the amount it yields.
After boiling ginger in water for about five to 10 minutes, take off the stove, add sorrel and let steep for four to six hours or overnight.
Strain drink into a jug, removing hibiscus plant and add extra water, sugar or alcohol to taste.
Ackee and Salt Fish:
Ackee (from can)
Desired vegetables and spices
Boil cod to remove salt. Once boiled, add cod, vegetables and spices in a pan and sauté in oil for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain Ackee, add to mixture in the pan and sauté for a few more minutes.
Ground pimento seeds
Put meat, spices, green onion, garlic, ginger and pimento a bowl and, marinate overnight.
Place ingredients into pot, pressure cooker or roast pan with water and bring to a boil.
Add more water, cook until tender.
Shred cabbage, add to goat and rice.