Ghosts of Our Culinary Past – Legacy of Our People
This post was originally published on December 14, 2006. It has been updated once since then.
Several years ago, the UK based Trini food blogger Can Cook Must Cook posted on “Those Disappearing Pleasures”, the snacks of her childhood which no longer appear on Trini shop shelves. Out of the names she called I could only recognize ‘rock cake’. Bellyful? Shaddock Candy? Kaser Balls? Wha dat?
This made me more than a little sad. Apparently many of these items fell out of favour as Trinidad grew into the heady rush of prosperity that was the oil boom of the 1970s and early 80s. Our tastes turned outward and American advertising influences and shopping sprees took their toll on the local cornershop.
It was at this time that a local lady by the name of Sylvia Hunt hosted an immensely popular and long-running cooking television show and published several cookbooks. For lack of a better analogy Sylvia Hunt was the Julia Child of Trinidad. I only have vague memories of watching her cooking show “At Home with Sylvia Hunt” and wanting to contact her P.O.Box for recipes, except I had no clue what a P.O. box was so I used to dial (remember those?) the P.O. box numbers onto the phone instead LOL! Unfortunately no reruns of her shows appear, nor do any substantial photos or citations exist online. A shameful gap in our indigenous media and culinary heritage.
Although there are still plenty traces of our culinary snack heritage, like aloo pies, tamarind balls, chip-chip and more, it also seems that there were many casualties. And as thebookmann blogged in his entry “Green pay Paw Balls and Paradise Plum”, even those things we currently take for granted are continuing to die in the face of commercial apathy. As American-styled fast food continues to establish itself as a permanent food group and women (and men) are less able to spend as much time in the kitchen learning and passing on the tastes of their own childhood, the gap between our past and future grows ever wider.
Unfortunately Sylvia Hunt’s own cookbooks disappeared from the shelves almost as quickly as they appeared, amidst a royalty battle between her surviving relatives after her death. This dealt a severe blow to those of us who came of age much later on and want to learn about and prepare these dishes, having never tasted or seen them first-hand. The Naparima Girls Cookbook has been a great stop-gap measure, however its relatively contemporary nature of its debut is reflected in its table of contents.
Now that our economic boom has receded, double digit inflation is nipping at our pockets and we are all looking for more economical ways to prepare food I think more than ever we need to revisit the ghosts of our culinary past to restore some balance to our lives and national identities. I really would love to give these recipes a shot, and to share them with Trinis and the world alike. If anyone has any of the below cookbooks in their possession and wants to share a digital or hardcopy with me (or make an economic sale) I’d be more than obliged 😀 (For those of you who think that I am trying to ‘rob’ Hunt of money, please reread the fact that the books which were already printed as small runs
- have not been in print since the eighties
as well as my response to a concerned reader). I think it’s not meaningless that Hunt named one of her books “Proud Legacy Of Our People”, she championed our culinary traditions for much of her life and it is a true loss that several generations have now grown up without any ability to access her works or knowledge of her life.
HUNT, Sylvia – Menus for Festivals. (Port-of-Spain: Bank of Commerce Trust) 1989. Food. Nutrition. Festivals. Trinidad. A cookbook
HUNT, Sylvia – Sylvia Hunt’s Cooking: Proud Legacy of our People. (Cascade, Port-of-Spain: Superservice Printing Co) viii,58 pages pb, 1985. Food. Nutrition. Trinidad. A cookbook. LOC
HUNT, Sylvia – Sylvia Hunt’s Sweets: Proud Legacy of our People. (Port-of-Spain: Published by the Author) vi,37 pages, [ca 1985]. Food. Nutrition. Trinidad. A cookbook. LOC