Best of the Worst #1: Trinidadian Christmas Cake or Blackcake – Katy Carruthers

Best of the Worst Oh you know it had to happen! The official launch of my “Best of the Worst” series is upon us. Think of this as a Consumer Reports of Island Cuisine if you will. It really bothers me that people seem to think that 3rd World Cuisine has any less stringent standards for the bestowing of a title on a dish. The weird things that I see on websites calling themselves pelau, black cake, jamaican patties, etc. It makes me want to cry. In fact I saw a recipe the other day for doubles (that was wrong) and worse yet was titled Pholourhie! *bangs head on keyboard*

Recently a well-esteemed blogger wrote that any idea of authentic cuisine was ‘racist’, in a post entitled Who Determines If Food Is Authentic? The article and responses were ‘invigorating’ to put it optimistically. My $0.02? Well, I would dare anyone to tell an Italian that he should accept his dishes being called French or Polish or tell a Frenchman that his baguette is really a pumpernickel round. Who determines if food is authentic? The people who have been cooking it in their communities for generations. That’s who! That’s not racism, it’s deference. No one is saying you can’t play around with a formula but please have enough respect for a culture to learn which parts of the recipe are set in stone and which parts are the flexible bits that can be modified while still allowing the dish to retain its ‘title’. Understand that there is a method to our preparations. Even in the simplest dishes there are proportions, so on and such, otherwise please name your dish something else! Anyway I’m making it my mission to -just say no- to these quasi-Caribbean fakeouts, and to alert others so that they know better! :P

So who has the dubious distinction of being the first inductee to my little hall of shame? *drumroll*
I have chosen Australian Katy Carruthers for her Trinidad Black Cake.
There are so many things wrong with this recipe (and all of the other rip-offs that I have been compiling). Where should I begin? Well from the beginning!

First of all for some reason the website divided her recipe into two different pages. Neither of which is linked to the other. That’s just confusing!

So let’s start with the recipe itself.
She begins with the marination of the chopped fruits. Nice nice … I’m feeling you there … :)

175g Seedless Raisins
175g Pitted Prunes
175g Currants
100g mixed peel
250ml Port
250ml Cherry Brandy
250ml Rum
250ml Stout

Method:
Set up above ingredients as long as 3 months but no less than 2 weeks before baking date by blending small amounts of each fruit moistened with liquor mixture. Pour each blended portion into large jar, until all fruit is blended and transferred into jar. Pour remaining liquor over mixture, cover tightly to seal aroma and store in a cool place.

OK.. nothing so weird there. Interesting use of stout, but I like that. That’s a good area to flex your individuality. Kudos Katy! :) She’s doing her blending at this stage as well. Interesting decision but no major issues… yet… And I like that she’s doing the whole oldschool 3 month soaking thing. My heart was almost won over..

Then I reached part 2…

You need:
200g presifted plain flour
200g castor sugar
200g butter
1/2 tspn mixed ground spices (combination) eg. allspice nutmeg cinnamon etc
1/2 tspn baking powder
3 large eggs
1 tspn of each vanilla, lemon & almond extracts
1 tspn Angostura bitters

Method:
Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. In a separate bowl beat eggs till light and fluffy. Add beaten eggs in two batches to the creamed batter beating well after each addition. Start adding the liquor absorbed fruit in small portions beating thoroughly with a wooden spoon.

HOLD UP ONE #$@ MINUTE!!
Where’s the browning?
WHERE’S THE BROWNING?
Castor WHAT????
Oh no she didn’t!!!

Listen my gentle masses, a Trinidad Black Cake is rooted in browning. It is not an optional step. It is the glue. The anchor. The mortar of the whole shebang! It is a ritual and even more so a rite of a passage. You -will- use the browning. You will make it from scratch even better. I could have even handled her using treacle , but just breezing over that step and moving on to the castor sugar like it was nothing? My heart skipped a beat… It was only downhill from there … :(

When completely blended start adding the sifted dry ingredients, stir constantly. It’s ready when the wooden spoon can stand upright in the batter for a few seconds. If it seems too runny add more sifted flour.

HUH??? Stand your spoon in a black cake batter for A FEW SECONDS? …. ok maybe I am just assuming from my own and my family’s methods, but I have never seen a black cake batter that could hold up a spoon for 1 second let alone A FEW SECONDS… are we making bread here? Add MORE flour?? See the below video to see how my spoon ‘stands’ in my batter! My sadness was quickly turning to fear…

Pour into cake tin or tins, which (any sort) have been greased, floured and lined with baking paper. Bake in preheated oven at 180 degrees for the first hour then reduce to 120 degrees for an additional two hours OR UNTIL knife or tooth pick inserted into centre of cake comes out free of batter. Cool on rack before storing in container, sealed tightly (wrap in cling wrap) in an air tight container. Every so often open the cake and sprinkle with a bit more rum.

“Every so often open the cake and sprinkle with a bit more rum.”

LOLZ … sprinkle… lolz … please look here to see how it’s done ok?.. I use a 1/2 bottle of rum on each cake immediately after taking it out of the oven… Sprinkle? Sprinkling is for pixie dust and gardens.

This cake does not need refrigeration and remember: 1. Don’t eat this cake and drive or breastfeed and 2. It can only be given to children under parental guidance.

She’s kidding right?
Please tell me this is Aussie humour cos that’s one hell of a closer!! :D
*ba-doom-ching*

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Passionate foodie, founder of Trinigourmet and Caribbean Lifestyle Maven. Author of "Glam By Request: 30+ Easy Caribbean Recipes"

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  • http://islandspice.blogspot.com Island Spice

    HAHAHAHHAHAHA!! Okay, I love to eat but I am not much of a chef. I am going to my mothers home jus now to try for the umpteenth time to learn how she makes her christmas cake. We steam them in Jamaica..
    I will be tuning in for the next edition.
    LOL@ ‘sprinkling is for gardens and pixie dust’ ……HAHHAHAHHAH!

  • http://islandspice.blogspot.com Island Spice

    HAHAHAHHAHAHA!! Okay, I love to eat but I am not much of a chef. I am going to my mothers home jus now to try for the umpteenth time to learn how she makes her christmas cake. We steam them in Jamaica..
    I will be tuning in for the next edition.
    LOL@ ‘sprinkling is for gardens and pixie dust’ ……HAHHAHAHHAH!

  • http://chennette.wordpress.com Chennette

    so…how can it be black cake? as in BLACK, or very dark brown, usually caused by the addition of browning…the things people get away with. I mean, we make fruitcake that’s alchohol-free, but Trinis still call it black cake because it’s black and moist and SOAKED is liquid, even if non-alcoholic.
    Was watching HGTV last night, and they were doing a Caribbean kitchen, and the designer was explaining “Caribbean design” and brought out the colours, one of which she called “kiwi”. Hmmm. I am not saying we don’t have that green, but to call it “kiwi” AND Caribbean!

  • http://chennette.wordpress.com Chennette

    so…how can it be black cake? as in BLACK, or very dark brown, usually caused by the addition of browning…the things people get away with. I mean, we make fruitcake that’s alchohol-free, but Trinis still call it black cake because it’s black and moist and SOAKED is liquid, even if non-alcoholic.
    Was watching HGTV last night, and they were doing a Caribbean kitchen, and the designer was explaining “Caribbean design” and brought out the colours, one of which she called “kiwi”. Hmmm. I am not saying we don’t have that green, but to call it “kiwi” AND Caribbean!

  • http://chennette.wordpress.com Chennette

    so…how can it be black cake? as in BLACK, or very dark brown, usually caused by the addition of browning…the things people get away with. I mean, we make fruitcake that’s alchohol-free, but Trinis still call it black cake because it’s black and moist and SOAKED is liquid, even if non-alcoholic.
    Was watching HGTV last night, and they were doing a Caribbean kitchen, and the designer was explaining “Caribbean design” and brought out the colours, one of which she called “kiwi”. Hmmm. I am not saying we don’t have that green, but to call it “kiwi” AND Caribbean!

  • http://chennette.wordpress.com Chennette

    so…how can it be black cake? as in BLACK, or very dark brown, usually caused by the addition of browning…the things people get away with. I mean, we make fruitcake that’s alchohol-free, but Trinis still call it black cake because it’s black and moist and SOAKED is liquid, even if non-alcoholic.
    Was watching HGTV last night, and they were doing a Caribbean kitchen, and the designer was explaining “Caribbean design” and brought out the colours, one of which she called “kiwi”. Hmmm. I am not saying we don’t have that green, but to call it “kiwi” AND Caribbean!

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Chennette – ah yes! cos of the religious restrictions! what a wonderful alternative that I never thought of, do you soak the cake after it comes out the oven? and if so with what? :) I forget sometimes that we are not -all- lushes like me :D

    Island Spice – for the life of me, with a Jamaican mother, I don’t know why I have never had this steamed pudding! I only even heard about it recently! Gonna try to make one myself :) Let’s see how fake it turnz out :D

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Chennette – ah yes! cos of the religious restrictions! what a wonderful alternative that I never thought of, do you soak the cake after it comes out the oven? and if so with what? :) I forget sometimes that we are not -all- lushes like me :D

    Island Spice – for the life of me, with a Jamaican mother, I don’t know why I have never had this steamed pudding! I only even heard about it recently! Gonna try to make one myself :) Let’s see how fake it turnz out :D

  • http://cancookmustcook.com Trinifood

    Not sure about some parts of the recipe but caster sugar – not castor sugar is actually said to be the best for baking, so she wasn’t too far wrong on that count. Stout and ale are used in cake making and some bread making in Europe, particularly in the UK. I’ve seen it in several recipes and having tried it last night to make an English styled Black cake, I can say it rocks. I love stout anyway.

  • http://cancookmustcook.com Trinifood

    Not sure about some parts of the recipe but caster sugar – not castor sugar is actually said to be the best for baking, so she wasn’t too far wrong on that count. Stout and ale are used in cake making and some bread making in Europe, particularly in the UK. I’ve seen it in several recipes and having tried it last night to make an English styled Black cake, I can say it rocks. I love stout anyway.

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Trinifood – The problem wasn’t the castor sugar (the spelling is correct thank you), the castor sugar is a whole other step (creaming with the butter). The problem was the skipping of the browning. And as for the stout, I had no problem with that either, I gave it props if you check. However why call it Trinidadian and then leave out 80% of the signatures and signposts that make such a cake Trinidadian? The number of hits I’ve had for browning and Trinidad black cake are numerous. Number of hits for stout ? ZERO. Call it an English or Aussie black cake, rum cake or fruitcake for all I care, but Trinidadian?

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Trinifood – The problem wasn’t the castor sugar (the spelling is correct thank you), the castor sugar is a whole other step (creaming with the butter). The problem was the skipping of the browning. And as for the stout, I had no problem with that either, I gave it props if you check. However why call it Trinidadian and then leave out 80% of the signatures and signposts that make such a cake Trinidadian? The number of hits I’ve had for browning and Trinidad black cake are numerous. Number of hits for stout ? ZERO. Call it an English or Aussie black cake, rum cake or fruitcake for all I care, but Trinidadian?

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Trinifood – The problem wasn’t the castor sugar (the spelling is correct thank you), the castor sugar is a whole other step (creaming with the butter). The problem was the skipping of the browning. And as for the stout, I had no problem with that either, I gave it props if you check. However why call it Trinidadian and then leave out 80% of the signatures and signposts that make such a cake Trinidadian? The number of hits I’ve had for browning and Trinidad black cake are numerous. Number of hits for stout ? ZERO. Call it an English or Aussie black cake, rum cake or fruitcake for all I care, but Trinidadian?

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Trinifood – The problem wasn’t the castor sugar (the spelling is correct thank you), the castor sugar is a whole other step (creaming with the butter). The problem was the skipping of the browning. And as for the stout, I had no problem with that either, I gave it props if you check. However why call it Trinidadian and then leave out 80% of the signatures and signposts that make such a cake Trinidadian? The number of hits I’ve had for browning and Trinidad black cake are numerous. Number of hits for stout ? ZERO. Call it an English or Aussie black cake, rum cake or fruitcake for all I care, but Trinidadian?

  • http://chennette.wordpress.com Chennette

    Mom has used grape juice or apple juice, and yes, she would soak it a little after baking. Now she says, she uses condensed milk in the mix, which keeps it moist so it doesn’t need as much soaking.

  • http://chennette.wordpress.com Chennette

    Mom has used grape juice or apple juice, and yes, she would soak it a little after baking. Now she says, she uses condensed milk in the mix, which keeps it moist so it doesn’t need as much soaking.

  • http://www.redsheepcrafts.com Lynn

    Actually, in the culinary world, castor is replaced by superfine sugar. It’s one step up from 10X (aka powdered sugar). I like working with superfine because it’s easier to caramelize. It’s damn near impossible to find in a supermarket. Although in San Francisco, I can find it in the bulk aisles of certain places. It’s either that or you pull out your retailer’s permit and get 50 pounds of it from the wholesaler. Trust me, hauling the 50 pound sack because the guys want to see a girl lift is not fun.

  • http://www.redsheepcrafts.com Lynn

    Actually, in the culinary world, castor is replaced by superfine sugar. It’s one step up from 10X (aka powdered sugar). I like working with superfine because it’s easier to caramelize. It’s damn near impossible to find in a supermarket. Although in San Francisco, I can find it in the bulk aisles of certain places. It’s either that or you pull out your retailer’s permit and get 50 pounds of it from the wholesaler. Trust me, hauling the 50 pound sack because the guys want to see a girl lift is not fun.

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Lynn – Thanks for that! :D Wonder how browning with that superfine would be… can I just blend my own sugar ? :D

    Chennette – OMG … i’m loving the grape juice idea :D I’d have to skip the condensed milk (dietary combination issues) but it sounds good too! :)

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Lynn – Thanks for that! :D Wonder how browning with that superfine would be… can I just blend my own sugar ? :D

    Chennette – OMG … i’m loving the grape juice idea :D I’d have to skip the condensed milk (dietary combination issues) but it sounds good too! :)

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Lynn – Thanks for that! :D Wonder how browning with that superfine would be… can I just blend my own sugar ? :D

    Chennette – OMG … i’m loving the grape juice idea :D I’d have to skip the condensed milk (dietary combination issues) but it sounds good too! :)

  • http://saffrontrail.blogspot.com nandita

    Love your guts and humor Sarina! I was laughing all the way to the end…and surprisingly I’d written about ‘authentic cuisines’ too last week – sweet to know that we’ve been thinking along similar lines…the samosas look good but the filling could have done with a little more pinch of turmeric, looks a little pale for us Indians’ tastes.
    But you’ve had the patience to make a whole mountain- lemme tell you a secret , I’ve never made samosas at home :P

    You have my mail id here, do send me your contacts, would love to write to you other than the comments that is!

  • http://saffrontrail.blogspot.com nandita

    Love your guts and humor Sarina! I was laughing all the way to the end…and surprisingly I’d written about ‘authentic cuisines’ too last week – sweet to know that we’ve been thinking along similar lines…the samosas look good but the filling could have done with a little more pinch of turmeric, looks a little pale for us Indians’ tastes.
    But you’ve had the patience to make a whole mountain- lemme tell you a secret , I’ve never made samosas at home :P

    You have my mail id here, do send me your contacts, would love to write to you other than the comments that is!

  • http://saffrontrail.blogspot.com nandita

    Love your guts and humor Sarina! I was laughing all the way to the end…and surprisingly I’d written about ‘authentic cuisines’ too last week – sweet to know that we’ve been thinking along similar lines…the samosas look good but the filling could have done with a little more pinch of turmeric, looks a little pale for us Indians’ tastes.
    But you’ve had the patience to make a whole mountain- lemme tell you a secret , I’ve never made samosas at home :P

    You have my mail id here, do send me your contacts, would love to write to you other than the comments that is!

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Dear Nandita, thanks for the support :) I saw your post on ‘authentic cuisines’ and it also made me feel very supported and encouraged that more and more people are able to speak up and share their backgrounds, thanks to the Internet :)

    I will certainly take your hint and add more turmeric next time, it certainly can’t hurt :P Making them was fun but the folding was time consuming :D I was over an hour later than I had budgeted :( There were no leftovers though! :D

    I will email you now! :D

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Dear Nandita, thanks for the support :) I saw your post on ‘authentic cuisines’ and it also made me feel very supported and encouraged that more and more people are able to speak up and share their backgrounds, thanks to the Internet :)

    I will certainly take your hint and add more turmeric next time, it certainly can’t hurt :P Making them was fun but the folding was time consuming :D I was over an hour later than I had budgeted :( There were no leftovers though! :D

    I will email you now! :D

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Dear Nandita, thanks for the support :) I saw your post on ‘authentic cuisines’ and it also made me feel very supported and encouraged that more and more people are able to speak up and share their backgrounds, thanks to the Internet :)

    I will certainly take your hint and add more turmeric next time, it certainly can’t hurt :P Making them was fun but the folding was time consuming :D I was over an hour later than I had budgeted :( There were no leftovers though! :D

    I will email you now! :D

  • Adah Murah

    HUH?

    Hello All!!! First off, let me say I love this blog. GO TRINI GORMET. I follow it, because I fancy myself a very good Trinidadian cook, since I was born and raised in Trinidad. I am always on the crawl for nice recipes and such.

    Now I don’t know if I would call myself a “gormet”, but I am a good cook, and feedng family and friends is what I do. Now I dont want to sound mean, but when did Australians start making Trini black cake and standing the spoon up in the batter? Or better yet, “Don’t give to kids or eat while breast feeding”???? Pardon my Trini… but WHAT DE ARSE????!!!!!

    I mean, I have nothing against Aussies making black cake, but as with anything, if you are going do it. JUST DO IT RIGHT!!!. I certainly would not try to make Trini style kangaroo. LOL. If I ate Kangaroo, I would for sure do it Aussie style. LOL.

    I had to laugh when I saw this recipe and the warnings, because if Trinis ate black cake and did not drive, Trinidad would be at a total standstill. LOL. And if black cake did harm to breast feeding women or children… sorry, but Trinidad would cease to exist, because we would all be DEAD.

    But it’s all good. We all need a little humour in our lives from time to time, even if it comes from a black cake recipe.

  • Adah Murah

    HUH?

    Hello All!!! First off, let me say I love this blog. GO TRINI GORMET. I follow it, because I fancy myself a very good Trinidadian cook, since I was born and raised in Trinidad. I am always on the crawl for nice recipes and such.

    Now I don’t know if I would call myself a “gormet”, but I am a good cook, and feedng family and friends is what I do. Now I dont want to sound mean, but when did Australians start making Trini black cake and standing the spoon up in the batter? Or better yet, “Don’t give to kids or eat while breast feeding”???? Pardon my Trini… but WHAT DE ARSE????!!!!!

    I mean, I have nothing against Aussies making black cake, but as with anything, if you are going do it. JUST DO IT RIGHT!!!. I certainly would not try to make Trini style kangaroo. LOL. If I ate Kangaroo, I would for sure do it Aussie style. LOL.

    I had to laugh when I saw this recipe and the warnings, because if Trinis ate black cake and did not drive, Trinidad would be at a total standstill. LOL. And if black cake did harm to breast feeding women or children… sorry, but Trinidad would cease to exist, because we would all be DEAD.

    But it’s all good. We all need a little humour in our lives from time to time, even if it comes from a black cake recipe.

  • Adah Murah

    HUH?

    Hello All!!! First off, let me say I love this blog. GO TRINI GORMET. I follow it, because I fancy myself a very good Trinidadian cook, since I was born and raised in Trinidad. I am always on the crawl for nice recipes and such.

    Now I don’t know if I would call myself a “gormet”, but I am a good cook, and feedng family and friends is what I do. Now I dont want to sound mean, but when did Australians start making Trini black cake and standing the spoon up in the batter? Or better yet, “Don’t give to kids or eat while breast feeding”???? Pardon my Trini… but WHAT DE ARSE????!!!!!

    I mean, I have nothing against Aussies making black cake, but as with anything, if you are going do it. JUST DO IT RIGHT!!!. I certainly would not try to make Trini style kangaroo. LOL. If I ate Kangaroo, I would for sure do it Aussie style. LOL.

    I had to laugh when I saw this recipe and the warnings, because if Trinis ate black cake and did not drive, Trinidad would be at a total standstill. LOL. And if black cake did harm to breast feeding women or children… sorry, but Trinidad would cease to exist, because we would all be DEAD.

    But it’s all good. We all need a little humour in our lives from time to time, even if it comes from a black cake recipe.

  • Katy Carruthers

    Hello,
    I’m Katy,do you really want a response from me?

  • Katy Carruthers

    Hello,
    I’m Katy,do you really want a response from me?

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Sure!! :D

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Sure!! :D

  • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

    Sure!! :D

  • katy carruthers

    Well, I think that a recipie is in fact an ever changing thing, and should always be a work in progress. As an Australian, who has a partner who is from Trinidad I was naturally very interested in what and why he ate what he did, especially when, at Christmas time a wonderful,sweet smelling parcel would arrive wrapped in lashings of brown papper and sticky tape….. The Cake!!! moist and almost fudge like we would eat 1 inch squares of this treat, and I could see quite clearly on Roberts face a … what??? a memory of his early years spent in Port of Spain with His Family, who, were like many,a wonderful mix of
    African,Potuguese,Spanish’ French, English.. and in this melting pot of old cultures came great food…. For example The Black Cake..
    I guess my recipie has more of an English bent as Robert’s great grandfather was English and the plum pudding thing is so obvious in this cake.The whole sugar burning thing was dropped or perhaps never even picked up in this family. so do you really have to do it??? Think about how this cake came about in the first place?? and who owns it???? we all do because we cook it .. or learn to cook it to give pleasure to those we love. from Katy.

  • katy carruthers

    Well, I think that a recipie is in fact an ever changing thing, and should always be a work in progress. As an Australian, who has a partner who is from Trinidad I was naturally very interested in what and why he ate what he did, especially when, at Christmas time a wonderful,sweet smelling parcel would arrive wrapped in lashings of brown papper and sticky tape….. The Cake!!! moist and almost fudge like we would eat 1 inch squares of this treat, and I could see quite clearly on Roberts face a … what??? a memory of his early years spent in Port of Spain with His Family, who, were like many,a wonderful mix of
    African,Potuguese,Spanish’ French, English.. and in this melting pot of old cultures came great food…. For example The Black Cake..
    I guess my recipie has more of an English bent as Robert’s great grandfather was English and the plum pudding thing is so obvious in this cake.The whole sugar burning thing was dropped or perhaps never even picked up in this family. so do you really have to do it??? Think about how this cake came about in the first place?? and who owns it???? we all do because we cook it .. or learn to cook it to give pleasure to those we love. from Katy.

  • http://morselsandmusings.blogspot.com Anna

    in some ways this comment is totally hypocrytical of me, since i’m often the first to wail about deviations from the traditional, but after reading all the comments and articles i don’t believe anyone can honestly say what’s truly authentic or not.

    how did a dish come into being? when did it evolve into it’s current form? can we accuse today’s italians of being unauthentic because they use tomatoes or the vietnamese because they rely hevaily on chilli? before contact with the americas these ingredients were unheard of so are todays dishes unauthentic? if we didn’t allow these cuisines to evolve without accusing the inventors of creating ‘american’ food, the world would be a much sadder place.

    we have to allow food reinvent itself, just like language and culture. food is a fluid thing and can’t be forced to fit a fixed mould.

    for katy’s husband’s family their own traditional family recipe didn’t include browning. what’s authentic to you is not to him. does this disavow him of his own culture and origins because it doesn’t fit in with most trinidadians? maybe you can say it’s not a ‘real’ black cake, but it was to his family and they were from trinidad too.

    i agree with you about wanting to preserve traditions, because i respect the histories and origins of food and it’s fascinating and so valuable to record them. that’s why i will continue to visit your site regularly. trini food is little known in australia and i believe your website is an invaluable source of information and history.

    but after seeing that my own judgements could potentially wound the identities and affinities of others, i don’t know whether it’s a good thing to put any restrictive parameters around what makes a dish ‘authentic’.

    for every dish there are one hundred recipes . . .

    • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

      Browning is for most an integral (and emotional) part of the Trini/Caribbean black cake recipe … i don’t know of a single household here that doesn’t use it regardless of race, religion, economics. It is sold pre-bottled across the Caribbean and in Caribbean stores overseas because people seek it out and value its importance. (Note that the pre-bottling is how we as a culture have chosen to evolve its usage, rather than simply omitting it ;) maybe that’s for a reason? :) )

      I could link to a zillion sites that emphasise the importance of browning both from Trini chefs and expatriate trinis in foreign lands. It is not only a distinctive colouring agent but also a flavouring one that makes this not just a ‘fruitcake’. Would you make red velvet cake without the red and still call it ‘red velvet cake’? As for katy’s husband family they are not speaking for themselves so I am not going to discuss what they do or don’t do as I really don’t know the whole story and that is hearsay. I will say though that the number of searches and requests for browning at Xmas time show that it certainly is still in high regard. The other day I got a referrer from this link! forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=100521

      When it comes to variations within Trinidad black cake preparation they certainly exist, for example Chennette’s home makes a variation that is non-alcoholic for religious reasons. Some people leave the fruit chunky, some people puree. Some people let the cake sit for 4 months before serving, some cut right away. Some let the fruit soak for 6 months, some only soak for an hour. You see? But to leave out the browning is like making a loaf of soda bread and telling everyone it is a baguette. In fact I would then ask what makes ciabatta ciabatta and not a baguette? What makes soda bread different from pumpernickel? Why do we use these terms and not just say ‘bread’? These variations, differences and titles are not arbitrary and we accept them in Western cuisine so why are other cuisines supposed to be more fluid and just rollover?

      When a recipe deviates substantially or in key ways from the cultural norm/tradition it becomes something else. The browning was a key misstep in the above recipe but it was not the only one (wrong batter consistency, no post-baking soaking). If it was the only one I would have overlooked it as a ‘foreign’ oversight, however it was just one of several. At that point the recipe had become something else. If I posted a recipe for eggs benedict and called it a frittata i would expect to be corrected, and I would accept the correction :) When I made samosas on this blog, Nandita from India told me ways to make it more ‘Indian’ and I was fine with that. I think also in your case you don’t have anything to worry about with offending. I think foodbloggers realize that we are all excited by, playing with, and ‘hungry’ to explore the world through food. No offense is intended and each person is only representing themselves as an individual enthusiastic amateur. And I think we like input from the ‘natives’ to countries we are cooking from :) ???

      My problem with the above is that it was in a publication with the moniker ‘Trinidadian’ from a ‘chef’ … those 3 things then give it an authoritative air and certainty that is misleading.

      And I don’t think saying ‘no way’ is restrictive, it is just logical because of expectations and norms. When you go to a restaurant and place an order you usually have an expectation based on the name of the dish of what will arrive. When you don’t see what you expected you are either upset or tell the waiter ‘wrong order’. You don’t go ‘oh well I guess this is the restaurant’s interpretation of this dish so I will eat it’. And you shouldn’t be considered ‘restrictive’ for not doing so! We all have norms and expectations. Likewise having grown up eating black cake all my life both locally and when i lived abroad I have what I consider exposure to a wide enough array of black cakes made by enough different ethnic groups and generations to realize which parts our cooks collectively respect as formula and which parts are their own ‘twist’. Do I take this knowledge as more exhaustive and authoritative than Ms Carruthers? Definitely. And when I see my conclusions backed up by our leading chefs and publications than I feel that OK, it is not just my own anecdotal experience either.

      Likewise let’s take pelau, one of our national dishes, usually made with chicken, beef or pork. Now what about vegetarians? Of course we have them here too and I have seen that they make pelau with tofu! Now does that mean because a few Trinidadians make pelau with tofu that making pelau with tofu is the ‘Trinidadian’ way? I believe there is a difference! No different to the fallacy of saying many Jews eat pork therefore ham is a part of Jewish cuisine. When I do try to make a pelau with tofu (as I plan to – i’m hardly unadventurous!) I will post it as a ‘Tofu Pelau’ so people realise it is a modification of traditional pelau. If a Trini went to a restaurant and ordered pelau and got tofu they would not be amused and it would not help their mood to be told that well that’s how one family in Trinidad made it :lol: Similarly, recently when I posted a recipe for Trinidad Callaloo I put (vegetarian) in the title because traditionally the recipe calls for crab or salt meat. Sure I could take the attitude that I am a Trini so if i make callaloo this way it is the -the- Trinidad Callaloo but I take the outlook that once I put the moniker Trinidad or Trinidadian in a recipe title that I am honour bound to represent the recipe the way that the MAJORITY will expect and understand it to be made. I don’t take that lightly at all, the word Trinidadian as a culinary descriptor is more than just what I do in the kitchen. If I think my recipe deviates from the Trini norm I don’t put Trinidadian in its title. If I think it deviates slightly i put the deviation in brackets or title, and if I think very few to no Trinis would take offense at my attempt then I just put Trindadian X or Y as the title. I see this as the best way to represent my own culture and cuisine while also allowing myself to accurately experiment and play with it in turn. And if someone wants to publish a recipe as Trinidadian X or Y I think they should be open to accept feedback on whether that recipe accurately reflects the habits of Trinidadians as a global entity, not one Trinidadian or one Trinidadian family.

      As for evolution I’m all for it, *but* I think evolution is a natural organic thing that happens over time, household by household through the consensus of each culture and community. This recipe is not an example of such evolution.

      Actually now that you mention restrictive parameters around authenticity I was reminded of the VPN certification of authenticity that is only awarded to pizza makers /establishments in Naples, Italy who prepare their pizza by traditional methods. Without this certifcate you can not call your pizza ‘pizza’. I have no problem with things like this but maybe you would :) ?

      Anyway didn’t mean to write an essay but as you can tell, I’m passionate :P

  • http://morselsandmusings.blogspot.com Anna

    in some ways this comment is totally hypocrytical of me, since i’m often the first to wail about deviations from the traditional, but after reading all the comments and articles i don’t believe anyone can honestly say what’s truly authentic or not.

    how did a dish come into being? when did it evolve into it’s current form? can we accuse today’s italians of being unauthentic because they use tomatoes or the vietnamese because they rely hevaily on chilli? before contact with the americas these ingredients were unheard of so are todays dishes unauthentic? if we didn’t allow these cuisines to evolve without accusing the inventors of creating ‘american’ food, the world would be a much sadder place.

    we have to allow food reinvent itself, just like language and culture. food is a fluid thing and can’t be forced to fit a fixed mould.

    for katy’s husband’s family their own traditional family recipe didn’t include browning. what’s authentic to you is not to him. does this disavow him of his own culture and origins because it doesn’t fit in with most trinidadians? maybe you can say it’s not a ‘real’ black cake, but it was to his family and they were from trinidad too.

    i agree with you about wanting to preserve traditions, because i respect the histories and origins of food and it’s fascinating and so valuable to record them. that’s why i will continue to visit your site regularly. trini food is little known in australia and i believe your website is an invaluable source of information and history.

    but after seeing that my own judgements could potentially wound the identities and affinities of others, i don’t know whether it’s a good thing to put any restrictive parameters around what makes a dish ‘authentic’.

    for every dish there are one hundred recipes . . .

    • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

      Browning is for most an integral (and emotional) part of the Trini/Caribbean black cake recipe … i don’t know of a single household here that doesn’t use it regardless of race, religion, economics. It is sold pre-bottled across the Caribbean and in Caribbean stores overseas because people seek it out and value its importance. (Note that the pre-bottling is how we as a culture have chosen to evolve its usage, rather than simply omitting it ;) maybe that’s for a reason? :) )

      I could link to a zillion sites that emphasise the importance of browning both from Trini chefs and expatriate trinis in foreign lands. It is not only a distinctive colouring agent but also a flavouring one that makes this not just a ‘fruitcake’. Would you make red velvet cake without the red and still call it ‘red velvet cake’? As for katy’s husband family they are not speaking for themselves so I am not going to discuss what they do or don’t do as I really don’t know the whole story and that is hearsay. I will say though that the number of searches and requests for browning at Xmas time show that it certainly is still in high regard. The other day I got a referrer from this link! forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=100521

      When it comes to variations within Trinidad black cake preparation they certainly exist, for example Chennette’s home makes a variation that is non-alcoholic for religious reasons. Some people leave the fruit chunky, some people puree. Some people let the cake sit for 4 months before serving, some cut right away. Some let the fruit soak for 6 months, some only soak for an hour. You see? But to leave out the browning is like making a loaf of soda bread and telling everyone it is a baguette. In fact I would then ask what makes ciabatta ciabatta and not a baguette? What makes soda bread different from pumpernickel? Why do we use these terms and not just say ‘bread’? These variations, differences and titles are not arbitrary and we accept them in Western cuisine so why are other cuisines supposed to be more fluid and just rollover?

      When a recipe deviates substantially or in key ways from the cultural norm/tradition it becomes something else. The browning was a key misstep in the above recipe but it was not the only one (wrong batter consistency, no post-baking soaking). If it was the only one I would have overlooked it as a ‘foreign’ oversight, however it was just one of several. At that point the recipe had become something else. If I posted a recipe for eggs benedict and called it a frittata i would expect to be corrected, and I would accept the correction :) When I made samosas on this blog, Nandita from India told me ways to make it more ‘Indian’ and I was fine with that. I think also in your case you don’t have anything to worry about with offending. I think foodbloggers realize that we are all excited by, playing with, and ‘hungry’ to explore the world through food. No offense is intended and each person is only representing themselves as an individual enthusiastic amateur. And I think we like input from the ‘natives’ to countries we are cooking from :) ???

      My problem with the above is that it was in a publication with the moniker ‘Trinidadian’ from a ‘chef’ … those 3 things then give it an authoritative air and certainty that is misleading.

      And I don’t think saying ‘no way’ is restrictive, it is just logical because of expectations and norms. When you go to a restaurant and place an order you usually have an expectation based on the name of the dish of what will arrive. When you don’t see what you expected you are either upset or tell the waiter ‘wrong order’. You don’t go ‘oh well I guess this is the restaurant’s interpretation of this dish so I will eat it’. And you shouldn’t be considered ‘restrictive’ for not doing so! We all have norms and expectations. Likewise having grown up eating black cake all my life both locally and when i lived abroad I have what I consider exposure to a wide enough array of black cakes made by enough different ethnic groups and generations to realize which parts our cooks collectively respect as formula and which parts are their own ‘twist’. Do I take this knowledge as more exhaustive and authoritative than Ms Carruthers? Definitely. And when I see my conclusions backed up by our leading chefs and publications than I feel that OK, it is not just my own anecdotal experience either.

      Likewise let’s take pelau, one of our national dishes, usually made with chicken, beef or pork. Now what about vegetarians? Of course we have them here too and I have seen that they make pelau with tofu! Now does that mean because a few Trinidadians make pelau with tofu that making pelau with tofu is the ‘Trinidadian’ way? I believe there is a difference! No different to the fallacy of saying many Jews eat pork therefore ham is a part of Jewish cuisine. When I do try to make a pelau with tofu (as I plan to – i’m hardly unadventurous!) I will post it as a ‘Tofu Pelau’ so people realise it is a modification of traditional pelau. If a Trini went to a restaurant and ordered pelau and got tofu they would not be amused and it would not help their mood to be told that well that’s how one family in Trinidad made it :lol: Similarly, recently when I posted a recipe for Trinidad Callaloo I put (vegetarian) in the title because traditionally the recipe calls for crab or salt meat. Sure I could take the attitude that I am a Trini so if i make callaloo this way it is the -the- Trinidad Callaloo but I take the outlook that once I put the moniker Trinidad or Trinidadian in a recipe title that I am honour bound to represent the recipe the way that the MAJORITY will expect and understand it to be made. I don’t take that lightly at all, the word Trinidadian as a culinary descriptor is more than just what I do in the kitchen. If I think my recipe deviates from the Trini norm I don’t put Trinidadian in its title. If I think it deviates slightly i put the deviation in brackets or title, and if I think very few to no Trinis would take offense at my attempt then I just put Trindadian X or Y as the title. I see this as the best way to represent my own culture and cuisine while also allowing myself to accurately experiment and play with it in turn. And if someone wants to publish a recipe as Trinidadian X or Y I think they should be open to accept feedback on whether that recipe accurately reflects the habits of Trinidadians as a global entity, not one Trinidadian or one Trinidadian family.

      As for evolution I’m all for it, *but* I think evolution is a natural organic thing that happens over time, household by household through the consensus of each culture and community. This recipe is not an example of such evolution.

      Actually now that you mention restrictive parameters around authenticity I was reminded of the VPN certification of authenticity that is only awarded to pizza makers /establishments in Naples, Italy who prepare their pizza by traditional methods. Without this certifcate you can not call your pizza ‘pizza’. I have no problem with things like this but maybe you would :) ?

      Anyway didn’t mean to write an essay but as you can tell, I’m passionate :P

  • http://morselsandmusings.blogspot.com Anna

    essays are good my friend!!! especially when you’re passionate.

    yes, i think i do have a problem with the “pizza” certification. i guess i have an issue with people claiming to own things this preventing others of owning the same culture and heritage.

    napoli may have started the pizza hundreds of years ago, but it’s certainly evolved organically from household to household, through all cultures and all communities. pizza belongs to everyone now, in all shapes and forms.

    i prefer to eat the traditional style pizza, yes, but i don’t think i could tell a italian new yorker that their bread-like crust and inches of clashing toppings isn’t really a pizza. it is a pizza, just not the kind i like.

    but i agree with you that black cake is a little different to pizza, since pizza is truly international due to the wide italian diaspora, but black cake is still a localised speciality of the caribbean. in this case, perhaps you are validating in putting some parameters on it.

    and in all honesty i’d rather you be dogmatic about this so i can learn more about your traditional cuisine. maybe that’s a little selfish of me . . . but your food is intriguing and your passion ensures you share it with us all.

    • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

      :)

      • http://chennette.wordpress.com Chennette

        Hey I missed the essay!! How did this happen. Good thing I play catch up every now and then :-)

        Sarina, I think your passionate explanation for how and why we can label things Trini or Caribbean authentic, is excellent. Even in my family, there are many things we make that I am very wary of calling Trini, or as representative of Trinidad and Tobago even though we are Trini for generations. Deep fried pieces of saltfish and bake for example – don’t know if it’s a Trini thing, bu it is a family favourite and that’s how I’ll call it. I agree that we need to always be clear on the techniques and ingredients that make our food distinctive. Kudos to whoever wants to draw on the inspiration and make something new and different, but it must be clear that it is so modified. There’s a reason they call them New York and Chicago pizza for example!

        As for browning – I remember being on a bus in Guyana during Christmas time and the entire hour long conversation between this group of women was about sourcing the browning – either who made it, who got it from their mother, which brand was good to buy, secret touches etc. – that’s how essential browning is to Christmas cake, whether it’s called black cake or great cake etc, in the Caribbean. And like our family non-alcoholic variation, if you use a substitute that performs a similar function, in this case colour, flavour and moistness, then a treacle-black cake may still make the grade, although it would HAVE to be pointed out that treacle was something only in books for most Trinis.

        • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

          heh i hear treacle and i think of this english storybooks i grew up on :) i don’t think i have ever actually seen it yet. that and rhubarb still enthrall me for that reason :)

          thanks for understanding and supporting where i’m coming from. As far as I am aware your family’s main deviation is the soaking with grape juice (in lieu of rum)?

          Made me smile to see that browning could take up a full hour of conversation on a Guyanese bus :) Food may be the key to Caribbean integration after all!! We must continue to respect and transmit the importance of these rituals and bonds :) That’s the only way others will as well!

          • http://chennette.wordpress.com Chennette

            Ok, so maybe during the hour they talked about soaking the fruits and flour too…but seriously long time on browning ;-) especially fascinating for me as I am not a browning-maker (never made it at all until I roomed with someone who never used bottled)
            And yes, as far as I know the only deviation is the soaking liquid, which has been grape juice, sometimes apple juice too. We have them in those Danish butter cookie tins, so they can stay covered long time etc. All very traditional.
            I really liked the comment you had made that TriniFood reported on her blog about etablished standards of cooking for wellknown cuisines, and developing a consensus on the methods of making our food so that we can have similar standards.

        • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

          heh i hear treacle and i think of this english storybooks i grew up on :) i don’t think i have ever actually seen it yet. that and rhubarb still enthrall me for that reason :)

          thanks for understanding and supporting where i’m coming from. As far as I am aware your family’s main deviation is the soaking with grape juice (in lieu of rum)?

          Made me smile to see that browning could take up a full hour of conversation on a Guyanese bus :) Food may be the key to Caribbean integration after all!! We must continue to respect and transmit the importance of these rituals and bonds :) That’s the only way others will as well!

  • http://morselsandmusings.blogspot.com Anna

    essays are good my friend!!! especially when you’re passionate.

    yes, i think i do have a problem with the “pizza” certification. i guess i have an issue with people claiming to own things this preventing others of owning the same culture and heritage.

    napoli may have started the pizza hundreds of years ago, but it’s certainly evolved organically from household to household, through all cultures and all communities. pizza belongs to everyone now, in all shapes and forms.

    i prefer to eat the traditional style pizza, yes, but i don’t think i could tell a italian new yorker that their bread-like crust and inches of clashing toppings isn’t really a pizza. it is a pizza, just not the kind i like.

    but i agree with you that black cake is a little different to pizza, since pizza is truly international due to the wide italian diaspora, but black cake is still a localised speciality of the caribbean. in this case, perhaps you are validating in putting some parameters on it.

    and in all honesty i’d rather you be dogmatic about this so i can learn more about your traditional cuisine. maybe that’s a little selfish of me . . . but your food is intriguing and your passion ensures you share it with us all.

    • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

      :)

      • http://chennette.wordpress.com Chennette

        Hey I missed the essay!! How did this happen. Good thing I play catch up every now and then :-)

        Sarina, I think your passionate explanation for how and why we can label things Trini or Caribbean authentic, is excellent. Even in my family, there are many things we make that I am very wary of calling Trini, or as representative of Trinidad and Tobago even though we are Trini for generations. Deep fried pieces of saltfish and bake for example – don’t know if it’s a Trini thing, bu it is a family favourite and that’s how I’ll call it. I agree that we need to always be clear on the techniques and ingredients that make our food distinctive. Kudos to whoever wants to draw on the inspiration and make something new and different, but it must be clear that it is so modified. There’s a reason they call them New York and Chicago pizza for example!

        As for browning – I remember being on a bus in Guyana during Christmas time and the entire hour long conversation between this group of women was about sourcing the browning – either who made it, who got it from their mother, which brand was good to buy, secret touches etc. – that’s how essential browning is to Christmas cake, whether it’s called black cake or great cake etc, in the Caribbean. And like our family non-alcoholic variation, if you use a substitute that performs a similar function, in this case colour, flavour and moistness, then a treacle-black cake may still make the grade, although it would HAVE to be pointed out that treacle was something only in books for most Trinis.

        • http://www.TriniGourmet.com Sarina

          heh i hear treacle and i think of this english storybooks i grew up on :) i don’t think i have ever actually seen it yet. that and rhubarb still enthrall me for that reason :)

          thanks for understanding and supporting where i’m coming from. As far as I am aware your family’s main deviation is the soaking with grape juice (in lieu of rum)?

          Made me smile to see that browning could take up a full hour of conversation on a Guyanese bus :) Food may be the key to Caribbean integration after all!! We must continue to respect and transmit the importance of these rituals and bonds :) That’s the only way others will as well!

          • http://chennette.wordpress.com Chennette

            Ok, so maybe during the hour they talked about soaking the fruits and flour too…but seriously long time on browning ;-) especially fascinating for me as I am not a browning-maker (never made it at all until I roomed with someone who never used bottled)
            And yes, as far as I know the only deviation is the soaking liquid, which has been grape juice, sometimes apple juice too. We have them in those Danish butter cookie tins, so they can stay covered long time etc. All very traditional.
            I really liked the comment you had made that TriniFood reported on her blog about etablished standards of cooking for wellknown cuisines, and developing a consensus on the methods of making our food so that we can have similar standards.

  • camille

    I am sorry. But I have to say that Ms. Carruthers pissed me off with her explanation. Black cake is just that, BLACK. It can be dark brown medium brown or light brown depending on the preferences of the cook… but it is never yellow, tan or whatever light color you would get without browning. You cannot have black cake without some form of browning. Otherwise you just made fruitcake. And as to the warnings about the alcohol content. Well My family did not sprinkle. The kids may have got a smaller slice but they still ate cake. There was only one year when someone could not eat the cake. She was 9 months pregnant and there was some mix-up about who added the alcohol and how much. As a result 1 cake got about a bottle and a half of Old Oak. But that is another story. Please if you don’t do the research, don’t argue about authenticity when challenged. My goodness, black cake without browning or any brown colored additive is just not BLACK CAKE!!!

  • camille

    I am sorry. But I have to say that Ms. Carruthers pissed me off with her explanation. Black cake is just that, BLACK. It can be dark brown medium brown or light brown depending on the preferences of the cook… but it is never yellow, tan or whatever light color you would get without browning. You cannot have black cake without some form of browning. Otherwise you just made fruitcake. And as to the warnings about the alcohol content. Well My family did not sprinkle. The kids may have got a smaller slice but they still ate cake. There was only one year when someone could not eat the cake. She was 9 months pregnant and there was some mix-up about who added the alcohol and how much. As a result 1 cake got about a bottle and a half of Old Oak. But that is another story. Please if you don’t do the research, don’t argue about authenticity when challenged. My goodness, black cake without browning or any brown colored additive is just not BLACK CAKE!!!

  • Fatima

    Hello Sarina,

    Was just searchiong for Browing for Christmas Cake..and came upon this conversation….cs you mentione dyou have alink where you can get Brwing for cake in the USA…I am in Goergia..can you send me that link or let me know where I can get it..I usually get the Cross &Blackwell….in Grenada or Barbados….never had to make christmas cake at home (trinidad) and haven’t burn my sugar in years….

    Many Thnaks in advance

  • Fatima

    Hello Sarina,

    Was just searchiong for Browing for Christmas Cake..and came upon this conversation….cs you mentione dyou have alink where you can get Brwing for cake in the USA…I am in Goergia..can you send me that link or let me know where I can get it..I usually get the Cross &Blackwell….in Grenada or Barbados….never had to make christmas cake at home (trinidad) and haven’t burn my sugar in years….

    Many Thnaks in advance

  • Fatima

    Hello Sarina,

    Was just searchiong for Browing for Christmas Cake..and came upon this conversation….cs you mentione dyou have alink where you can get Brwing for cake in the USA…I am in Goergia..can you send me that link or let me know where I can get it..I usually get the Cross &Blackwell….in Grenada or Barbados….never had to make christmas cake at home (trinidad) and haven’t burn my sugar in years….

    Many Thnaks in advance