A Trini Christmas is the best. And in large, contributing to this are our festive Christmas foods. We have perfected the grand art of fusion and created an original cuisine for this season. Some food gurus thumb their noses at the term fusion, however, we would not have this outstanding cuisine if our ancestral cooks had not utilised the art of fusion. Really, what they tried to do is recreate the familiar foods of their past, using ingredients available to them locally, and so through the years, we inherited what we know as our true Trini Christmas cuisine.
These include boiling hams in pitch-oil tins, soaking black cake fruits for up to one year in advance to use in our black cakes; securing fig leaves to wrap pastelles, stocking up on enough rum for use in black cake and ponche de crème and baking bread to sandwich the ham and preparing garlic pork. Making pepper jelly and chow-chow to dress our meals, and preparing sorrel and ginger beer to cool us all down.
Most of these traditions still live on today, thankfully, although some have sadly been substituted for more non-traditional foods at this time.
For me, I am a lover of tradition and our Christmas cuisine. Making black cake is a big part of my Christmas tradition which I begin in October. I soak my fruits in a mixture of rum and cherry brandy for up to one month or more. I omit the browning, which I think imparts a bitter flavour to the cake, and I use a higher ratio of fruit which results in a dense, moist and very dark cake. It’s important to continue nursing the cake after baking for a few days with your choice of rum or brandy to keep it moist until use. Of course, you can opt for a non-alcohol version by replacing the alcohol with pure grape juice. And if you are not a lover of dark fruit cake, you can make a light fruit cake which is equally alluring on a different level!
Light fruit cake
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup candied cherries, finely chopped
1/2 cup mixed peel
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds, (optional)
2 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Finely chop fruits.
Grease, line and flour 1 nine-inch round pan.
With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time beating well between additions.
Fold in flour and fruits. Pour batter into a 9-inch round pan.
Bake for about 11/2 hours. Cool.
Best ever Christmas black cake
1 lb raisins
1 /2 lb currants
1/2 lb sultanas
1/2 lb prunes
1/2 lb chopped walnuts
1/4 lb mixed peel
1/4 lb cherries
1 2/3 cups dark rum
1 2/3 cups cherry brandy
1 lb Butter
1 lb all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 lb brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon and allspice, mixed
2 tsp mixed essence
Combine rum and cherry brandy and add fruits to mixture. Let soak overnight or up to one week.
Preheat oven to 300F.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift together flour and baking powder, cinnamon and allspice.
Drain fruits reserve liquid. Chop or mince in food processor.
Add drained fruits to butter and sugar mixture.
Add cut up cherries and nuts.
Fold flour into fruits and butter mixture.
Add mixed essence, mix well.
Grease and line two 9-inch cake pans with waxed paper, grease and flour paper.
Spoon cake batter equally into prepared baking pans.
Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Drizzle extra rum over cake when baked.
Cool in pans before removing.
Makes two nine inch round cakes.