The wonders of Jamaica

Scene inside a café in the Blue Mountains

I should have known that when visiting Jamaica, I would love the island. I knew it when, for the first time, I saw Jamaicans’ faces. When I caught sight of their welcoming smiles. When I heard the way they spoke. I loved the melody of their accent, and the way the intonation marking their words made their voice go up at the end of each sentence. It sounded like a happy melody.

I like how you pronounce the word “questions”“, I said one day to our local guide at Prospect Plantation in Ocho Rios. Thin and not looking his age, he liked to share deadpan jokes which were irresistibly funny.

Before October, I had never visited Jamaica, but I had always wanted to.

Coffee Plant

Blue Mountains Coffee at Clifton Mount Estate

It started when, at the age of seventeen, I traveled to Canada with a teenager group, and we met Nikki.

Nikki’s mother was French, his father Jamaican, but Nikki lived in Toronto, which made him Canadian too. Nikki was tall and skinny, with long dark curly hair and glasses too wide for his face. He was funny too. He was also always hungry and eating, and at night, after we’d slip inside our sleeping bags under the tent, he loved to tell us stories about Jamaica. Which, despite the fact that I was still young, piqued my curiosity and made me promise that, one day, I’d visit the island.

I finally did when, two months ago, I was invited with a small group of food writers to participate to a culinary tour of Jamaica.

It was exotic. Colorful and inspiring.

I took me a fair amount of time to gather my thoughts and decide what stories I’d share with you. So much was packed within five days. There were so many picture opportunities.

Perhaps, I thought, I should start with the story that happened the day we traveled to the Blue Mountains and our bus got stuck in one of the many sharp curves on the road leading to a coffee farm. It was irresistibly funny! And scary too.

Or maybe instead, I should write about the magnificent house and gardens that Robin keeps at Belcour Preserves, and how I adored sitting on the porch of her house to taste delicate foods and drinks she had kindly prepared for us–all of this while watching with delight a heavy downpour surrounding us. No wonder, I thought, that the trees and flowers look so happy here!

I learned that Jamaica has a strong food culture that deserves to be seen and tasted. I learned that, unlike other Caribbean islands I’ve visited before, locals grow various types of fruit and vegetables.

Thankfully, two months later, I am now finally ready to share the highlights from my culinary trip.

It starts with:

–Traveling the winding road which revealed magnificent views of the Yallahs Valley and led to Clifton Mount Estate, located at an elevation of 4300 feet above sea level. From it, we embraced the majestic view of the Grand Ridge and Blue Mountain Peak at 7402 feet which, as is often the case, hid behind a layer of dense mountain mist. I could not help but love the different local scenes we witnessed on the way: school children wearing dark blue school uniforms; colorful tin-roofed grocery shacks; local bars; clouds hanging around the pointy steeple of a white church perched on the flank of the mountains; lush dark green vegetation which witnessed of the heavy downpours the area receives regularly.

gluten free banana bread cocoa chia seeds

Inspired to bake a cocoa banana bread

Lawrence and Richard Sharp, the friendly owners of the coffee farm who welcomed us to morning coffee with homemade baked sweets–hello banana bread!–taught us that, because of its location, Clifton Mount Estate is a premium coffee growing territory. With its carefully maintained garden, a paradise to playful hummingbirds, the old house–one of the few remaining Jamaican Great Houses–looks beautiful, somehow reminiscent of another era.

I learned that Lawrence’s farm is 75 percent organic, which means that only a few crops are sprayed with pesticides. Because Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is heavily regulated by the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica –assuring the trademarked “Jamaica Blue Mountain” designation, much like the French Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC)–Blue Mountain coffee is fairly expensive in comparison to other coffees grown elsewhere in the world.

–Sampling a humble and delicious lunch at EITS Café. EITS (short for Europe in the summer) is a charming open-air café located on the hillside town of Newcastle in the Blue Mountains. The eatery is run by the petite and lovely Robyn Fox and her father. Together, they operate the café, run Mount Edge guesthouse, and Food Basket, an enterprise selling to select supermarkets around Kingston (and by special order) herbs and vegetables they proudly grow on the farm.

There, I learned about French thyme (a variety I had never seen before), which Robin’s father was proud to have me taste. We also sampled Scotch bonnet pepper, an extremely spicy pepper that is traditionally used to season jerk chicken, giving the traditional Jamaican dish its unique flavor.

Scotch Bonnet Pepper–
French Thyme at EITS

Lunch at EITS

–Walking through the lush green gardens at Belcour Preserves where owners Robin Lumsden and her husband Michael treated us to homemade local foods and refreshments. Dating back to the 1700s, the lodge was originally a coffee farm. Today, Robin and Michael use it to grow tropical fruit and keep bees. The Lumsden’s 75 bee colonies produce Belcour’s Tropical Honey, a delicate, multiflora amber honey. They also make jams, relishes, condiments, and hot pepper sauce–all using the local produce available.

–Sampling street food–like pumpkin and crawfish soup, corn on the cob and freshly cut open exotic fruit–bought at street stalls found everywhere along the way. Hello avocado pear, guavas, guinep, June plum, jackfruit, papaya (Paw Paw), sorrel, sweetsop, soursop, and Jamaican mangoes, I loved you all. I am so thankful that you educated me to many varieties of fruit unknown to me before.

A Fruit and Vegetable Stand

–Eating a lot of soups. Spicy soups. Pumpkin soups. I was surprised to learn that in Jamaica, pumpkin is common and eaten all year round. I was also delighted to find out that for Jamaicans, Saturday means Soup day. What’s not to love about a gathering of friends and family around a large pot of homemade soup?

–Visiting Irish Rover near Ochos Rios, the first authentic Irish Pub on the island. After working as a musician in Ireland for over 40 years, owner Winston Samuels decides to retire to his homeland where he eventually opens this surprising pub. Unique and well worth the visit.

Jamaican Jerk

–Watching how, at Scotchies (a rustic thatched-roof outdoors joint located in Coral Gardens near Montego Bay), the best jerk you can find on the island is made. In fact, I had never seen anything like this before: dozens of pimiento-seasoned chickens and slabs of pork grilling on open flames. I learned that it’s the smoke which gives the flavor to the meat. With jerk, we enjoyed sides like sliced, roasted breadfruit and yam; rice and peas (incidentally I learned that this translates as rice and beans) and festival (deep-fried cornmeal dumplings).

Fresh coconut and brown sugar

–Eating a piece of freshly cut-open coconut sprinkled with brown sugar. So simple. So good.

–Traveling to Ochos Rios to discover exquisite beaches and swim in crystal clear turquoise waters by late afternoon before heading out for dinner.

–Watching a beautiful rainbow from my room at Sandals resort in Ochos Rios.

–Enjoying a traditional Jamaican breakfast. Who knew I would enjoy eating ackee and salted fish (from ackee fruit and salt cod), with rice and Callaloo, and boiled green bananas so early in the morning? I really did!

Sandals Resort, Ochos Rios–
Ackee and Salted Fish/Callaloo–
Exotic Fruit

Jamaican Sorrel Drink (known as their Christmas drink)

Fish Jerk

–Meeting lots of goats along the way.

–Sampling rum. Bananas. Banana bread.

And, with the head filled with delicious memories (and the suitcase with local treats), return home inspired to prepare seasonal pumpkin soup. And bake my own banana bread.

To celebrate the foods I sampled, and prolong the many special moments I was lucky to spent amongst Jamaicans.

Invariably, that’s always what traveling to new places does to me.

To you too?

Many thanks to the Jamaica Tourist board and RudderFinn for inviting me on this trip. Jamaica, I will be back as there’s much more I am keen to sample and see.

With the combination of coconut, bananas, rum, and vanilla, I absolutely love this recipe. And I am also very happy with the texture the bread holds. My best banana bread recipe so far! The cake does not rise a lot. When I baked it, that was exactly what I was after.

Banana bread recipe with coconut, vanilla, and rum (gluten free)

You need:

  • 1/2 cup (70 g) millet flour
  • 1/2 cup (60 g) pecan and almond meal (half/half)
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) unsweetened grated coconut
  • 1/4 cup (40 g) cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons chia gel**
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 bananas, ripe and mashed with a fork
  • 1/4 cup blond cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup light Muscovado sugar
  • 7 tablespoons (100 g) unsalted butter, melted
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon rum

**To make chia gel, combine 1/3 cup chia seeds with 2 cups water. Stir well, stirring once in a while. You can use the gel after 10 minutes but it’s even better to let it rest for 12 hours in the fridge in a closed container. Use as needed. It keeps for 2 weeks refrigerated. Thank you Irvin for the suggestion you made in my post here. That piqued my curiosity, so I had to try. And I loved the result. Alors voilà !

Steps:

  • Preheat your oven at 350 F and prepare an 11 by 5-inch loaf pan; set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the millet flour, pecan and almond meals, cornstarch, grated coconut, baking powder and baking soda; set aside.
  • In another bowl, stir together the bananas with the butter. Stir in the sugar, egg, vanilla, rum and chia gel. Add a pinch of salt.
  • Stir in the mixture of flours until combined.
  • Pour the cake batter in the pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the blade of a knife inserted in the middle comes out dry. Let cool for a few minutes before unmolding.
Le coin français
Pain à la banane, noix de coco et au rhum

Ingrédients :

  • 70 g de farine de millet
  • 60 g de mélange de poudre d’amandes et de pécanes (moitié, moitié)
  • 30 g de noix de coco râpée non sucrée
  • 40 g de maïzena
  • 3 càs de gel de chia**
  • 1 gros oeuf
  • 3 bananas mûres, écrasées avec une fourchette
  • 50 g de sucre de canne blond
  • 50 g de sucre roux
  • 100 g de beurre non salé, fondu
  • Pincée de sel fin
  • 1/2 càc de bicarbonate de soude (achetée en pharmacie)
  • 1 càc de poudre à lever (levure chimique)
  • 1 càs d’extrait de vanille pur
  • 1 càs de rhum

**Pour réaliser du gel de chia, mélangez 50 g de graines de chia avec 250 ml d’eau. Mélangez et laissez reposer. Après dix minutes, mélangez à nouveau. Il est préférable d’utiliser le gel après 12 heures. Conservez-le au réfrigérateur pendant 2 semaines. Utilisez à souhait.

Etapes :

  • Préchauffez le four à 180 C et beurrez un moule à gâteau mesurant 28 x 13 cm; mettez de côté.
  • Dans une jatte, mélangez la farine de millet, la poudre d’amandes, la maïzena, la noix de coco, la bicarbonate de soude et la poudre à lever; mettez de côté.
  • Dans une autre jatte, mélangez les bananes avec le beurre. Ajoutez les sucres, l’oeuf et la vanille et le rhum et le gel de chia. Ajoutez une pincée de sel.
  • Mélangez bien les deux préparations ensemble.
  • Versez la pâte dans le moule et cuisez le gâteau pendant environ 45 minutes, ou jusqu’à ce que la lame d’un couteau insérée au milieu en ressorte sèche.

93 comments

  1. Pingback: The wonders of Jamaica | Shelterholic Now Food

  2. Thank you for sharing! The pics and the story are so good!
    I almost forgot that I had a dream to go to Jamaica one day too – thank you for reminding and inspiring!

  3. oooooooooooooohhh that was wonderful You always post the most wonderful things I can smell the food and the images of thsoe happy people are very uplifting thankyou.
    Fay

  4. Wow what a wonderful eye opening foodie experince. Everything looks so fresh and vibrant and that fruit looks amazing

  5. What an amazing place Jamaica is. I too have been fortunate enough to vist and would dearly love to visit again someday. This is an amazing post, with stunning pictures . Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. What an amazing experience Bea! Full of colors and flavors! I love banana breads but it’s very difficult to find chia seeds where I live. Do you believe I could use another ingredient instead or omit it?
    Than you very much.

  7. What a beautiful post, so full of exotic colors, experiences, sights, smells and dreamy settings, surrounded by eloquent words and memories, thank you for sharing!

  8. What a wonderful morning treat with my cup of coffee before the days whirls on. Beautiful photos of the people, the food, and the natural scenery. That rainbow was an awesome catch! Thank you.

  9. Bea, what a beautiful travel log! stunning photographs and wonderful words, gosh the colours! it is funny you mention canada because being from there i had lots of friends from Jamaica, my mums comfort food Is jamaican Jerk chicken and we have a favorite little restaurant in montreal. the fruits are so beautiful!

  10. Lovely photos, I love the colours. Now I want to leave rainy cold Canada and jump on a plane. Thanks for the great travel story.

  11. Gorgeous photos Bea! I love to travel and visit new places…haven’t been able to do that much lately but your entry is definitely inspiring me!

  12. Pingback: The wonders of Jamaica « Darin R. McClure – The Good Life In San Clemente

  13. Looks beautiful. It’s a shame the country is so homophobic I will never go there.

  14. I, too, have been fortunate enough to visit several areas of Jamaica – so many years ago before it was a tourist attraction. It was and I can see from your photo that it still is so beautiful. I could listen to those sing-song voices all day long. Can I substitute white all purpose flour in recipes when you use millet or another flour?

  15. Can see why you were asked to be a part of this group, great story, beautiful photos. Recently bought Chia seeds, having lots of fun with them. I heard you can also add them to juices, as a drink. I’ve been doing a lot of baking with olive oil too. Do you think your recipe work if I replaced the butter for olive oil?

  16. Thanks so much everyone for stopping by.

    Valérie-Jeanne, with olive oil. Absolutely. As a matter of fact, the cocoa banana bread you see in the picture was made with olive oil.

    As to how to replace chia seeds, no suggestion here. You can obviously omit the seeds. The advantage of chia gel is that it helps to round the texture of the baked goods. Try Dimitra and tell me….

    Del, yes. You can use white flour instead of millet flour. Note that the taste will be slightly different.

  17. Merci de partager ce don que tu as de saisir la beauté des choses et des êtres!

  18. Photos and text make me feel like I have traveled all the way to tropical Jamaica with you. Thank you for that (I really needed a seaside short trip ;) ).

    Speaking of banana breads, I also made one yesterday because I love banana bread. The idea of incorporate Jamaican rhum is fantastic.

  19. I was invited to a similar trip by Jamaica Tourist Board back in August. But because of my (difficult pregnancy (baby #3 on the way – lots of morning sickness), I couldn’t join. Sob, sob. Now, I see what I have missed!!!! Wish I could have this oppotrunity to sample these dishes in a local, authentic setting. We do have lots of Jamaican immigrants here in Toronto, and plenty of Jamaican restuarants. Bet it’s not the same as having a freshly-cooked meal while watching a Jamaican sunset at the beach!!!

  20. This is a beautiful review. Being Jamaican, I’m delighted to see that you were given a true taste of Jamaica and not parked in a hotel somewhere. I do hope you come back, and when you do, come meet some of the bloggers here and experience Jamaica with us.

    Have a wonderful holiday.

  21. I have been reading your blog for a number of years and I am most delighted that you’ve made to my home, Jamaica! This post is pure nostalgia and heaven on a page. Little did I know as I put the jerk chicken in the oven for dinner that I would be reading this awesomeness as I wait for it to cook. Cheers!

  22. Such a lovely post – makes me wanna travel to Jamaica! In the meantime I can make the banana bread.

  23. This post is absolutely wonderful. It is amazing to see my country through your eyes. I have to say this is a very nice post and the comments above are so heart-warming. Thank you so much.

  24. Bea, this is an absolutely beautiful post filled with incredible images of Jamacia (the real one, not the tourist side) and some of the wondeful food that comes from such a loving and generous country and people. So glad you had a great time. But, how could you not?

    Btw, the bread you made looks divine.

  25. Béa, j´accompagne ton blog depuis quelques mois, et franchement, c´est le plus beau post que tu a déjà publié!! Quelles photos magniphiques! Merci de partager ces images si belles!!!

  26. In this article you have shown everyone, with your beautiful style of writing, the other side of Jamaica, the beautiful simpler life that many people who live here strive for and everyone that experiences it thrives on. You captured that so perfectly in your writing and in the images. I travelled Jamaica with you – and I live here!! Thank you

  27. Sublissime, somptueux, vos photos sont magnifiques une explosion de couleurs et de joie.
    Belles fêtes et milleS bravosS

  28. Reading your blog has implanted in me a wanderlust spirit that yearns to travel and revel in such magnificent beauty scattered all over the world! Simply LOVED the cacophony of colors! You are truly a gifted artist.

  29. What a feast of the senses! Colours, tastes, impressions, feelings, being back home for you to connect with the epicentre of your earth navel. Congratulations.

  30. How could you not love a place that is filled with such marvelous foods and when you are surrounded by such vibrant colors! You captured it beautifully and have transported us there. Thank you!

  31. Thank you for putting into words what I am blessed to experience as often as I can. Living in Kingston, Jamaica, we take bike rides into the Blue Mountains to visit our favorite coffee stop, Cafe Blue, in Irish Town. Then there is Sunday brunch at EITS! Two of the many reasons why I live in Jamaica.

  32. beautiful photos! i would love to visit the caribbean someday. such a fascinating history. a lot of it sad, but fascinating.

  33. I grew up in Jamaica 56 years ago, and have been going back to Mo Bay all my life since; the pictures and descriptions are making me home sick again. I will be back soon I hope.

  34. Bonjour Bea, tes photos sont absolument fabuleuses……rien ne change je vois….ah si, c’est encore mieux qu’avant ;) je te souhaite déjà de très belles fêtes! biz

  35. Toujours de superbes et délicieuses images que l’on ne se lasse pas de visionner
    À J-2 du réveillon, je te souhaite une agréable journée

    Valérie.

  36. Hi..
    I like that nature , its beautiful photos , feel Vere fresh, food & people Vere nice..mountain feel like Heaven.
    middle of my country( Sri lanka )all most same.
    Wish you all the Best…God bless..
    Thanks.
    Ruwan.

  37. How wonderful! This made me very homesick, I will definitely be going back to Jamaica in the new year!

  38. Looks like an amazing trip and such beautiful photographs. Loving the blog in general. Please also have a peek at my food blog. I am a chef who moved from the UK to live in France 3 years ago and inspired by people such as yourself, have decided to start writing my own blog about my food adventures in France. Please feel free to take a look! http://www.northbysudouest.blogspot.com Thank you! nbso

  39. I have traveled to a few places in North America, Central America, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean – Jamaica, by far, has the best tasting, largest variety of food, largest variety of fruits – in the world. Many places, like restaurants, has their signature dish(es) that has placed them on the ‘map of edible things’ but Jamaica, is the place that is the ‘garden of Eden’ for food, fruits, drinks, herbs, seasonings, … everything.
    God bless that island, and help its people.

  40. Thank you for a beautiful article ..it made me so homesick for the country I left so long ago and still love so much

  41. Now you all can understand why I go back home every year for 22 years.

  42. Great photos. Thanks for the toour–made me nostalgic as I lived in Ja during the 60s and 70s. Wondering–your mention of Nikki with the French mother and Jamaican father–was his surname Miller? I had friends back then who fit the description and they did have a son named Nikki. I’ve lost touch with them. If this really is Nikki Miller, do you know how to get in touch? Thanks for any help.

    cj

  43. Hi Bea,
    It’s Amy, The Cooking Mom, one of the bloggers on the trip with you. What fun we had! It was a pleasure to meet you and the rest of the group! Seeing your pictures, makes me want to go back! It’s cold and snowy here in Wisconsin so, we are dreaming of Jamaica. My husband and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary there in a few weeks. Can’t wait. We like to stay in a villa where you get the real feel of Jamaica. Here’s another banana bread recipe I got from a Jamaican woman who cooked for us during our last stay. Hope you are well! Congrats on the book! Hope we will meet again! http://www.thecookingmom.com/blender-banana-bread/

  44. Beautiful photograph & Sceneries of our lovely Island in the sun, We always enjoyed travelling around the Island whenever we visit Jamaica, to see families & friends who greet us, and beauty of our Island in the sun.Well done. We pray that God’s mercy will extend to Jamaica.

  45. Thank you for the treat, there is not much more to say, as the letters speak for itself, of course, it shows the person you are, a good spirit and a fine mind, thanks for sharing your experience and talent, God Bless, Barry Gardner

  46. My husband’s family lived in JA for 5 generations and the traditional foods are part of our lives. We enjoyed the photos and learned about places we’ve never been! Congrats on capturing so much of the island’s essence. We love the island, the people and the fantastic food. Made us homesick…

  47. fabulous reportage, it should be amazing place! i am in love with Antilles Francaises…just back from les Saintes (an island group between Dominique and Guadeloupe);

    your amazing pictures from yummy avocados, pomme-canelle, fruit-a-pain…make me hungry:-)

  48. Super articles et très belles photos, ça donne envie. Dis-moi, j’ai envie de réaliser la recette, mais je ne sais pas ce que sont les graines de chia. A quoi ça sert? Est-ce qu’on peut les remplacer par autre chose?

  49. I can’t! This woman is too incredible! Please publish all these recipes in another book!

  50. Pingback: American Bee Society | BeeKeeping Advice

  51. Beautiful photos and writing that captured the true essence of our JA island! What a treat had to share! Love the recipes too.

  52. Your article is heartwarming and paints such a clear picture that one who has never gone will be intrigued. Your word choices were deliberate and your mission was to tell a story, not to berate and unnecessarily and unfairly criticize. But it shows that you have an appreciation for life, for nature, and for things that are different! Its our differences that makes us so excitinh! Thank you for beong s

  53. Beautiful memories of my Island home.Makes me love it even more.You truly captured the essence of it.Lovely pictures.Thanks for sharing.

  54. As a Jamaican now living in Spain, your article evoked so many memories of my years growing up on my beautiful island. A wonderful blog of the “essence” of Jamaica life and food …a rich mixture of different cultures. Although I to prepare some Jamaican dishes here, obvously I cannot get many ingredients, but my Spanish friends always love what I cook! Thanks for your wonderful article.

  55. At92 I enjoyed. Seeing g your trip to j amIca I was born there an d pArt of many family were thre for two hundred years I still miss my Bombay mangoes salt Fish and ackistyanks with best regards massa hugh

  56. My Jamaican dad sent this to me & I found it very refreshing to see and hear some positive things about Jamaican people, where the author of this peace felt lucky to have spent time amongst Jamaicans.

  57. Pingback: Primal friendly countries. - Page 3 | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page 3

  58. This was beautiful!
    I experienced all kinds of emotions when I looked at this – happy, sad, nostalgia and a yearning for what was.
    Thank you!!
    Precious

  59. Truly awesome…this made me so homesick..i can taste all those delicious fruits…divine food!!:0D

  60. Absolutely amazing and beautiful pictures! I love and miss JA but Im glad to say that Im blessed to be able to enjoy most of the great food mentioned as my mother is a fantastic Jamaican cook. I left JA as a young child but have been blessed to grow up surrounded by the Jamaican influence. Thanks for sharing!

  61. WHAT WONDERFUL FOOD AND SCENERY AND PEOPLE I WILL GET THERE ONEDAY AND I AM SO LUCKY TO HAVE TASTED SO MANY DELICIOS DISHES MADE BY MY SON IN LAW [FAVOURITE] BEST PLACE IN THE WHOLE WORLD

  62. Everyday I give thanks for the way I was raised and from the most beautiful place from whence I came.

  63. jamaica asi remember it, full of colour, beauty and good food. Kindly people too, the jamaica we all would like to experience again!

  64. Ah!

    I must return to the land of my birth someday before I die. The mountains are calling me again. I must embark.

  65. Wonderful thoughtful and delightful makes me homesick. Chia gel? Never heard of it. Thanks for sharing those beautilful pictures and recipe. Xxxxxx love Jamaica

  66. So glad you were able to experience the beautiful essence of my island home … Come back and visit soon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>