By Nigel Spence
Christmas time is here once again, folks, and, if asked, I would have to say, it is one of my absolute favorite times of the year.
You know, I used to find it puzzling, (until now) why you just suddenly feel full of cheer and good will — why no problem seemed that big a deal anymore and everyone around was just so happy-go-lucky.
Only recently did the answer come staring me in the glass … I mean “face” … nearly everything we eat or drink at this time involves a likkle white rum and ting!! Talk about taking the edge off!
Take. for instance, our traditional black cake or fruit cake; months before the actual baking, a very important part of the preparation is to grind and soak the fruit portion of the ingredients in wine, laced with white over-proof rum.
This highly potent mixture is then skillfully folded into the cake batter, alternating with the dry ingredients.
After the cake is baked and cooled, for storage purposes, more rum and wine are poured over the cake and covered tightly with a lid to ensure it is kept moist until time to serve.
When the lid is finally taken off for cutting, one slice alone is sure to render you “D.U.I. – “Dining Under The Influence”.
I remember as a child, all through the year, hardly anyone visited our house, except for the usual cousins, a few friends and/or neighbors with whom we played.
But as soon as word got out that Mom’s black cake was ready for cutting, every day, some other uncle dis and aunt dat was at the gate who, in their words, “just happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to stop by”.
That was the only time I saw Mom pulling out her stack of beautifully designed crystal cake dishes from the buffet along with these tiny silver cake forks. During the year, the forks were kept carefully wrapped in a soft cloth and held in this wooden box along with some other silver utensils.
We were never allowed to use anything from the buffet, so it was exciting watching the little arsenal being plucked from their special hiding place and displayed on the dining table. Yes, these were special times indeed.
Next on the agenda was the serving of Sorrel. This is a traditional drink made from a type of hibiscus plant which only grows around Christmas time in Jamaica.
The petals are boiled/steeped in water and the red liquid remaining is sweetened with sugar and spiced with cloves.
Adding white rum is optional but may as well be part of the recipe as far as I am concerned, since everyone seemed to exercise that option. My motto is “Everything taste better wid a likkle rum” and Mom’s Sorrel was no exception.
Come to think of it, that must be the reason why it’s my favorite time of the year – laughter, good food and good “Cheers!” (no pun intended). Cheers to eggnog! Rum in it. Cheers to egg custard! Rum in it. Cheers to bread pudding! Rum in it. Cheers to curried goat! Drink a rum wid it …
So folks, whether you use black cake, custard, eggnog or sorrel to spread good cheer(s) – eat and drink responsibly and enjoy this wonderful Season! To start you off on the right setting, I am sharing my recipe for my latest Rum concoction that I developed on a recent night of imbibing at the bar.
THE JAMAICAN SNOWSTORM
1 part Jamaican Rum Cream
1 part Whiskey or Brandy
1 “toops “ of vanilla extract (unofficial Jamaican unit of measure roughly equivalent to 1/2 teaspoon depending on the dish, the person, the ingredient etc.)
A dash of ground nutmeg
Add the ingredients to a cocktail shaker along with lots of ice and shake well.
Pour into a rocks glass with lots of ice and serve with a cinnamon stick or a dash of cinnamon powder.
Relax and enjoy the holiday celebrations!
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for three years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cookoffs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show, Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.