By Nigel Spence
As we recently celebrated 56 years of Jamaican Independence this month, I think of how proud I am of my heritage. I think of how much we have positively impacted the world in more ways than one…and I think too of how old this makes me – Ha!
No, I was not there for the inception but I was around long enough to remember the excitement surrounding the Independence activities – the Miss Jamaica Pageant, now called Miss Jamaica World; the parade on Independence Day – August 6th with different floats representing some aspect of Jamaican culture; the Constabulary Force Band and the effigies with their faces mimicking the political party leaders.
The main attraction that everyone waited for though was the float featuring the new Miss Jamaica along with her first and second runners up. As they passed, the crowd cheered loudly, while the three ladies waved in queenly fashion.
Later that night, crowds gathered again at various locations islandwide this time to enjoy music, food and festivities at their local “Street Dance”. Over the years, most of these rituals were discontinued for one reason or another – mostly funding and participation.
The Festival Song Competition thankfully withstood the test of time, thanks to the efforts of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC). This year especially, I felt the song entries were exceptional. The quality of music, video and lyrics far surpassed what my sister used to refer to back in the days as “cu-chenke” music. She made up the word, of course, but somehow I knew exactly what she meant! The lyrics of each of the finalists only reinforced in me how truly special Jamaica really is.
One of the entrants – Nazzle Man – said if you are looking for sea and sun and the best white rum…Jamaica a wi home (had to agree with that – Ha!). As it turned out the judges all agreed too as he won the competition. According to him, he is called Nazzle (Nozzle) Man because he sings with a point and takes aim.
Another crowd favorite was the Escarpment Road Church Choir – first time entry for a choir. They described us best as “Strong Jamaicans”. They sang: “We’ve been through some tough situations but we neva stay down fi long – a we name Jamaican and we are strong, strong, strong.” That’s definitely part of our culture – no matter how bad things get, we keep smiling and even make up jokes and songs about the situation to get us through.
Yes, Jamaica sweet cyaan done. I hope we can continue the culture momentum and keep the vibes going.
Feeling so nostalgic and patriotic at the same time, I was compelled to put together a little masterpiece of my own to celebrate our Independence. I wanted to do a dish that was very “local” and represented the colorful nature of our culture; bright and cheerful- like the smiling faces of our people. It also captures the Independence fever…a likkle heat thrown in for effect – Yass!! Jamaica a wi home!
Happy 56 Jamaica! Live, Laugh and Love!
This recipe is comfort food for me. It brings back memories of going over to my grandmother’s house and being real hungry, only to find a pot of this amazing rice just waiting to be devoured. It was one of her signature dishes. Just about every Jamaican household had their version of this rice, which almost always included pumpkin and saltfish, along with any leftover vegetables from dinner last evening or breakfast earlier that morning, so feel free to modify it to include whatever you may have hanging out in your leftover containers.
Jamaican Seasoned Rice
4 cups white Rice, boiled and cooled (as in leftover rice)
3 cups West Indian pumpkin, boiled till tender, then large diced
2 cup Callaloo, steamed
1 cup Saltfish, cooked and shredded
1 cup yellow Onion, small diced
½ cup fresh Tomatoes, large diced
1 tablespoon fresh Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Ginger, minced
1 sprig fresh Thyme
1 tablespoon fresh Parsley, fine chopped
1 teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper, minced
1/4 cup Coconut oil
1/4 cup extra virgin Olive oil
1 teaspoon sea Salt
Heat coconut oil in skillet or wok that will be large enough to hold 4 cups of rice along with all other ingredients, over low heat.
Add onions, garlic, ginger and saltfish and sauté for 2 minutes until onions are translucent. Add thyme, callaloo, pumpkin and scotch bonnet pepper. Cook for an additional 2 minutes then add the rice.
Using a large kitchen spoon or wok spatula, keep turning the rice over low heat and slowly add the salt as the rice is being mixed together with the other ingredients. The pumpkin should begin to melt into the rice to color it.
Keep stirring until the rice is heated through and all the ingredients are incorporated into the rice like a pilaf, or risotto, or fried rice.
Remove from heat and stir in olive oil.
Serve hot in a large bowl and garnish with tomatoes and parsley.
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, squeeze the juice from half a lime. Add passion fruit juice, orange juice and simple syrup to the shaker. Shake well until all is incorporated and super cold! Strain into a hurricane glass – with or without ice. Garnish with an orange slice.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs 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 endeavor.