Cooking Like My Granny

Photos of my Granny are rare. Ebony hued and diminutive with high cheekbones that show up 3 generations later in my daughter’s face, Granny is seen here hatted and bejeweled at my mother’s wedding holding her glass for a toast and smiling. This blog post is dedicated to the dear and fond memories I have of my childhood with my maternal grandmother, Dorothy Scotland – our “Granny”.

One of the signature rituals of our childhood was spending the summer vacations at Granny’s in Suddiea bucolic village on the west coast of the Essequibo River and the place of our birth. As soon as the school year ended, our Auntie Cheryl or Auntie Faye (my mom’s sisters) would show up at our home in Georgetown to spirit us off to Essequibo. With suitcases packed and lots of food for the day long journey by car and boat and a dreadful old ferry called “Malali”, we would set off for a summer of fun and adventure.

The thing I remember most about that journey was looking forward to buying fig bananas at the Parika Ferry Stelling, and the horror of the ferry itself which labored along for up to 12 hours -foul smelling and uncomfortable – to finally deposit us at the Adventure Stelling in Essequibo.

Move slider right to see a zoomed in version of our summer trip from Georgetown to my sister and my birthplace – the village of Suddie on the coast of the Essequibo River.

DOROTHY SCOTLAND (MY GRANNY)

My sister and I were both born in Suddie, a few meters away from Granny’s home at the Suddie Public Hospital. Growing up we heard my Granny called “Dottie” and “Doro” and “Cousin Doro”.

Granny’s home was on the”Sea Road” in Suddie – the road that ran alongside the beach. This beach provided untold hours of summer fun with our aunts and uncles and cousins and friends. Food was central to our summer experience forming both the orchestral backdrop to our daily adventures and the riveting solos in our summer symphony.

Apart from her skill in the kitchen, Granny was a seamstress by trade. She would sew custom clothing for fellow villagers – from fancy dresses to school uniforms. I remember Granny sitting at the sewing machine her feet pedalling furiously, or threading a needle with glasses perched on her nose, or cutting out clothing patterns from “Butterick” packages. My sister and I could always count on a few brand new summer outfits handmade by our Granny. Two piece outfits with matching flop hats were her specialty.

My Grandmother – Dorothy Scotland (2nd from left). Her younger sister Gertrude London is the bride; My mom, Veronica Scotland (Granny’s eldest child) is far right.

I’ve also heard stories from my Auntie Fay and Uncle Andrew about my Granny’s drive and industry. She would take classes in all kinds of crafts at a nearby organization for women and she became very proficient in making straw hats and bags. Auntie Faye said that Granny also baked and iced cakes.

Granny in Georgetown

Although she did not receive much of a formal education as the daughter of a poor housekeeper in rural British Guiana, my Granny was highly intelligent, self educated and literate. She was very fond of scrabble – a game at which she quietly, patiently and consistently thrashed my sister and I when she came to live with us as a stand in for our mom who had emigrated to the USA.

THE FOOD AT GRANNY’S

As I cook for my family, I constantly worry about variety, flavor, balance, healthfulness etc. These days I have to balance between my children who have lost their fondness for fish (except salmon); my partner who doesn’t eat red meat; my daughter who is allergic to shellfish and my son who has a sympathetic revulsion for all foods to which my daughter is allergic.

This has gotten me to thinking wistfully about Granny’s cooking and feeling nostalgic about the ritualized simplicity of it… A simplicity that did not compromise variety and flavor. A matter-of-fact approach to food that neither considered nor accommodated preferences. She cooked it and served it and you ate it. PERIOD. I have been combing through my memories to figure out what I can use from my heritage to simplify my daily food prep, making it less angst ridden and more matter-of-fact .

Granny’s cooking was a practiced dance between ritual and variety. The fact of living in Guyana made variety easy. There is an abundance of vegetables to choose from, and fresh fish, shrimp and seasonal crabs are easy to come by as are a variety of meats, chicken and duck. In addition wild meats (game) are popular delicacies.

Despite the simplicity, these dishes were pretty labor intensive. Take just one ingredient of a staple dish: COCONUT MILK. We made coconut milk from dried coconuts that fell in Granny’s yard or were picked from the trees in the yard by expert coconut tree climbers. The coconuts had to be de-husked in the yard on an upturned crowbar to extract the nut. The nut was then skilfully broken into halves using a kitchen instrument of solid metal called a “cruckney”. The coconut halves were then grated by hand on the cruckney. The grated coconut was soaked in water and then squeezed by hand to extract the milk… no canned coconut milk… the original #backyardtotable.

Black Hungarian Pepper Ripened

One of Granny’s famous sayings

“Waste not want not”

And there were NO LEFTOVERS! That concept was totally non-existent. Meals were prepared with mathematical precision. We were more often than not, left licking our fingers after a meal and wishing there was more. And the ritual was performed EVERY DAY. 365 days of the year. We NEVER ate food cooked by an establishment when in Suddie. It was not even a thought! I simply cannot recall the existence of a restaurant in our village.

Breakfast:

Bakes (fried bakes, floats, pot bakes), bread and jam, fried green plantains were typical. Below I show my bakes and fried ripe plantains (called maduros in Latin cultures). Bakes are a fried “quick bread” similar to Italian zeppoles and Jamaican fried dumplings (only better). We ate bakes hot off the stove with butter, jam, cheese – nothing fancy on weekdays. One of my favorites was “pot bakes” but alas, my granny and Auntie Cheryl who were experts at this kind of bake have both passed on.

We washed down the breakfast (reluctantly, I must admit) with Sweetbroom tea made with fresh Sweetbroom plants that we would harvest from Granny’s front yard. When we asked for milo or ovaltine instead of sweetbroom, Granny waved her hand dismissively and said ” your blood is too sweet. You need something to clean you out.”

Lunch:

By the time we were wiping the breakfast crumbs from our lips, Granny would start making lunch. Lunch was the main meal of the day and ready promptly at noon. The weekday lunch formula was pretty predictable: rice and a vegetable stewed with meat or seafood (fish/shrimp) or a curry or a stew. Weekday lunches are what I try to replicate in this post.

These meals are served as dinner in our adopted American culture , but were also dinner at home with our mom.

Snacks:

The most common snack was fresh fruit. The simple abundance of fresh fruit was delightful. We ate fruit according to the seasons. I have often tried to count the different kinds of fruit in Guyana and have run out of steam before finishing the count. The gallery below show some photos taken at Bourda Market in Georgetown. This is a tiny sliver of the variety of fruit found in Guyana.

Snacks could also be homemade baked goods such as coconut buns (which are kinda like sweet scones) and fruit preserves like “guava cheese”and “gooseberry stew.”

  • Gooseberry Stew made by Auntie Faye
  • Guyanese vendor with pawpaws (papayas)
  • Fruit stand: Bourda Market, Georgetown
  • Lemons and passionfruit
  • Pineapples, oranges, watermelon
  • Fruit and vegetable stand: Bourda Market
  • Pears (avocados), sapodilla, mangoes, soursop

Supper:

This evening meal was the simplest: most often bread and jam with tea made from a herb called “sweet broom” that my sister and picked from the sandy yard. The jam (or jelly) was made from guava by my Auntie Cheryl – Granny’s third youngest offspring.

I dedicate this remembrance to my Granny and to my aunts who helped in the kitchen (Auntie Cheryl and Auntie Faye).

THE LUNCHTIME FORMULA

This formula is familiar to all Guyanese: vegetables, meat/seafood, rice/roti

INGREDIENTS

  • Vegetable of your choice. In addition to the ones featured here Guyanese use ochro, squash, cabbage, seim, corrilla.
  • Fresh herbs (onion, garlic, scallions, thyme are must haves in a Guyanese kitchen) and/or herb blend
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Curry powder (some recipes)
  • Tomatoes (some recipes)
  • Coconut milk (some recipes)
  • Meat/seafood of your choice cleaned and well seasoned (marinated)
  • Oil for sauteing
  • Rice of your choice
  • Ripe plantains as a side dish (optional/treat)
  • Fresh fruit drinks (guava, lime, five finger, cherry etc)

PREPARATION

  • Clean meat/seafood with limes/lemons or white vinegar.
  • Thoroughly season meat with blended fresh herbs and set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour and up to several days before cooking.
  • Finely chop generous amounts of onion, garlic, scallions. Thyme is optional. Set aside.
  • Dice or slice tomatoes if using them for example, with bora and bolounger (eggplant).
  • Cut up vegetables and set aside. Some vegetables are cubed, some cut in rings etc depending on the veggie in question.
  • Chicken: saute until browned and partially cooked
  • Beef, pork, lamb: brown nicely in 2-3 tablespoons of oil then put into a pressure cooker with a little water until almost tender.
  • Shrimp: season and set aside.
  • Fish: lightly flour and deep fry. Set aside.

BRING IT TOGETHER: Meat or Chicken

  • Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a good sized pot (like a Dutch oven)
  • Saute 1/3 of the fresh herbs until the onions are translucent.
  • Add the prepared meat/chicken and cook on medium flame until well mixed. Stir frequently. Add tomatoes now if you are using them. Cook until the tomatoes break down and the meat is approaching doneness and tender. Add a little water or wine and make sure meat is well cooked.
  • Add vegetable of your choice and the rest of the herbs along with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, Lower the flame. Cover the pot and let cook.
  • Serve hot with rice or roti.
Cook down the meat with tomatoes
Add the vegetable: Homegrown Bora with Chicken

BRING IT TOGETHER: Fish or Shrimp

  • Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a good sized pot (like a Dutch oven)
  • Saute 1/3 of the fresh herbs until the onions are translucent.
  • Add the vegetable along with salt and pepper to taste. Cook adjusting the flame between medium and low until tender and flavorful.
  • SHRIMP: Add the shrimp. Mix well and cover to cook for 3 minutes. Turn off the flame and let stand for 10 minutes or so. Serve hot with rice or roti.
  • FISH: Make a single layer of fish on top of the fully cooked vegetables. Cover the pot and let steam for 2-3 minutes. Turn off the flame and let stand for 10 minutes or so. Serve hot with rice or roti. ALTERNATIVELY: Serve the fried fish alongside the cooked vegetables and rice.

Cooking Like Granny: Monday

Baby bora II

BORA WITH CHICKEN

  • Bora with Chicken
  • White Rice
  • Fried ripe plantains
  • Swank (limeade made with brown sugar)

MY MODIFICATIONS

  • Jasmine rice instead of traditional Guyanese “white rice”
  • Homegrown bora in summer 2020 and 2021

This is THE most requested dish by my American born children.

My Recipe: Bora with Chicken

Cooking Like Granny: Tuesday

Pumpkin cooked in onion and herb blend-2

PUMPKIN

Pumpkin was my favorite vegetable as a child and one of the most underutilized and under appreciated vegetables in America.

  • Often cooked simply with different meats: chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, fish.
  • An extra special treat when served with roti.
  • Served with white rice as a simple weekday meal.

Cooking Like Granny: Wednesday

BOLOUNGER (EGGPLANT) WITH BEEF

  • Cooking bolounger in coconut milk is optional. I ALWAYS use coconut milk.
  • Pairs well with meat, poultry and seafood (fish and shrimp).
  • Served with rice (traditionally white rice in Guyana)
  • Very enjoyable with roti (preferred by my children)

This is another favorite in our home.

MY RECIPE: BOLOUNGER (EGGPLANT)

Cooking Like Granny: Thursday

CALLALOO (SPINACH) WITH FRIED BUTTERFISH

There are two main types of callaloo that I grew up eating in Guyana. One was similar to the “malabar spinach” which I’ve grown successfully here in NYC and which is pictured here in the background. This type is called “fat leaf callaloo” the other is called “fine leaf callaloo.”

Callaloo cooked separately from the fish and served without combining in one pot.

Cooking Like Granny: Friday

Butterfish Curry

How to make Butterfish Curry with potatoes
Chef’s Notes: Making CUrry

Good fish substitutes are red snapper or flounder fillet. Must be a white fish that holds its shape when fried.

Check out the post on Shindy’s Chicken Curry to get a handle of the basics of making a Guyanese style curry. Here you will learn:

  • How to make a curry paste
  • How to marinate your meat/seafood
  • Complete recipe for making fingerlicking chicken curry
  • Hints and tips for making seafood and vegetable curries

When Granny was old enough to be my Granny, she did not make roti. This is because the work she did growing up and as a young woman left her hands gnarled and disfigured with arthritis. Among her other jobs, Granny used to be a linen washerwoman, washing linens by hand and ironing them with an iron that was heated on a coal pot. So clapping roti would have been difficult for her. If she cooked fish curry, we would either eat it with rice or Auntie Cheryl would make the roti.

Auntie Cheryl
Auntie Cheryl (Cheryl Scotland)

WEEKEND COOKING IN ESSEQUIBO

Another of Granny’s favorite sayings was

Many hands make light work

Weekend meals were special because there were more hands in the kitchen and one of my Granny’s famous quotes was “Many hands make light work”. That was when the more complicated and time consuming dishes made their grand appearance. When crabs were in season, we would catch them on the beach at night time armed with flashlights and rubber slippers (flip flops). My Uncle Orin would cook crab curry or crab soup. Weekends also meant metemgee, cow heel soup, chowmein, and cookup rice…

REMEMBRANCES OF GRANNY

Me and Auntie Faye. I am the second eldest grandchild and Auntie Faye is the second youngest offspring

“She was a remarkable homemaker. Don’t forget the baking and making of all those snacks like salara, buns, pone (pumpkin and cassava). Making guava cheese and jelly, bread, bakes etc. She also preserved her own fish and shrimp by drying same. Those were just a few things that I have mentioned. She was also a very peaceful and kind hearted woman. She also cooked for various functions held by the church or other organizations that she was involved in.”

Felicie Hoppie (Auntie Faye)
Me and Andrew: My youngest uncle and Granny’s youngest offspring

That was my mother. She was a kind hearted woman and the best cook I ever had… all the different dishes you could possibly think about. She also loved gardening. Myself and her used to work on that part – raising chickens… and don’t forget the sheep that we had. She was also an ardent church goer. She was at that time in the Mother’s Union – herself and Miss Gibson and others.

Andrew Bacchus
On the right, Natalie London, Granny’s eldest niece

I remember her for sewing our school clothes, and in the afternoons we would takes walks in Suddie Housing Scheme to visit Miss Gibson and other old friends. At that time the housing scheme was being built.

Natalie London

“Monty go wash your face and hands and come upstairs.”

Clairmont London
Sadie Scotland: One of the grandchildren

I never really got to know her, but the little time spent with her was great. My sisters grew up with her & I only got to go up there like 2 times when she was alive & being small my sisters used to put me to do all the work & they sit and pass order. I would run to Granny & sit with her & don’t move. I would rub her foot or back. And when they called for me, Granny used to say “she is busy”. Would have been nice if I were given the opportunity to know her a little more.

Sadie Scotland

It’s 2022. What traditions from your heritage are you intentionally bringing forward into the new year?

Let me know in the comment section below

Happy New Year!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s