Christmas is here again and all Caribbean people know that they have to get in on the Christmas eating and everyone knows a good islander loves to cook. There is just no other holiday quite like this one where they love to show off their skills in the kitchen. Pots and pans are on the stove all season round as they host relatives and friends from near and far, or whoever doesn’t cook find themselves to a household who just doesn’t know when to turn off the stove.
Here are 6 Must Haves at a Caribbean Christmas Dinner that will leave you slumped back in your seat feeling the ethnic fatigue kicking in—in a good way.
Fruit Cake with Rum Sauce
Christmas cake always tops the list where Christmas Must Haves are concerned because Christmas just isn’t Christmas without this prized possession.
Whether it is baked in the comfort of your own home and your house smells like Christmas cake for days, or it’s baked at your favorite bakery where you have to stand in zig zag lines to get your order, it is something that everyone loves.
There is also the occurrence of the Christmas cake exchange among Caribbean nationals where they gift it to their neighbours, relatives, co-workers, or even that enemy down the road. It is a time where the season of giving and maybe a little competition—of whose Christmas cake is the better one, or the richest—comes into question.
When some individuals are not giving their Christmas cake away by the dozens, others use the Christmas season as an opportunity to make an extra buck. They ‘open shop’ and take orders for Christmas fruit and rum cake by the pound and the more ‘rich’ it is commands a higher price. Individuals who sell their cakes were once gift givers of cake themselves but—one faithful day— were encouraged by folks who loved their cakes to actually make a business from it.
From a mild fruit cake, a cake with too many fruits, to a cake with the capability to get you intoxicated from alcohol there is no one way to make a good Christmas cake. Some are economical and affordable and some are just about ready to break your bank. Whichever you choose, there is nothing like a good Christmas cake at Christmas time to complement your dinner.
Sorrel is usually harvested around the month of November just in time to be prepared for the Christmas festivities in December. Some islanders take this opportunity to dry the sorrel so that they can enjoy the drink all year round.
It is boiled and prepared by the gallons. It is known for islanders to add some rum to the mix whether they sweeten or leave the sorrel without sugar. Others just love the sorrel by itself, but nothing beats a glass of sorrel coupled with a piece of Christmas cake.
At Christmas the ham will be glazed to perfection and sitting at the center of the table on exhibition for everyone to see with that enticing look drawing everyone to dinner. Like the other components of a Christmas dinner, it isn’t complete without ham. There has to be ham involved… Just has to be.
In addition to other seasoning and spices; some people also use rum, pineapple glaze, pimento, or cherries when cooking their ham; cook it for 10 hours or take it out twice; cut off the fat or leave it to crisp and crackle. The list of cooking styles is endless. However you like to cook and decorate your ham, you know it’s going to be a big hit when everyone gathers to give thanks for the meal and enjoy the season.
I like baked macaroni and cheese, ham with pineapple glaze, crackling (crisp ham skin), Christmas cake with rum sauce and sorrel.” – Jamaican
Gungo Peas / Pigeon Peas
While expensive, it adds to the special feel of Christmas. Gungo peas replace the everyday go to rice and peas (red peas). An acquired taste since some are not used to a different type of peas because they have gotten accustomed to red peas or just white or brown rice by itself.
A bag usually costs a pretty penny, especially since vendors know that it is in demand for the Christmas season, so they hike up the price. Nonetheless a pot of gungo peas and rice is a necessity around the table. It goes well with your ham, chicken, curried goat and anything else you decide to serve on your plate.
Candid Sweet Potato
The lovely candid sweet potato has been around for centuries. Many islanders can recall it being done in a way that had the fingers being licked and the moments being savored. This tantalizing taste bud dish is an excellent addition to the array of dishes because it has just the right amount of sweetness without the feeling that you are eating dessert. It does not matter if you add marshmallows or pineapple juice, if you dish or crush it into a casserole dish you can serve it near to your prized macaroni and cheese; it will be a crowd favourite.
“Christmas would not be the same without sweet potato pie, pot roast pork, Christmas cake, macaroni pie (a Bajan favourite), Ham fat (I learned Jamaicans like to cut it off! I can’t believe it!) and lamb chops/stew.” – Bajan
Rum Punch or Any Alcohol
Egg nog is not really a Caribbean ‘thing’ but it is occasionally enjoyed in some Caribbean households during the Christmas season. Alcohol is enjoyed by many Caribbean households; from white rum to rum punch to rum cream, no matter the preference, as long as there is alcohol there is a party.
My guilty pleasure is Christmas cake! Also, my Trinidadian Christmas treats: Ponche de crème (an eggnog beverage with rum instead of the traditional brandy), pastelle (a soft cornmeal shell stuffed with minced meat and capers steamed in banana leaf like Jamaicans do blue draws). Making pastelle is a collaborative effort, and I have fond memories of helping my mother and grandmother put together dozens of them at Christmas time” – Trinidadian
By Alexandra Daley