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Cooking with Big Nanny
Big Nanny's Jamaican Kitchen
By Maeve Clarke
What’s cooking in Big Nanny’s kitchen? Read on to find out the secrets of the Black Country’s Queen of Caribbean cuisine.
Home from home
Originally from St Elizabeth, in the south-west of Jamaica, Veda Sampson, aka Big Nanny has made her home in the Black Country. She loves the multicultural aspect of the region which makes her think of Jamaica.
Hmmmm.. fried dish
The island’s history of slavery means a multitude of races from Arawak Indians and Africans to the Portuguese, Spanish and English have all contributed to the uniquely exotic tastes of the Jamaican cuisine.
Beaming, Big Nanny tells me, “I love the Black Country and I am proud and happy to know that I can put something together and link the Black Country with Jamaica. Afro-Caribbean food is a mixture of different influences; it’s like history repeating itself.”
Big Nanny learned to cook from her parents. She describes her mother as a ‘fish goddess’- a woman who could work miracles with produce from the sea, and her father as a magician in the kitchen. “He was so good,” she explains, “that even if he was just boiling water he could still make it taste sweet.”
Ackee and Saltfish
It was from her father that she learned how to cook ackee and salt fish, rice and peas, fried chicken and jerk pork, some of her favourite dishes.
Ackee and Saltfish
This is Jamaica’s national dish. - try it fresh if you ever go to the island!
Unfortunately, fresh ackee is unavailable in the UK, but tinned ackee can be obtained from Afro-Caribbean and Asian food shops, as well as from branches of major supermarkets.
Watch Big Nanny show you how to cook ackee and saltfish, as well as talking about her passion for cooking.
Big smiles from Big Nanny
“Rice and peas is a traditional thing out there because you can do a big pot of rice and peas. You can do a big pot of chicken, and it feeds a lot of family. Don’t forget we’re talking about extended family,” Big Nanny explains. “A traditional Jamaican Sunday dinner is a family affair.”
Large quantities of rice and peas, fried chicken, vegetables and gravy are prepared and family and guests squeeze themselves around the table. The traditional Sunday meal is a chance for the whole family to sit down together, catch up on news and gossip with their relatives.
Don't scrub your dutchie!
Pass the dutchie…
We’ve all sung the song, but does everybody know what a dutchie is? For those who don’t, a dutchie is a cast iron cooking pot. Traditionally used for outdoor cooking, it can also be used on standard gas and electric cookers. Available in all sizes, every Jamaican household has at least one – Big Nanny has 6 or 7!
The beauty of the dutchie (or ‘jester’ as they are sometimes called), is that it is almost impossible to burn food in them, and an entire meal can be prepared in a single pot.
One pot food
By the time Big Nanny got to discussing one pot food and Saturday soup, memories of my childhood were flowing thick and fast. Saturday Soup was cooked nice and slow in an enormous pot and contained everything: meat, vegetables such as yam, potatoes, cassava, green bananas, and boiled dumplings.
Big Nanny's Jamaican Kitchen cook book
Whilst it was cooking, we children got on with our chores and at the end of the day we sat down as a family and ate our soup. As Big Nanny reminds me, “when you’re eating all that, you’re eating all your nourishment and that’s the one pot meal. And it tastes damn good!”
“Organic is fashionable in the UK now, but we’ve always had it in the Caribbean,” Big Nanny says proudly. “No need for fertilisers.” Fruit is picked and vegetables are dug up moments before cooking so flavours are not lost.
Big Nanny continues to uphold this tradition by growing of many of the vegetables, herbs and spices she uses in her recipes. “I have a little plot where I grow my red peas, scallion and pumpkin. If you don’t have a big garden, doesn’t mean you can’t grow your herbs and spices.”
‘Food for Thought,’ (ACHIS – African Caribbean Health Improvement Service), is a booklet of healthy eating Jamaican recipe cards written by Big Nanny. The booklet was commissioned by the NHS, who distributed the cards throughout the public and voluntary sectors within Sandwell.
In 2007, Big Nanny won the prize for best Culture and Creative Arts at the fifth annual African Caribbean Business Federation Awards for ‘Big Nanny’s Jamaican Kitchen.’ On the same day she received a letter from ex-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, congratulating her on her work in promoting the healthy eating message.
The next generation
‘Mannish water’, ‘tie-a-leaf’, ‘mackerel rundown’, ‘stamp and go.’ Jamaican cuisine is nothing if not imaginative in the names of its dishes. However, with each new generation of children of West Indian origin born in the UK these dishes become lost or forgotten.
Passing onto the next generation
“The children born over here are losing out on Afro-Caribbean cooking,” Big Nanny explains, “that’s why I’m writing a cookery book for children. I want them to know that somebody somewhere cares enough to put a book together with traditional recipes.” She believes that not only will this help families to spend quality time together, but it will also ensure that Jamaican culture and traditions are not lost.
A Final word
When I ask Big Nanny when she is going to start slowing down, she laughs and tells me, “Life begins everyday if you now how to go about it. I am not going to retire until I can’t cook any more!”
Big Nanny’s cooking tips
last updated: 23/04/2008 at 14:47