I grew up in a small island in the Caribbean where every day women cook all three meals from scratch and without measuring a single ingredient. Most of them didn’t even have a cutting board and cutting up vegetables was done while holding the vegetable on hand. Other food that needed to be cut was done right on the counters, which were tough enough to survive cutting, hot pots, and anything else you wanted to put on it. The stoves were usually small charcoal stoves that are down on the floor and every family had at least one big cooking pot that was made from aluminum and was used for everything, including rice, meats, vegetables and soups. At each meal, you can smell the foods cooking from the kitchens of all the neighboring houses.
Each morning we began our day with hot chocolate and freshly delivered bread that was hot enough to melt the butter that my mother would slather on our breads. The bread was delivered by a little boy on his bike with a basket full of breads and you can hear him coming because he would yell as he rode, “Pan! Pan! Pan!” (in Spanish “pan” is bread). Me and my siblings would dunk the buttery bread into our hot chocolates and that was our breakfast. I can still smell the bread just thinking about it. Delicious.
At lunch time, women can be seen in their kitchen windows making full meals for lunch and the thought of a sandwich for lunch would’ve been laughable. Men would stop their work to eat their hot lunches that their wives brought to them or that they had stored in stainless steel containers with meals made that morning. For lunch and after school (school finished at noon), we’d rush home simply to eat and fuel up before play. Lunch could easily be as heavy as our typical dinners here in the States. Our bellies were filled and we were ready to play.
For dinner, we ate again a big meal and in that island, that usually meant white rice, beans and chicken or beef stew, which could easily have been what we had for lunch as well. On the side could be fried plantains and a green salad. Though don’t let the thought that it was left overs cross your mind, as everyone ate up everything at each meal and so each meal meant more cooking from scratch.
You may be wondering what we did for snacks in between meals. Well, we picked our own snacks! In our backyard we had banana trees, mango trees, pineapple plants and guava was not too far away. My brother would climb up a mango tree and knock a few mangoes down for us to catch as they fell down and then eat. Juicy, pouring down our shirts mangoes consisted of most our snacks.
Growing up this way and with good homemade food all around me and as part of my culture is probably why I became a foodie. In high school, while my friends had subscriptions to teen magazines, I had subscriptions to food magazines (which I still have some of them too!). Food intrigues me and makes me happy. And cooking soothes my soul. A lot of the food traditions are still in full bloom in my little island and if you were to go there and walk the streets, you’d also see the women in their kitchens chopping, stirring and cooking. And if you’re lucky, you may just get to one day eat with them there as well. Buen provecho!