The Spice Necklace Blog

Ann's Blog

Chaguaramas, Trinidad:
November 26, 2012:
Cookin’ up a pumpkin
with skin like a toad

One of my favourite Trinidadian words is crapaud. Pronounced “cra-póh,” it comes from the French Creole and generally refers to any toad or frog. Usually, however, the creature in question is specifically a Bufo marinus, a large, extremely common toad that’s native to Trinidad and can grow – wait for it – up to 9 inches long. (The largest recorded specimen was 15 inches long, but I’m not counting that one since it was kept as a pet and likely didn’t have to work very hard for its lunch.) In my experience, spotting a live crapaud takes some looking, but finding one flattened on the road is (sorry) dead easy, especially during rainy season, when they wander about looking for a place to lay their eggs. I love the word crapaud because it’s at the root of several fabulous Trini expressions. Like “crapaud-foot writing.”

In fact, I suffer from this affliction: It means my handwriting is almost illegible, as if a toad scratched out a message with a pen held between two of its three toes. “Crapaud goin’ to church” means the same thing, though Lord knows why.

Crapaud-back pumpkin may be toad-ugly on the
outside, but it's sweet and delicious inside
that warty skin

And then there’s “crapaud smoke yuh pipe” – which means you are in big trouble. (Think about it: Would you want one of your personal items in a toad’s mouth?) If crapaud smoke yuh pipe, things are as bad as if “corbeau (a large vulture) pee on yuh.” Things are definitely not going your way.

Much, much better is “crapaud-back pumpkin,” named for its lumpy, toad-like skin. I’d heard it was delicious – its flesh very sweet and not at all watery – but I’d never seen one until a few days ago. On a day trip with Jesse James, we stopped at a roadside stand on the east coast of Trinidad, between Manzanilla and Mayaro, for wedges of watermelon fresh from the field behind it.

Sandra, with her crapaud-back pumpkins. The straight-from-the-field watermelon she was selling was pretty amazing, too.
At the far end of the table were a few smallish, bumpy, yellow-green pumpkins that looked nothing like the comparatively smooth-skinned monsters so common in markets up and down the Caribbean. I asked what they were. “Crapaud-back punkin,” said Sandra, who runs the stand with her daughter, Beverley. “You have to steam it because it’s very dry,” Sandra warned. “But it’s deh best punkin.” I was delighted and, of course, bought one to take back to the boat. She also told me it would easily last a month if I didn’t cut into it.

I had no intention of waiting that long. Last night, I peeled and cut half of it into chunks and steamed it as directed. Then I sautéed onion, garlic, and seasoning peppers in a little olive oil and butter, added some Trini curry, tossed the pumpkin in the mixture, let it cook for a few minutes, and mashed/puréed it with my wand blender.

Scoop it up: My curry crapaud-back pumpkin with
sada roti was a smash(ed) hit
I served it for dinner with curry vegetables and channa (chickpeas), and sada roti (storebought, I confess) for scooping the curries up. We agreed the whole dinner tasted Trini – which is very high praise on our boat – and the crapaud-back pumpkin was, as advertised, “deh best.”

I can hardly wait to use the other half.

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