The Spice Necklace Blog

Ann's Blog

Late dispatch from Trinidad:
July 10, 2012:
A mother-in-law with
a fiery personality

Is it any wonder I love island markets when each visit promises a new taste? I’ve blogged before about how I try to buy something new and untried each time I go to market (most recently, about my discovery of gòspo), and I’m happy to report I managed to keep my success rate at 100% right through the end of our cruising season this year. (We’re now back in Toronto until next fall – Receta is once again waiting for us in Trinidad – but I’m still catching up on my island posts.) When we hit the St. George’s, Grenada market on our way south at the end of the season, I spotted a little heap of lime-like green fruits at one stand. They had pebbled skin and a nipple-like protruberance at one end.

“Grate the skin into cakes and breads,” I was told when I asked what they were. But I needed a name. It sounded like the market ladies were saying “belle gamut,” or “belle gabot,” and I assumed it was a Creole word: beautiful…something.

My funny-looking lime turned out to be a bergamot.
Back onboard, I checked my Caribbean dictionaries, plant books, and cookbooks (if you ever wondered why Receta has a slight list…). I found nothing. The light bulb went on a couple days later, when Amy Cotler, a recipe developer, cookbook author, and caterer (among other things) visiting Devi and Hunter on Arctic Tern, mentioned the bergamot she had bought in the St. George’s market. Belle gamut, bergamot, bingo.

A taste of the juice explained why Grenadian cooks use
only the zest.
Bergamot has a haunting fragrance – you’ll know it if you drink Earl Grey Tea, which uses the fruit’s essential oil – and is thought to have developed from a cross between a sour orange and a lemon. Which pretty much describes the taste of the juice: Very sour. It also has a bitter edge. Following the advice of the market ladies, I stuck to using the fragrant zest. I added about a teaspoon to a ginger cake (the quantity my market advisors had recommended), and the remainder to a fish marinade. In neither case was the new flavour particularly obvious, but both recipes (old standbys) seemed particularly delicious with the addition.

When we reached Trinidad, even though we were trying to empty the boat, I made two visits to the Saturday market in Port of Spain. I stopped at one of my favourite stands to buy a jar of tamarind chutney to take north with us, and I noticed something new: The jars, previously unmarked, now had fancy printed labels. And one was ID’ed as “Mother in Law.” It looked like a chunky salsa.

“Why’s it called Mother in Law?” I asked. “Because it’s hot like a mother in law,” came the answer. That would be “hot” in the sense of a fiery personality, a blistering tongue. I read the ingredients on the label: pepper – which, in Trinidad, means hot fresh Congo peppers – was first on the list. Of course I bought a jar.

I thought buss-up-shut, a type of flatbread, took the prize for
the Trini food with the most colorful name (it's Trini for "burst-up-shirt",
because that's what it looks like). Then I met Mother in Law.

Funny how when you’re introduced to something, you then begin to see it everywhere. A couple of nights later, Steve and I were wandering among the evening food stalls at the Savannah – he had refused to leave Trinidad without having a Guinness-and-barbadine smoothie, but that’s another story – and we spotted a table with Mother in Law. This label was more specific: Instead of merely “vegetables,” it listed carrot, onion, and caraillie – a cucumber-like fruit also known as bitter melon. Great, a mother in law who’s both incendiary and bitter. Of course we bought a jar.

Home in Toronto, I opened this second jar. The tiniest taste had me gasping – it was throat-searing, eyes tearing hot. I never want to meet the mother in law that inspired this recipe.

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3 comments on “Late dispatch from Trinidad:
July 10, 2012:
A mother-in-law with
a fiery personality

  1. Natalie on said:

    Magnificent! Bergamot…I’m so jealous. And leave me laughing.

  2. Steve on said:

    After reading your books we found ourselves in St George’s market on Sat morning. A cruise ship had come into port so the “Crazy” level was through the roof. Excitement all around. We were determined to by something we’ve never seen before. I don’t remember what is was; some sort of ground vegetable but what I do remember is only having a $50 bill for something that cost less than $5. The woman said she didn’t have change but could go see a friend to help us. We let her disappear into the crowd with $50 to seek change. We never would have done this without first reading your books. Shortly thereafter the woman returned with change and wished us a blessed day. We paid it forward by buying spice necklaces and other items from many vendors and slipping some money to the homeless. You work is much more than a ship’s log or cookbook. It’s a bible. Keep it up – spread the peace love and understanding.

  3. wendy on said:

    Ann, Got those limes once here in the market, they did com from Grenada, I actually found that they smelled and tasted like Kaffir limes! Interesting eh?

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