By Susan Harewood
I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news….actually the great news is that Cynthia’s book, My Caribbean Cookbook Tastes Like Home, will be available on Amazon.com tomorrow so we can all go online and buy it. The bad news? Well now with Cynthia’s book is out I have no more excuses for not going into the kitchen and creating great Caribbean dishes for myself (it used to be so much easier just to wait for Cynthia).
Oh I’m sorry, you have no idea who I am. Obviously you are used to having Cynthia here in this spot in The Scene every Saturday. I should introduce myself perhaps, though actually you do know me. Whenever you have read Tastes Like Home and Cynthia has written, “and my tasters said…” more often than not, I was one of the lucky people chosen to be a taster. Hey it’s a tough gig, but someone has to do it!
I’ve watched the genesis of this book, ever since it was no more than a pilot light gleaming in Cynthia’s eye. So from my expert position (i.e. seated expectantly at the dining table) let me tell you why this book is special.
When Cynthia’s publisher sent her the proofs to check out the book, I got an opportunity to see the book and what struck me was the range of colours in the photographs. Now, this might seem obvious. The Carib-bean is often depicted using bold, vibrant reds and yellows. But what struck me about My Caribbean Cookbook Tastes Like Home was that it was not just composed of those colours that are seen as “typically tropical.” The entire Caribbean palette was there. The rich browns of the ground provisions and baked goods, dark greens and light greens of the vegetables and seasonings, the stark whites of rice – all of these were present along with those reds, oranges, yellows of tropical fruit, drinks, and peppers. In other words, all the colours are there. This book fills in the details that are so often left out of representations of the Caribbean. Tourism brochures and blockbuster movies (Pirates of the where?) often sketch one face of the Caribbean.
Cynthia’s book paints the whole portrait.
I’ve tracked the comments on Cynthia’s blog ever since she started writing her column. I’ve also read comments people have placed on her column, and it is clear to me that this culinary portrait that Cynthia has consistently drawn in her columns and which she has gathered together in My Caribbean Cookbook Tastes Like Home is a likeness that feels wonderfully familiar to so many members of her audience.
There are those people who live in the Caribbean and take pride in seeing the foods they eat each day photographed and written about with such care and respect. There are those folks who live far away from their Caribbean beginnings for whom the stories recipes and pictures stir memories of their childhoods. Through her food memories, pictures and recipes they remember their mums and aunts and cousins as Cynthia introduces us to her mum and aunts and cousins. There are those folks all over the globe who, perhaps, were not aware of how culturally diverse the Caribbean is. They are suddenly and pleasantly confronted by the contributions their people have made to the culinary traditions of the Caribbean. I’m always struck by the bloggers who start their comments “I never knew you all did this too…” There are also people for whom the familiarity of Cynthia’s portrait comes
from the stories their Caribbean spouses and parents have told them about the region, even if they have never visited the Caribbean themselves. Their comments usually start “Oh that’s what my husband means when he says…”
Of course, the book also appeals to people for whom the Caribbean is totally unfamiliar. These are the future visitors to the region who have been inspired to take a look behind the tourist brochure to take a taste of the rich culinary life of the Caribbean.
My Caribbean Cookbook Tastes Like Home, therefore, is a detailed picture, painted lovingly of the everyday culinary life of the Caribbean and the extraordinary cultural diversity of the region. The book opens with a food memoir, some of her best and favourite columns in which Cynthia offers a rich and often intimate glimpse of Caribbean food life from a perspective that feels as if we are sitting down to breakfast, lunch, or dinner with Cynthia and her family. These wonderful food memories are followed by the recipes and the glorious pictures of so many of the food favourites that can be found on Caribbean tables throughout the region and in the Caribbean diaspora.
Look, I started this guest column by pointing out the great news – Cynthia’s book will be available for sale online tomorrow and we should all go out and buy it. But, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to be totally honest with you. I’m getting a free copy. Being a taster has its privileges. But don’t be too jealous of me, I recently moved away from Barbados and I have had to give up my seat at the dining table to another taster. Is it better to have tasted and lost, than to have never tasted at all? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that, even though I am a mere neophyte in the kitchen, I am going to sit down with My Caribbean Cookbook Tastes Like Home and study it like I’m cramming for an exam. It is only by learning these recipes that I’m going to be able to get anything that tastes like home.
To congratulate the author:
For a taste of home: www.tasteslikehome.org