Well, look who it is! SnackTAYku International Vs. returns to usher in Christmas in July. Like the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Future, this edition of SnackTAYku International was relevant about six months ago and will be relevant about six months from now.
Fret not! Maybe you've been noticing ridiculous sightings in retail: Christmas decorations creeping from the back of the stores and lining the shelves. So while retail is being ridiculous, we'll be the same here on SnackTAYku International. No way is this a post that was written last year and missed its December deadline. Nope. I was just reminiscing as I stuffed my face with hamburgers over the 4th of July weekend, is all. Yep. Time Capsuling a post? Madness! Nay! It's not just madness! It's Christmas in July Madness!
In Trinidad, there's a type of folk music that will traditionally hit the airwaves around Christmas time called "parang". With its roots in Venezuela (that we borrowed on the sly and made even cooler), - the home of my fellow SnackTAYku International competitor, Nach - parangs document the culture of Trinidadian Christmas. Upbeat, catchy and designed for a good time, there's one parang in particular that captures exactly the sort of food most households in the Island have during the Season.
As the song goes, these are the essentials for a true Trini Christmas: bread, ham, pastelles, ginger beer, ponche de creme, sorrel and a glass of local wine. Every year my family tries to recreate the food as per our traditions. While we'll never again recreate the atmosphere of going to our uncle's house on Christmas Eve to make the aforementioned pastelles, or going to Midnight Mass as we did in our childhood; we have the next best thing. I'd tell you it's the joy of having our immediate family being together on the day and partaking in old traditions while continuing the new ones we started since moving to NY. And yes, that is quite joyful.
But this is SnackTAYku International... the REAL joy is the joy of having lots of hands and manpower to help make those time-consuming pastelles!
Pastelles are like meat pies but made with either minced chicken, beef, pork and uh, sometimes I think even fish may be used; with capers, olives, raisins and seasoning mixed in. This is all stuffed into a cornmeal pocket, which is then wrapped up in banana leaves, tied up with string and boiled. The meat is pre-cooked and the boiling is to cook that cornmeal.
Listen, let's be serious. If anything requires being wrapped up in banana leaves, then it entails some serious work.
Making pastelles requires a bit of a production line. That thing is called a pastelle press. It just flattens the cornmeal balls so that meat can be placed in...
There it is. The meat in our pastelles was a mixture of pork and beef. In front is a little caper for your viewing pleasure, while a humiliated grape/raisin hides in the background. Then that meat is layered on the cornmeal. I was in charge of the meat distribution and as it turns out, I did not gauge the ratio properly and some of the pastelles made nearing the end of the process were lacking. I decided to feed those to the Swan. Moving along, the cornmeal is then put on the banana leaf.
Alright, so we ran out of banana leaves. We instead started using parchment paper and foil. It works just as well. However, there's nothing like unwrapping a banana leaf on Christmas morning.
This is what it looks like once it's cut into after cooking. How did it get that pocket shape? The Swan is a master at folding the things into rectangles. Our meat is seasoned with hot pepper too. It never overwhelms the taste of the food but is just enough to give a little heat. When a raisin is found, it adds a little hint of sweet to the savoury for a wonderful blending of flavours.
Here's one that was made by a friend and given to us. This one was pure beef. Still a good time.
And here, some ponche de creme. It's a bit like eggnog, somewhat, if I had to describe it. But it packs a punch with lots of rum.
This thing here, is true blood. Bwahaha. Ah, no no. It's sorrel. A drink made from a a part of a type of hibiscus plant. The sorrel is brewed, sweetened and served cold.
And finally, a messy Christmas morning plate. The pastelle (from my friend's batch) crumbled when I was trying to rescue it from the banana leaf hence the mess. Also on the plate is some ham and fresh, homemade bread.
So that's it! A big part of the food tradition in Trinidad for Christmas. It's a typical breakfast and one that brings a little bit of the island back to us every year.
Alright, alright. I'm going to go eat whatever is in the fridge now. Or maybe, just maybe...there's a pastelle hanging out in the freezer somewhere. Christmas, here I come!