Black Joy Through Food: Garden-To-Table Jamaican Traditions

Black Joy Through Food is a Sweet July series in collaboration with Black Women PhotographersThis photo essay is by Jessica Bethel

Growing up, I was always immersed in my Jamaican culture, especially through food. Over 30 years ago, my family migrated to the United States from Jamaica and England—and they’ve always made sure to keep a little piece of Jamaica with them no matter how far away they are from home. My grandparents have grown and harvested various types of fruits and vegetables native to the Caribbean over the last three decades. I’ve spent my childhood lending a hand in the harvest for mango season, shelling Gungo peas (also known as pigeon peas), eating oranges from the orange tree on the back patio, and watching my grandmother grind cassava and cut the coconut into small pieces to make bammy. West Indians have a deep, rich love for their cuisine and cultivate that through a garden-to-table experience.

When cooking traditional Jamaican cuisine, we typically grow herbs so that they are fresh and authentic. I went over to my grandparents’ house in Delray Beach, Florida, to pick up scotch bonnet pepper, gungo peas and fresh coconut for tonight’s dinner. I ended up with a harvest of other fruits and vegetables to bring back with me. Pictured to the left is scotch bonnet pepper, and pictured to the right are gungo peas.

I was able to pick up the first Otaheite apple (also known as the Jamaican apple) of the season from the tree. The Otaheite apple, red and juicy, is like no other.

Here, my grandpa stands by the mango tree with one of the first mangoes of the season. My grandparents grow several different types of fruits that are native to the Caribbean, such as Nasberry (also known as Sapodilla), June plum and Jackfruit, to name a few. Yet the most common fruit they grow is mangoes. Typically, May through September/early October is mango season in South Florida. I was able to witness the first mango of the season. In our family, we have about eight mango trees combined with various types of mangoes such as Peach mango, Haitian mango and East Indian mango.

Before heading back to my house, we sat in the back and my grandfather cut up some coconut for us to drink fresh coconut water and eat fresh coconut. I have so many similar fond memories growing up—there is nothing like fresh coconut water.

That evening, I brought back fresh coconut, Gungo peas and scotch bonnet for my mom to cook curry goat with rice and peas. My mom blended up the coconut milk and began to strain it to begin the process of making rice and peas. Coconut milk is one of the main ingredients. It creates the signature flavor in rice and peas.

Thyme and scotch bonnet are major components of Jamaican cuisine. Scotch bonnet is what adds heat to various dishes such as ackee and saltfish—be easy when adding it to a dish.

Although, traditionally, curry goat is served with white rice, there is nothing like fresh rice and peas straight from the garden. As a family, we enjoy passing along these traditions and sharing the harvest amongst each other. Caribbean cuisine is intentional and made from the heart. It’s an experience like no other. 

Below is the recipe for Curry Goat with Rice and Peas, if you would like to try it in your home.

Note: there is no exact measurement for each ingredientwe measure from the heart. 

Curry Goat
  • 5lbs of Goat meat cut into small pieces (washed with salt, lime, and vinegar)
  • Curry powder 
  • Onion powder 
  • Garlic powder
  • Black Pepper 
  • All-purpose seasoning 
  • Salt
  • 6-8 Pimento seeds
  • Small piece of fresh ginger grated 
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Onions 
  • 1 white potato sliced
Rice & Peas
  • 2lbs of Jasmine Rice
  • Fresh Gungo peas or 20z can of Gungo peas (Pigeon peas)
  • 1 can of Coconut Milk
  • Few sprigs of thyme 
  • 1 chopped large onion 
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed/ powder
  • Pimento seeds
  • 1 Whole Scotch Bonnet pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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