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COOKBOOKS AND CARIBBEAN CULTURAL IDENTITY: AN ENGLISH-LANGUAGE HORS D'OEUVRE

Author(s): B. W. Higman
Source: NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids, Vol. 72, No. 1/2 (1998), pp.
77-95
Published by: BRILL on behalf of the KITLV, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and
Caribbean Studies
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41849892
Accessed: 28-08-2015 19:38 UTC
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B.W. Higman

COOKBOOKS AND CARIBBEAN CULTURAL IDENTITY:


AN ENGLISH-LANGUAGE HORS D'OEUVRE

In any attemptto understandthe culture-history


of food,the prescriptive
textshold an important
The
or
place.
simple complexfactof publicationis
in
a
codification
of culinaryrulesand a notion
significant itself,indicating
thatthereexists a marketfor such information
or an audience to be influenced.It can be arguedthatthe emergenceof the cookbook marksa
criticalpointin thedevelopmentof anycuisine and thatthespecialization
and ramification
of textshas muchto tell about thecharacterof national,
regional,and ethnicidentities.For these several reasons,a studyof the
historyof cookbooks publishedin and havingto do withthe Caribbean
can be expectedto throwsome lighton whatit means to be Caribbeanor
to identifywithsome smallerterritory
or grouping,and how thismeaning
has changedin responseto social and politicaldevelopment.1
The transition
fromtheoral to thewritten
an important
stage
represents
in thefixingof an objectivetextand thestandardization
of itselements(as
in the measuresand cookingtimesappropriateto a recipe). The printing/
since it
publicationof a text(as in a cookbook) is even more significant,
makesthetextavailable fordiscussionand criticismin waysthatoral traditionsare not.Such a processof criticismmay acceleratetherateof change
or rationalizationand facilitatesocial emulation.In orderto understand
these processes of change,poststructuralist
has abandoned
anthropology
the search for an underlyingcode such as the "culinarytriangle"(raw/
cooked/rotten)and its associated "triangleof recipes" (grilled-roasted/
smoked/boiled),and seeks ratherto take a developmental approach
(Goody 1982, 1987; Mennell 1985). Studiesof culinarytextshave, however,been few. Perhaps,it has been said, thisis because few scholarsare
NewWest
Indian
Guide/Nieuwe
West-Indische
Gidsvol.72no.1 & 2 (1998):77-95

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78

B.W. HIGMAN

cooks, and even fewercooks are scholars.Again,thecookbookmayhave


from
been seen as too humblea literaryformto be deservingof attention
in genderterms(Appadurai
historiansor the neglectcan be interpreted
1988; Bell & Valentine1997:172-75).
The presentpaper offersno morethanan appetizer,a partialand preon an analysisof 119 Englishliminarysurveyof thearea,based primarily
languagecookbooks publishedin or havingto do withtheCaribbean.All
of these are listedin the Referencesbelow, but the sample is incomplete
even for the "Anglophone"Caribbean. One reason for this incompleteness is thatlibrariesseem notto have followedan aggressiveacquisition
policy in respectto the humblecookbook. Some of the books are true
ephemera,easily fallingoutsidethenet,buta good numberof itemsresting
on kitchenshelves are not foundin the region's public libraries.In any
of trendsin thequantityand contentof cookbooks
case, theinterpretation
mustbe approachedcautiously,bearingin mindthepoor survivalchances
of this literaturein librariespublic and private.It is indicativethatthe
reviewarticlesof Richardand Sally Price,regularly
publishedin theNWIG
cookbooksin
between 1992 and 1996, includedfewCaribbean-published
their
of
culinarymetaphors.
spite
Caribbean
1890-1997
Table 1. A SampleofEnglish-Language
Cookbooks,
inother Published
in
Published
FirsteditionPublished Published
inJamaica(British)
CaribbeanotherCaribbeanousidethe
territories
Caribbean
territories

1890-1899
11
1900-1909
1910-1919
1
1
1920-1929
1930-1939
1
1
1940-1949
2
1950-1959
2
3
1
1960-1969
4
4
10
1970-1979
7
8
3
14
1980-1989 22
1990-1997 16
6
2
9
Total

49

22

11

37

Total
f~
2
2
2
6
25
47
33_
119

Table 1 sets out a preliminarychronologyof the publishinghistoryof


English-languagecookbooks relatingto the Caribbean,derivedfromthe
are necessary.Publications
sampleof 119 items.A fewpointsof definition
counted as "cookbooks" are separateprinteditems devoted to the pre-

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ANDCARIBBEAN
COOKBOOKS
IDENTITY
CULTURAL

79

sentationof recipes for the preparationof food (and occasionally also


drink).Recipes also appearin travelguides and newspapers,forexample,
but these are not counted.Manuscriptcollectionsare also excluded.The
table is mostreliableforJamaica,butthepatternis similarformostof the
categories,so some broad generalizationscan be advanced knowingthat
furtherresearch,particularlyon the Hispanic Caribbean,will no doubt
demandrevision.
The earliestknownEnglish-languagecookbookpublishedin theCaribbean is Caroline Sullivan's Jamaica CookeryBook of 1893. A tricklefollowed down to the 1960s, and thentherewas an explosionin outputthat
continuesto the present.Two questions standout. Why did publication
begin so late, and why has the cookbook become so commonin the last
twentyyears?
In Western Europe, cookbooks were among the earliest of printed
books and by the middle of the sixteenthcenturycookbooks had been
printedin all of themain languagesof theregion(Mennell 1985:65). The
verbaltextssince theseventhor eighthcentury
Chinese had been printing
and the firstknowncookbook appeared duringthe Tang Dynasty(618907) (Chang 1977:87; Anderson 1988:56). In the Caribbean and the
Americasgenerally,printingfollowedon theheels of Europeancolonizationand servedas a tool of theEuropeancivilizingmission.The Caribbean
became a majorproducerof food,and manualswere writtento guide this
productionin its agriculturaland labor aspects during the period of
slavery.But no cookbookshave been identified.
Fromthemiddleof theeighteenth
century,
Englishcookbooksincluded
"West Indian" recipes.For example,thefiftheditionof The Artof Cookeryby HannahGlasse, publishedin 1755, containedelaborateinstructions
on how "To dress a turtlethe West Indian way." Glasse notedthat"In
theWest Indies theygenerallysouse thefins,and eat themcold, omitthe
liver,and only send to thetable thecallepy,and soop" (Glasse 1775:67).
Recipes forthecookingof turtleremainedcommonin Englishcookbooks
(Carter 1772:28; Briggs 1792:54). Both English and NorthAmerican
cento the Caribbean,in the eighteenth
cookbooks occasionally referred
to
how
and
directions
"West-India
as
in
tury,
pepper pot" (soup)
"caveach" fish"as practisedin theWest Indies" (Briggs 1792:35; Hooker 1984:58). No doubt West Indian plantersand merchants,and their
wives, possessed copies of such cookbooksbut theydid notreprintthem
or produceworksdefininga particular"West Indian"cuisine.
The firstcookbook publishedin the United States of "American"authorshipappearedin 1796 (Simmons 1965; Lowenstein1972:4). No such
manuals appeared duringthe colonial period. The association with the

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80

B.W. HIGMAN

is significant,
butit is equallyimportant
to
establishment
of thenation/state
observe thatslave societyand a developedcuisine,as symbolizedby the
cookbook, were not contradictory.Goody (1982:98) has argued that
cookbooks are most likelyto appear in literatecivilizationswith"high"
cuisine markinga societythat
and "low" cuisines: "a trulydifferentiated
as
well
as
is stratified
culturally
politically."He has arguedalso thatthe
natureof a cuisine is closely relatedto thesystemof foodproductionand
is seen as criticalto the
Wherethedisplayof class hierarchies
distribution.
maintenanceof a social order,and wherethe powerfulclasses consume
exotic, expensive foods, therecookbooks with theircommunicationof
specialistknowledgeare likelyto be published(Appadurai1988:4).
of theCaribThis argumentsuggestsseveralinteresting
interpretations
and techniquesof food preparation
bean case. One is thatthe ingredients
and thata "creole" cuisinereadilyunderwere not stronglydifferentiated
stoodby cooks, slave or free,emergedat an earlyperiod.Thereis evidence
to supportthis conclusion,but equally thereis muchto suggestthatthe
planterclass did enjoy and displaya cuisinewhichwas "high"in quality
it
as well as quantity.Certainlyfood was a culturalfocus. Alternatively,
rise
of
and
the
be
contended
that
the
may
rapid
absentee-proprietorship
shrinkageof thewhitepopulationin theBritishWestIndiesmeanttoo few
high tables to provide a marketfor specialized cookbooks and too few
literatecooks to make use of them.The male dominanceof whitesociety
may be significanthere,removinga potentialliteratefemalesupervisory
class fromthe kitchen.Yet anotherinterpretation
mightbe thattheWest
Indian planterclass was too powerfullyorientedto English cultureand
thatits highcuisinerelatedalmostexclusivelyto dishesthatcould be prepared froman Englishcookbook.This is notveryconvincing,in termsof
the evidence foundof plantertables, and it may be concluded thatthe
argumentsrootedin the size of the marketand the creolizationof cooks
and cookeryseem muchmorefruitful
linesof investigation.
Thus farthe argumenthas been concernedwithan absence,thefailure
of the sugar-slaverysociety of the West Indies to produce even one
cookbook witha creole/regional
orientation.Emancipationmade no difference.It was not untilthe 1890s and the collapse of sugar in Jamaica
that a cookbook was published,with a self-conscious"Jamaican"perspective.Caroline Sullivan's Jamaica CookeryBook of 1893, beginning
withturtlesoup, was directedespeciallyat "new-comers"to
appropriately
the island and explainedfortheirbenefitthe ways of the "natives."This
approachreflectedthe resurgenceof the plantation,particularly
through
thebanana, and the arrivalof a new kindof white"settler"and "visitor."
On salt-fish,Sullivan said (1893:12-15): "It is surprisingto most new-

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ANDCARIBBEAN
COOKBOOKS
CULTURAL
IDENTITY

81

comersto findthatin Jamaicathereis hardlya morepopulardish among


thenativesand oftenamongtheupperclasses thanthe despised salt-fish,
eatenat home [GreatBritain]notfromchoice,- butas a sortof penitential
dish." On meat,she said that"In thislittlework... mydesireis merelyto
introduceto new-comersto Jamaica,our own nativemethodsof cooking
our own products."She succeeded in producinga book almost exclusivelybased on uniquely"Jamaican"recipes,bringingtogetherhigh and
low cuisines fora middle-and upper-classaudience.AlthoughSullivan's
in 1897, it was soon lost to local memoryand returned
book was reprinted
to printed.
to manuscript
formin a reverseprogressionfromoral to written
Thus in 1984 JohnPringleprivatelyprinteda collection of recipes reputedly collected by his father'shousekeeperand writtenin exercise
books,whichprovedto have been merelya manuscript
copy of Sullivan's
published book. Sullivan herselfgives no clues to the sources of her
"collection"but theywere no doubta mix of oral and writtentexts,obtained fromcooks and housekeepersand contemporary
publicationsinwhich
she
refers
(to
explicitly).
cludingnewspapers
The Recipes for Cooking WestIndian Yams publishedin 1902 by the
Imperial Departmentof Agriculturewere designed for a metropolitan
readership,since "an effortis about to be made to introduceWest Indian
yams intothemarketsof theUnitedStatesand Canada and of theUnited
this publicationarguedthatwhen in
Kingdom" (preface). Interestingly,
season yams "forma standarddish at the planterstable, in additionto
being one of the staple foods of the estate labourersand, in fact,of all
the West Indies" (ImperialDepartmentof Agriculture
classes throughout
1902:6). Recipes (contributed
by Mrs. J.R.Bovell) wereofferedforbaked,
boiled and roastedyams,and foryamchips,yamrice,yamrissoles,yamau
and yampudding.
choux, porcupineyam,yamfritters,
A Handbook of TrinidadCookery, compiledby an unnamed(female)
editorand publishedin England around 1920, collected recipes "kindly
contributed
by housewives."In thiscase therewas no attemptto definea
creole cuisine, thoughthe readerwas assuredthatall of the ingredients
was mechanand utensilscould be obtainedin Trinidad.The arrangement
contributed

la
Sandiford"
with
by
"Agouti
ically alphabetical,beginning
were female,Mrs. someone or other,
Mrs. Greig. All of the contributors
includingsome probableBarbadians(Mrs. Yearwood who offered"sweet
Barbados biscuits"and Mrs. E.L. Bovell with"jug"). None of the recipe
names were associated with "Trinidad" but there were four "creole"
items: creole cocoa, creole savoury(melangene),creole salad (calaloo,
onion,limejuice), and saltfish la creole.Therewere
potatoes,breadnuts,
for
lappe, pilau, sancocho,pepperpot, calaloo, but no pastelles.
recipes

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82

B.W. HIGMAN

Bengal chutneywas contributedby Mrs. Adolphus Gittens,and "Bobotee" (Indian curry)by Mrs. Rankin.
Similar in approach and style was The Peter Pan Book of Recipes
compiledby Mrs. W. Baillie and publishedin Jamaicain 1928. This is the
firstCaribbeancookbook identifiedwithoutany West Indianreferencein
or prefaceand simplycommences
its title.The book has no introduction
with"Baked Banana." Recipes forbreadfruit,
cassava, coconut,and other
local materialsare mixed with macaroni,scones, and junket; the only
sectionidentifiedwiththeisland is for"Jamaicadrinks"(tamarindwater,
sorrel,pine,and soursop drink).This thenis thefirstexampleof a general
cookbook, unreflectiveof any local orientation,sold to raise fundsfor
charity,at one shillinga copy towardsthe JamaicaWesleyanChildren's
cenHome. Such ventureswere to become commonin thelatertwentieth
tury.
No new cookbooks have been identifiedfor the 1930s. Two were
publishedin the 1940s, one in Trinidadand theotherin London,butnone
in the 1950s. In thecase of Jamaicano cookbookis knownfortheentire
period 1930 to 1962, theperiodof social unrestleadingup to Federation
and independence.No cookbook associatedwiththeFederationhas been
of nationalidenidentified.It mustbe concludedthenthatthe formation
tities prior to political independencein the Britishcolonies found no
of a WestIndiancuisine.
expressionin thedefinition
significant
The two cookbooks of the 1940s standout as exceptionsto thisgeneral rule.The firstof these,WestIndian Cookery, was publishedin London
in June1945 and reprinted
regularlydownto 1976 whena revised,abbreviatedversionappeared.The author,Miss E. PhyllisClark,was "formerly
Lecturerin DomesticScience, Government
TrainingCollege forTeachers,
Trinidad and Tobago and of Departmentof Education, Uganda." She
preparedthe book "at the express requestof the Trinidadand Tobago
NutritionCommittee"and it was intendedto "fosterin the younga correct attitude"towardsnutritionand diet, and to reduce the incidenceof
malnutrition.Thus the approach was strictlydidactic and the contents
divided between sections on "Food" and "How to Cook Foods." The
came first,withWest Indian referencesbut gennutritionalinformation
in
a
framework.Only Chapter 10
universal/tropical
erally presented
a
local
Provisions"
had
"Ground
genuinely
ringto it. The second section
includeda discussionof mudovens and coal-potsbutfollowedthroughto
the electricstove. The recipes includedpastelles,sancoche,and the like,
withoutexplicitassociationwithanyCaribbeanor Trinidadianidentity.
"Creole" dishes includedonly creole pea soup, creole turtlesoup, creole sauce or gravy,and creolepeppersauce. "Jamaicaakras"was theonly

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IDENTITY
ANDCARIBBEAN
CULTURAL
COOKBOOKS

83

recipeto mentionthe name of a West Indianisland colonyin its title.Of


greaterinterestis the inclusionof a seriesof special chapterson dietsfor
babies, toddlers,mothers,sick people and vegetarians,followedby East
of the substantialproportion
Indian recipesto "caterfortherequirements
of East Indian populationof some of the Islands," and a chapterof Chiintactin latereditions.
nese dishes.These lasttwochaptersremainvirtually
If Clark's WestIndian Cookerylacked a strongregionalidentityJean
de Boissiere's Cooking Creole publishedthreeyears laterin 1948 was
self-consciousin its message. A criticof colonial society,de Boissiere
(1907-53) belonged to the FrenchCreole strandof Trinidadianculture.
Althoughde Boissiere was apparentlythe firstmale to publish a West
Indian cookbook, he consistentlyidentifiedthe cook as female. In the
Trinidadit is
"Entree"to Cooking Creole he claimed that"To understand
Boissiere
live
them"
essentialyou know her foods and
1992:3). In
(de
by
thecourse of a week, said de Boissiere,typicalCreole meals touchedthe
English (roast beef and baked potatoes),the French(saltfishau gratin),
Africa is
Spain (peppers and corn), and India (marsala). Interestingly,
absentfromthe list,but he arguedthat"Creole cooking is international;
all national prejudices must be dropped and our food approachedwith
an open palate" (de Boissiere 1992:3). His recipes did howeverinclude
of CookingCreole carriesan
dishesof "Africanorigin."The 1992 reprint
introduction
by GerardBesson whichgives a largerplace to Africain the
developmentof a "patois of taste," and also includes the Chinese and
to "Creole cookingor West Indiancooking ...
Portugueseas contributors
a grandamalgam of our historicalexperience"(de Boissiere 1992:introduction).
The firstcookbook,so faridentified,
publishedin Jamaicain the 1960s
was Leila Brandon's A Merry-Go-Round
of Recipes fromJamaica, first
after
the
in
1963,
independence.It was directedparticuyear
appearing
from
home who have a nostalgiclonging
at
"Jamaicans
livingaway
larly
fordishes peculiarlyJamaican,and also to visitorsto Jamaicawho have a
flairfor cooking and would like to trytheirhands at dishes theyhave
forthe
enjoyedhere."These two new audienceswereto remainimportant
Brandon
this
however,
(1963:3),
objective,
years.Beyond
followingthirty
witha reputationforStonyHill hautecuisine,expresseda desire "to see
produceda reallycomprehensiveCook Book fromJamaicawhichwould
take its place in thecountriesall over theworld,famedfortheirexcellent
cuisine." In these ways, can be seen a claim forWest Indian cuisine as
forthefixing
"high"ratherthanlow or common,and hence a justification
of texts.Equally can be seen a lookingback, fromtheperspectiveof the
diaspora,to a styleof cookingwhichshouldbe preserved.Brandonbegan

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84

B.W. HIGMAN

with"JamaicaRum Baba," in whichlocal rumwas the nationalelement.


She also offeredrecipes for "Dundee Cake ( la Jamaique),""Jamaica
Rum Souffle,""JamaicaRumCream,""JamaicaNorthshore
Devilled Loband
"Jamaica
"Jamaica
Planter's
Cheese
Go,"
ster,"
Cake," "JaStamp
maica Limbo Plantain,""JamaicaCornedBeef," "JamaicaCoca Fritters,"
"JamaicaShrimp-andRice," "JamaicaBeef Patties,""JamaicaSweet Potato Pone," "JamaicaYellow Yam Pudding,"and a series of "Jamaica"
drinks.Rice and peas Brandonidentified
as "JamaicaCoat of Arms."Two
thefirstan "overseasversion"
recipesforsalt fishand ackee wereoffered,
using canned ackee and the second "a Jamaicanspecialty."Brandonalso
included"traditional"JamaicaChristmaspudding.
Of the forty-five
cookbookspublishedin Jamaicasince 1970, nineteen
were writtenor edited by women and nine by men. The authorsof the
remainderhave not been identified.The typicalauthorbelonged to the
urban middle classes. More interesting
perhapsis the increasingdifferentiationof the books. Specialized collectionsappearedforparticularingredients:bananas,callalu,pimento,cheese,peas, rice,and rum.Ganja was
not among these,thoughit was the subjectof at least one cookbookproduced in theUnitedKingdom(Eric 1995). The itemspublishedin Jamaica
included guides forvegetarians(Mahabee & Milton 1987), disasterpreparedness (Leslie 1990; Thompson 1990), and nutrition(Leslie 1991).
in theirtitlesto tradition
Books referring
and nostalgiaincludedJamaican
:
Old
Jamaican
Grandmothers
Cookery Recipesfrom
(Spence 1981), Restaurantsof Jamaica 1983-84, Featuring TraditionalJamaican Recipes
(1983), Traditional Jamaican Cookery(Benghiat 1985), A Taste of the
Old Home Place (Cuff1989), The JamaicanChef:Over a Centuryof TraditionalJamaican Dishes (Murray& Lewin 1990), and Busha Browne*
s
Traditional
Jamaican
Indispensable Compendiumof
Cookery (1993).
This appeal to the past went togetherwithargumentsthat"traditional"
methodsand tastesdeservedspecial attention
and preservation.
The cookbooks published in Jamaica after1970 regularlyincluded
"Jamaica" or "Jamaican"in theirtitles(42 percent)but rarelymade the
widerCaribbeana referencepoint.Most of the latterhad originallybeen
centers.Exceptionswere Caribbean StyleEatpublishedin metropolitan
Disaster
Conditions
ingfor
(Thompson 1990) and Caribbean Cooking
and Menus (Miller 1982). The latter,however,providedalmosttheentire
textof Creative Jamaican Cooking and Menus (Miller & Henry 1989)
and in turnof CreativeBahamian Cookingand Menus (Miller & Henry
1991). These threebooks sharedForewords,except forvariationin the
second paragraphas follows:

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ANDCARIBBEAN
COOKBOOKS
IDENTITY
CULTURAL

85

to a largeextent
of
Therecipesin thebookreflect
thecultural
heritage
the
thepeoplein theCaribbean:
thusyouwillfindrecipesthatreflect
andbothNorth
andLatinAmerican
Indian,
African,
aspectsof
European
character.
Buteachofthedisheshasbeenadaptedto make
itsculinary
use of thefoodwe grow,suchas ackee,plantain,
coconut,
paw-paw,
whichareconsidered
exoticin other
mango,cassavaandmanyothers,
& Menus1982:foreword)
Cooking
partsoftheworld.(Caribbean
of
thecultural
Therecipesin thebookreflect
to a largeextent
heritage
theIndian,
thusyouwillfindrecipesthatreflect
thepeopleofJamaica:
African,
aspectsof its
Europeanand bothNorthand LatinAmerican
theJamaican
motto"Out of ManyOne
character
following
culinary
to makeuse ofthefood
People."Manyofthedisheshavebeenadapted
cassavaand
we grow,suchas ackee,plantain,
coconut,
mango,
paw-paw,
whichare considered
exoticin otherpartsof theworld.
manyothers,
andMenus1989:foreword)
Jamaican
( Creative
Cooking
of
thecultural
to a largeextent
The recipesin thebookreflect
heritage
thepeopleoftheBahamas:thusyouwillfindmanyofthedishesusethe
foodwe grow,suchas peas,coconut,
mango,okraandmany
paw-paw,
exoticinother
whichareconsidered
others,
partsoftheworld.(Creative
andMenus1991:foreword)
BahamianCooking
What is importantabout these parallel models is thatby the 1970s a
consensus had emerged,in which nationaland generalized"Caribbean"
Each place had its
cuisine were seen to be extensivelyinterchangeable.
particularspecialities,and "nationaldishes" were widelyrecognized,but
underlyingthe differenceswas a commoncreole Caribbeancuisine. The
identifiedas spice,
featureof thiscuisine was consistently
distinguishing
and it was seen as theproductof a blendingof cuisinesfromotherplaces.
from
The model commonlyadopted by West Indian cookbook-writers
an image suggestiveof pervasivecreoliabout 1970 was the melting-pot,
zationratherthanthepluralsociety.Caribbeancuisinewas seen as a parahave termedit
digm,theplateof fooda microcosmof society.Some writers
"creole cuisine,"using"creole" to indicatemixtureas well as local origin
versionhas appearedin so manycook(Sookia 1994:8). The melting-pot
books thatit seems to have attainedthe statusof a fixedtextin the same
way as therecipesbecame fixedin print.It tooka literalformin theBelize
Hospital Auxiliary's Cook Book of circa 1970 in whichthe ingredients
forthe national dish consistedof "V Caribs, 4 Creoles, 1 Mayan, 2Vi
Mestizas(Indianand Spanish),also othernationalities
(all sizes, shapesand
mixed
well
and
baked
were
to
be
These
shades)."
slowlyin a tropicalsun,
but said to "blend well when not stirredtoo much." Caribbean cookbooks publishedafter1970 consistentlyreferredto historyin advancing
model.For example:
themelting-pot

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86

B.W. HIGMAN
andTobagois as exciting
and as inof foodin Trinidad
The history
ofthecountry
itself.
Written
records
arefew,but
as thehistory
teresting
to generations,
customshandeddown fromgenerations
principally
indicate
a
andmethods
observation,
passedonbywordofmouth
through
of
cuisinethatcantruly
layclaimtobeingwellspicedwiththetraditions
constitute
thishomogeneous
Into
themanyraceswhotogether
society.
the
oftheCaribsandArawaks,
theSpanish,
thepothavegonethecustoms
theAfrican,
theIndian,
andtheChinese.
theEnglish,
French,
Portuguese
(Hunt1985:vii)
andthecultural
customs
andracialmixesof the
The foods,languages,
areas variedas anyon earth.
The
WestIndianislandsoftheCaribbean
Americans,
French,
Swedish,
Danish,Dutch,
British,
Spanish,
Portuguese,
colonialpowers.Laborwas imported
andMalteseall servedas regional
Eachnationality
itslanfrom
Africa,
China,India,andScotland.
brought
to mix
traditions
andracialheritage
holidays,
guages,foods,religions,
of thishistorical
stew."The richness
into"thecultural
lineageis reofourislandfoods,thelovelysmileson our
flected
in thespicyflavors
islandpatois.(Antilles
School
multi-hued
skins,andtheliltofourvarious
1986:title
page)
oneatthatcuisineis essentially
themelting
Caribbean
pot- anda tasty
Asianand American
of Arawak,African,
cooking.These
European,
havebeenabsorbed
in a uniquewayoverthe
influences
variousculinary
whichidentifies
traditional
CaribOne specificcharacteristic
centuries.
herbsandspices.Recipesvaryfrom
island
beandishesis theuseoffresh
is thecomto kitchen,
butseasoning
to island,as theydo fromkitchen
mondenominator.
1990:3)
(Hamilton
a hearty
forenjoying
the
theCubanspirit:
Cubanfoodreflects
appetite
andrichness
of life,anda respect
fortradition
sweetness
coupledwith
The foodalso revealsthehistory
of Cuba and the
adventurousness.
theisland.Cubancuisineis
diverse
groupsofpeoplewhohaveinhabited
and cookingtechniques
fromaroundthe
a melting
potof ingredients
world.(Creen1991:10)

Such appeals to historyservedto establisha singleaccountof thepast,in


which the blendingof peoples and culturesoccurredin much the same
way in all partsof theregion.Individual,nationalhistories(generallystill
attachedto particularEuropeanpowers) coexistedwitha broaderCaribbean unityof experience,expressedin cuisine and otherareas of culture
ratherthananymodelof politicalregionalnationalism.
This accountof the
formiddle-classpostcolonial
Caribbeanpast possessed special attractions
migrants,and a largenumberof theCaribbeancookbookspublishedsince
1970 have been written
by suchpeople,statingas theirimpulsea desireto
retaintheirculturein new "multicultural"
countries.Food offeredoppor-

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IDENTITY
COOKBOOKS
CULTURAL

87

tunitiesfor these purposes not necessarilyattainablein otherareas of


cultureand the writingof cookbooks servedalso to elevate thecuisineto
a higherstatuswithinthehostcultures.
What is in contention,then, is the extentto which "national" and
"ethnic"identitiescan be subsumedwithina broaderregional,Caribbean
character.In 1970, Mary Slater could writein Caribbean Cookingfor
Pleasure that the islands were diverse,with "French,Dutch, Spanish,
Americanor Britishcustomsand Danes, Portuguese,
Indians,Lebanese and
with
the
Africans
who
formthe bulk of
mix
and
all
Chinese,
mingle
that"There is no
however
She
concluded
Indian
the West
population."
distincttrendin Caribbeancooking,manynationsbroughtand lefttheir
customs,habits and ceremoniesjust as theylefttheirregional dishes"
(Slater 1970:6). This plural model seems to fitthe recentcookbooks of
Suriname,forexample, withtheirdifferentiation
by ethnicity(Starke &
Caribbeanhas its cookbooks
Samsin-Hewitt1987). The English-speaking
devoted to East Indian cuisine, derived fromtraditionalIndian recipes
though"distinctlyIndo-Caribbeanin flavour"(Mahabir 1992). Occasional publicationsemphasize the Africanness(Grant 1992; Hafner1996) or
Englishness(Mackie 1995:16) of the region's cookery.Generally,however,the emphasishas shiftedto theessentialoneness and uniquenessof
Caribbeancuisine.Thus CarmenAboy Valldejuli's PuertoRican Cookery
are at thebottomof every
(1987:x) arguesthatcommonbasic ingredients
in the
Caribbeanpot: "Though theymay be used withslightdifferences
different
islands, the resultis thatthe delicateblends and innovationsof
five centurieshave developed a genuineCaribbean cuisine." Resistance
to thisnotionof similarityseems greatestin theFrancophoneCaribbean.
AndrNgre (1985:12), forexample agreedthat"La cuisine antillaiseet
guyanaise est le miroirde ce pays qui est une mosaique ethnique,"but
to
was verydifferent
wenton to arguethatthecuisineof theseterritories
thatof theAnglophoneCaribbean.Ngre concluded:
a
la premire
du monde,
de la cuisinefranaise,
j'affirme
que l'influence
indes bases et des principes
donnaux territoires
qui en relvent,
du got
mmedansle people,unraffinement
galablesqui ontentran,
avecce qui
du palaisqui n'ontrien voir,Dieumerci,
et unesensibilit
Antilles.
s'estpassdansles autres
(Ngre1985:12)
The
remainsa problematicsymbolof Caribbeanidentity.
Food, therefore,
of recenttimeshave notbeen completelysuccessfulin
cookbook-writers
creatinga single accountof the Caribbeanpast or a single,unitarydefinitionof Caribbeancuisine or culture.In theireffortsto achieve thisobjective, theyhave howeverfixedCaribbean cuisine in a traditional/nos-

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88

B.W. HIGMAN

talgic mould, locating it in times past and places lost. The cuisine
commonlybecomes somethingto be preservedratherthandeveloped,an
attitudeparallelingthefixingof thesocial memoryin thecookbook'stext.
Note
andassistance
theauthor
SandraBarnes,
Ellie
1. Forcomments
thanks
particularly
Marianne
andArnieSio.
Bowen,
Ramesar,
Bolland,
Gregory
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B.W.HlGMAN
Research
SchoolofSocialSciences
History
Program,
Australian
National
University
Canberra
0200,Australia
@ coombs
.anu.edu.au
bhigman

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