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Sunday, 23 November 2008

Book of the week: Jamaican Food, by B.W. Higman

Part cultural history, part anthropological study, part encyclopedia of flora and fauna, B.W. Higman's Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture is a comprehensive survey of "food practices" in Jamaica, from the time of the pre-Columbian Taino to the present. It's also the Antilles book of the week.

From the publisher's website:

The author examines the shift in Jamaican food practices over time, from the Tainos’ use of bitter cassava to the Maroons’ introduction of jerk pork, and the population’s love affair with the fruits of the island such as paw paw, guava, star apple, and avocado pear. In this well-written and accessible study, the author traces how endemic animals, delicacies such as the turtle, ringtail pigeon, black land crab and mountain mullet, barely retained their popular status into the early twentieth century and are now almost completely forgotten, their populations dramatically depleted, often endangered.

Among this volume's most pleasing features are the full-colour reproductions, in sections of plates, of a series of late eighteenth-century watercolours by the Rev. John Lindsay, depicting various edible plants and animals of Jamaica.

Higman categorises possible food sources into three sections: plants, animals, and inorganic matter. Some are obvious: cassava, breadfruit, rice, cow. Some less so: cactus? pelican? For each item he offers biological notes, historical references, bits of folklore, nutritional data, occasionally even summaries of recipes. Jamaican Food is a scholarly text, but one full enough of interesting and surprising information to make entertaining reading for gourmands and trivia-lovers also.


FSJL said...

Ringtail dove has been endangered for quite a while. So has mountain mullet, which, unlike ringtail dove, I have eaten (prepared by my father). Turtle's seriously endangered (John Maxwell's written about that recently).

FSJL said...
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