A Beach Drink in Barbados: Cheers To Week Four!

Right now, as I write this post its 43 degrees outside and raining. There has been a thick grey cloud cover that has been hanging over the city for what feels like weeks. The forecast for the next seven days is rain, rain and more rain. Not quite cold enough to snow (which would be magic) and not quite warm enough to picnic (also magic), winter has definitely settled. But not indoors. Inside it is paradise.

In the Kitchen today, it’s a balmy 72 degrees (thanks to the heat setting!), there’s calypso music playing on the speakers and a special tropical cocktail circulating. The mood is downright beachy as Harry Belafonte encourages us to jump in the line and Lord Invader sings about the flying fishes.  Welcome my friends to Week Four of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Welcome to Barbados!

Under the swaying palm trees on the sandy beach of Barbados. Photo credit: David Cain

This week, we are embracing the relaxed ambiance of the tropics as we make Rum Punch for a crowd and dance around the Kitchen to traditional island music. It’s celebration time in more ways then one. On a personal note,  we’ve hit a mini milestone.  If you joined us from the beginning, we are now officially one month into the Recipe Tour and I hope you are still as excited about the whole project as I am. On a party note, this recipe serves 12 or more, so if you ever wanted to invite your friends over to try a vintage recipe, now’s a good time:)

Last week’s post took us on a romp around snow-capped  Austria with a local native, and featured a hearty vintage chicken recipe perfect for winter weather. This week, we are traveling 4,800 miles from Austria to a tropical island in the Atlantic Ocean that lies in close proximity to South America. There’s no snow in sight here.  There is, however, plenty of snow white sand.

Rockley Beach, Barbados

Travel these days doesn’t always guarantee what you’ve  imagined, but Barbados  delivers when it comes to beautiful beaches, a fun atmosphere and endless amounts of rum. They’ve been making this sugar cane based spirit since 1703, so its easy to see why this is the alcohol of choice when it comes to island drinks.

Mount Gay Rum is the oldest distillery in Barbados, dating all the way back to the 1700’s, but for this vintage 1970’s era rum punch recipe, which simply called for any type of dark rum, I chose Kraken (a more modern Caribbean rum company)  for it’s fun, splashy label which was modeled after Victorian era typography, its nod towards oceanic intrigue, and its new yet old bottle design (a style that was easy to hang from hooks to avoid breakage).

Taking only 20 minutes to make, Rum Punch was quick to prepare but there were a few surprises when it came to this recipe. First and foremost, the darkness of the rum. I’m not a big rum connoisseur but perusing this section of the liqueur store yielded quite a range in rum colors from light to dark, as well as flavors  (everything from natural to banana to coconut) which in turn alters the end result of your cocktail. The recipe calls for three other fruit juices as companions – oranges, limes and pineapples plus a final flourish of sprinkled nutmeg, so that is something to keep in mind when selecting your personal preference in the rum department.

The second surprise was a difference in taste between room temperature punch and chilled punch. Vastly different! Room temperature punch tastes like all the sharp angles of everything… alcoholic, acidic, bitter and sweet.  But chilled punch (3 hours or more) is much more soft, subtle and well rounded. The chilling process gives this punch time to mellow and blend so that nothing jumps out significantly enough to say “oh this is full of lime”or “this is full of orange” or “this is full of rum” etc.  Instead you just notice that is full of flavor. Ideally, this is what you want in a mixed drink – a sharing of the spotlight when it comes to taste. And that’s exactly what this rum punch – Barbados style – delivers. It’s smooth, sweet and light without being syrupy, heavy and headachey.

I also loved the 1970’s color palette this drink produced… walnut, orange, lime green… it is definitely decade appropriate as far as aesthetic:)

RUM PUNCH

(12 or more servings)

Juice of 6-8 limes

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups water (or 1 cup orange juice and 1 cup pineapple juice)

1 fifth bottle dark rum (that’s  750ml of rum)

5 dashes of Angostura bitters

Grated nutmeg

Combine the lime juice, sugar, water (or orange/pineapple juices), rum and bitters in a lrge bowl.

A trio of juices! Clockwise from top left: lime. pineapple, orange.

Pour the mixture into a large pitcher and chill thoroughly. (Note: I strained the cocktail mixture before putting it in a pitcher since there was lots of lime pulp floating around the top from the freshly squeezed limes. I recommend chilling the mixture for 3+ hours in the fridge.)

Serve in small tumblers, adding a touch of nutmeg to each drink. {Note: If you don’t have a large enough pitcher, which was my case, you can serve punch in a number of different vessels. This was a trifle dish, which works well because of the roomy basin and pedestal base. But you can also other kitchen items like a large bowl, a big vase or a trio of flip top glass water bottles.}

Garnish for both the bowl and the individual tumblers was made by thinly slicing limes and oranges.

The third interesting thing I learned while adventuring in the kitchen this week has nothing to do with the rum punch recipe itself but more to do with the country. Specifically with the music of Barbados. Tropical drinks, beach scenes and local music are a natural fit when it comes discussing island ambiance. Since each one compliments the other, i was excited to tie-in some local music with our local cocktail.  Originally, I thought Barbados would be flush with sounds of steel drums and tinkly piano music. But in actuality, the country’s music scene is rooted much more in tribal sounds from Africa, flute songs from England and narrative story telling.

lord-invader-1950’s album cover

Under British rule until the 1960’s, Barbados’ music scene grew out of tuk bands in the 1600’s – a combination of melodies and sounds which reflected African drums, English religious ballads, and Spanish arrangements. A distinct sound that was representative of all the cultures that inhabited “Little England” as Barbados was first called. By the 1920’s and 1930’s, a popular jazz and calypso culture distinguished Barbados from other Caribbean island music – sounds which still influence musicians and bands today.

Clockwise from top: Lord Invader; Harry Belafonte; the Andrew Sisters, Rhianna; Lord Kitchener

One of the most popular artists ever to come from Barbados is Rhianna. But many decades before her, in the early years of the 20th century, there were highly lauded and famously recognized artists like Atilla the Hun (1892-1962), Lord Kitchener (1922-2000) and Lord Invader (1914-1961). They were responsible for popularizing the unique Caribbean beats that spread throughout the islands, including Barbados, and filling the airwaves with clap-your-hands drum beats and sing-songy storytelling. To highlight this interesting sound, I made a playlist on Spotify that features popular music of Barbados from the 1930’s – 2000’s to accompany this post.

Rum Punch Playlist on Spotify

The playlist opens with Lord Invader and his wistful song titled Barbados, which was produced in early in the 1950’s.  Traveling back and forth through the 19th century to include songs by Lord Invader’s comrades, popular favorites by Harry Belafonte and the Andrew Sisters, the list finishes out with a song from Krosfyah – a contemporary, modern day calypso band, so that you can see how the sounds of Barbados have evolved (yet still remained similar) over the course of a century.

Vintage Calypso album covers

There are 23 songs included in the playlist, some of which you’ve heard before and others which may be new to you.  Each of them are ideal companions to a cold glass of rum punch, day dreams of palm tree paradises, and impromptu dance lessons around your kitchen. One of the fun things about traveling internationally via the kitchen, is the ability to transport yourself to another place via food, and a festive atmosphere. The music of Barbados is bright and energetic and the rum punch jubilant. If the winter weather in your neck of the woods has you feeling cold and dreary, hope this post brightens your day!

Cheers to middle of the week celebrations, rum drinks that you make dance and music that makes you sing out loud:) Join us next week as we head out into week five of the International Vintage Recipe Tour. Our next stop takes us back to Europe where we explore a recipe that revolves around cheese and communal dining, something that was all the rage in the 1960’s. See you next Wednesday in…

Can A Painting Inspire Dinner?

Can a painting inspire dinner? Absolutely! That’s exactly what happened when I found this tropical painting while out curating items for the shop. It’s a petite folk art landscape scene from Haiti with a handmade wooden frame and stretched cotton cloth instead of canvas. The colors are so vibrant…

and the brush strokes so full of energy.  The whole scene sings with the colorful island vibes that the Caribbean is known for.  Immediately it made me think of the 1960’s cookbook in the shop – The Art of Caribbean Cookery – another midcentury treasure that also sings songs of colorful island life.

The painting hails from Haiti, just one of the 28 islands that make up the Caribbean, but the cookbook, written by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, includes all the cultural influences of all the islands… Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, etc.  Carmen is Puerto Rican herself and grew up in a traditional island household of the 1920’s, a world where servants cooked and children were not encouraged to help.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico in the 1920s. Photography by Charles Martin courtesy of National Geographic

As Carmen explains in the introduction of her cookbook,  it was deemed improper for well-brought-up young ladies to perform menial household chores, cooking included. “Only occasionally was I ever allowed to enter the vast room where food was actually prepared, and how I regretted that.”

Carmen and her family’s house, Casa Aboy, in Puerto Rico,  including a photo of the dining room. These images were taken in the 1980’s by Felix Julian Delcampo
This is the house as it appears today, bright and pretty. Photo via pinterest.

But things changed once she met her husband, Luis, in the late 1930’s. Luis was an unashamed food zealot – an eater, a cooker, and a recipe collector.  He had a day job in engineering but on nights and weekends, he and Carmen crafted their time together around the glorious subject of food. Bolstered by one another’s support and enthusiasm,  the two indulged their culinary interests in a fun and curious way, which turned out to be the only encouragement Carmen needed to realize her life-long passion for cooking. What used to be forbidden was now a freedom.

carmen-aboy-valldejuli-and-luis-valldejuli
Carmen and Luis – the Carribean’s cooking dynamite team. Luis was always in charge of the cocktails.

Carmen took on this new interest with gusto. She and Luis dined their way through the islands, exploring offerings at family tables, fancy restaurants and everything in between. They traipsed around sugar plantations and farms and fruit groves. They listened and questioned and learned from everyone they encountered about cooking methods and techniques, about family stories and recipes passed down through generations. After each escapade, they’d return home to their own kitchen in Puerto Rico ready to dissect what they had discovered. As Carmen learned first hand, cooking in the Caribbean was a vast wonderland of food, flavor, and influence from other countries far from the tropics.

Vintage Caribbean travel posters from the 1950s and 1960s.

Floating between the Gulf Of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, with the United States, Mexico and South America acting as surrounding neighbors, the Caribbean is made up of an incredibly diverse population – an exotic tribe of people from Europe, Africa, Mexico, the Mediterranean coast, the United States and the U.K.

Vintage 1960s travel poster designed by Paul Loweree

Originally there were the first inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, but then came the British, French, Dutch, Danish, and Spanish settlers along with slaves from Africa who worked the sugar plantations and ex-pats from America looking for escapism. All these cultural influences grew diversity on the islands and greatly layered the cuisine of the Caribbean, making it not just one type of food, but a blend of many nationalities.

the-art-of-caribbean-cookery-carmen-aboy-valldejuli

In the painting, there is no sign of food, but its very essence pulls your imagination towards sandy beaches, tropical drinks, coconuts, rum, pineapple, papayas. Carmen is quick to explain that cooking in the Caribbean is not all “roast pig and ritual,” that food varies from island to island, built upon six centuries of history and the cohabitation of many cultures.  It was with that in mind that I chose, a recipe from Carmen’s cookbook that is an authentic Carribean dish marinated in generations of foreign influence. For today’s post, we are making a recipe that combines elements of Spain with two Caribbean staples – olives and capers. The dish is called Pescado Dorado or Golden Fish and it is a lovely meal to wrap up the end of summer with since it shines best with garden tomatoes fresh off the vine.

Carmen’s recipe recommended using a whole fish but I used cod filets instead since I couldn’t find a whole tropical-looking fish at our neighborhood market.  The recipe serves 8 but if you don’t want to make a big dinner out of it, simply cut all the ingredient measurements in half and you’ll wind up with a smaller serving for four.

PESCADO DORADO – GOLDEN FISH

(serves 8)

1 fish weighing 4 lbs, cleaned (or 4lbs of fish filets – I used cod)

2 large limes

2 tablespoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced

2 bay leaves

12 green olives

1 tablespoon capers

1 tablespoon liquid from jar of capers

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed

1 1/4 pounds tomatoes

2 canned pimientos

If using a whole fish, wash it inside and out. Ignore this step if using fish filets.  Cut 2 slight gashes on both sides of the fish or filets. Place the fish in a baking dish. Squeeze the juice of the limes over the fish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Arrange the rest of the ingredients from the onions to the tomatoes on top and around the sides of the fish.

Preheat oven temperature to 550 degrees.* Bake fish for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 425 degrees and bake for 25 minutes longer, basting fish occasionally.

Heat pimientos and serve as a garnish on top of fish.

*A note on cooking time and temp – In 1963, Carmen’s oven reached 550 degrees. In 2018, the hottest my oven gets is 525 degrees. I cooked the fish at 525 degrees for the first 15 minutes and then reduced it to 425 degrees and cooked it for the remaining time with no problems.

Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s Pescado Dorado

What emerged from the oven, after it was done baking, was a flaky cloud of codfish that was swimming in a salty citrus sea. To say that this dish was anything but delicious would be an understatement. Sometimes fish dishes are very light and leave you still feeling hungry, but this one is robust in flavor and is filling enough on its own.  I paired this fish dish with a handful of sauteed spinach and garlic but rice would also work or a side salad. Dessert was kept equally simple with a fresh fruit board that included pineapple, mango, papaya and fresh coconut.

We also had a little musical accompaniment during dinner from Harry Belafonte, one of the most iconic singers of Caribbean folk songs in the world. About a month ago, I heard the song Cocoanut Woman for the first time…

and instantly loved it. Further discovery led to his Calypso album, a bestseller full of Caribbean folk songs that was released in 1956. In its first year, this album sold a million copies landing Harry on top music charts and making him an international superstar. If you are unfamiliar with his work, the link below is the full album of his 1976 record The King of Calypso, which packs all of his most famous hits in one album including the Jamician folk song Day-O about dock workers loading banana boats and the island love song, Jamaica Farewell.

Between the three – painting, music, and food – this dinner felt like a mini island vacation all in itself.  If you find that your summer has come and gone and left you without the chance to relax as much as you wished, try spending the evening with Carmen and Harry and Emmanuel (the painter) and see if your spirit can’t be soothed by a little slice of creative paradise. A glass of rum helps spread the cheer too.

Incidentally, I tried to find out more about my muse for this post, the artist named Emmanuel who painted the Haitian landscape that started all this to begin with. But he was elusive. As it turns out, there are LOTS of painters named Emmanuel in the Caribbean. That’s okay, though, it doesn’t matter that he can’t be tracked down further.  Muses aren’t exactly known for their easy accessibility.  Bob Dylan believed that the highest purpose of art was to inspire. In that case, Emmanuel certainly fulfilled his role, at least during dinner time in the Vintage Kitchen. As for Carmen, she went on to become an expert, the expert, of Caribbean cuisine, publishing several cookbooks throughout her life. Even though she died in 2005, she is still regarded as the classic authority on Caribbean island cuisine.

So as you can see, a painting can indeed inspire dinner and also a little more. Hope this post inspires you just as much. Cheers to soaking up the essence of the islands without ever leaving home.

Find the cookbook and the painting in the shop here and here. Find Harry Belafonte’s music on our Vintage Caribbean Vibes Spotify playlist here.