Jerk From Jamaica: Barbecue Caribbean Style, by Helen Willinsky
When one is reading a cookbook in hopes of gathering at least some familiarity for a nation’s cuisine that one hopes to taste a fair bit more of, one’s expectations are somewhat mild. Or at least mine are. If a cookbook features dishes that I know I already like or that I want to try, and if the ingredient lists like reasonably feasible to undertake and that they would have pleasant results, I am generally content. Admittedly, the jerk seasonings and dishes discussed here are likely a bit more spicy than I would prefer to have my food. If I can handle spices, they are not something I tend to greatly enjoy beyond a fairly mild level, and this book does the additional service of encouraging the reader to handle the spiciness level of the jerk seasoning based on their own preferences by managing the type of peppers included as well as how many of them or how much of the peppers themselves are added to the seasoning. The result is a cookbook with a surprising degree of flexibility in how the food can be prepared, and that speaks well of the quality of the book as a whole.
This book is between 150 and 200 pages and it is divided into eight chapters that are thematic in nature. The book begins with a foreword and introduction that define what jerk is, and show how this theme is to organize the cookbook as a whole. After that the first section includes a discussion on jerk basics as well as recipes for jerk seasonings that vary based on what one is going to put them on (1). After that the author talks about pork dishes, which I skipped over rather rapidly since I do not eat pork, except to note what could be done for beef or lamb dishes substituted out for the pork (2). There is a chapter on chicken and fowl that was tasty and included a cornish hen dish that sounds pretty amazing to try (3). There is a chapter on seafood that mostly has shrimp and other things but also includes a fair amount of mahi-mahi and cod, which made at least some of the dishes interesting (4). An entire chapter is then devoted to additional but somewhat more rare meats in the Jamaican jerk cuisine like beef, lamb, and goat, which in general sounded very tasty to try as well (5). After that the author explores side dishes (6), desserts (7), and drinks (8) to complete the meal, provides some resources on Jamaican and Caribbean cooking, and an index, and the book is gorgeously photographed throughout.
It is interesting to note in this particular book the sort of research that goes on behind the seasons as far as cookbooks are concerned. Of course, writers of cookbooks feel it necessary to put their own spin on dishes, and so it requires a fair amount of skill to know what cookbooks are best worth imitating, especially those of us who have preferences for a few good foods rather than a lot of expensive but not very tasty ingredients. Likewise, this book shows the influence of history, both recent and longstanding, on some of the dishes included, as there is a comparison made here between Jamaican corn pone and the variety more familiar from Southern cooking, and also a discussion of the rising importance of beef in the Jamaican diet after Americans came with the bauxite mining with the introduction of cattle into Jamaica’s animal breeding. I found this to be deeply interesting, personally, as seeing the influence of various historical events on cuisine, whether those be the presence of certain peoples in a given area with certain characteristic foodways or the acquisition of local knowledge and the adaptation of one’s tastes by what is available easily locally.