Monday, June 18, 2007

Anguilla: The Epilogue

The kitchen in our villa at Blowing Point was equipped with a whole base cabinet full of some of the largest aluminum colanders I've ever seen. One might well ask, What do you strain with so many colanders?

I would gladly have traded most of those colanders for one really large, really heavy cook pot. The largest I had was not quite big enough to make a gumbo for 33 persons. And although there were numerous pots of various sizes, most of them were of such a light gauge metal that anything important burned at the bottom before it was completely cooked.

I had speculated what I would do without my spring-loaded tongs, perhaps the most important and most frequently used tool in my kitchen. I needn't have worried. There were more tongs in that kitchen in Anguilla than you could shake a, well, pair of tongs at.

It would have been nice to have a quality chef's knife on hand. But I made do. And a wire brush for cleaning that grill/griddle that I used so often rather than cooking outside on the charcoal grill.

But I have no complaints about the way my kitchen was equipped. And every morning like clockwork two housekeepers showed up to sweep and wipe down the whole place. They did a wonderful job, always putting things back in their place...

We never did find our lobsters. Over a two day period, I had been trying to track down local lobsters through Leslie, the manager at the local grocery store, Ashley & Sons. Twice I thought we had made good contacts. And at one point Leslie said he had spoken to one fisherman who lamented, "If only you had called me an hour earlier..."

The fisherman I did finally speak with, a man named Mike, apologized for not being able to supply the lobsters we needed. "The lobsters are very hard to find," he said. "Would you be interested in some crayfish?"

Our inability to find local lobster, or put our hands on snapper large enough to fillet, tells me the waters around Anguilla have been fished to exhaustion. But how can I know for sure?

Judging from the aisles in the local supermarkets, many of the old food ways are falling by the wayside. Just as in the United States, grocery store shelves are stocked predominantly with packaged and processed foods. You have to look hard to find the remnants of the former food culture, although it's still there: assorted packages of salt cod and smoked herring, pig tails and snouts, frozen ox tails.

You do get a sense of island culture just driving around. Early in the morning, the kids in their sensible uniforms were arriving for school. They looked very smart and well groomed in their white shirts and skirts and pants in blue, sometimes green.

I had been driving to the other side of the island in the mornings to pay $5 and sit for a half-hour at a computer in the little store at Ku in Shoal Bay. Then it dawned on me to try the public library downtown, and the charge was less than half. The librarians were warm and helpful. One tourist had brought his laptop, as the library had wi-fi as well.

I was told that little if any food is grown on the island other than some backyard tomatoes. Yet everywhere you travel you see goats wandering the fields, or a burro or a cow tethered to some grassy area. Some mornings a rooster could be heard announcing the day. But mostly you hear the soft, low cooing of the mourning doves that perch everywhere in the clumps of flame trees and bougainvillea.

Each day on my foraging for the day's groceries I vowed to stop at one of the local eateries and taste some of the true island food, the food I had hoped to be cooking myself before I learned that my hosts were more inclined toward pasta and kabobs. Every day I passed the local joints with names like Big Jim's and E's Oven and Tasty's, and each day I found something more important to do than sit down to a simple island meal.

I think that is my biggest regret, that I didn't make more of an effort, or that I didn't have someone along with me who would have insisted we stop and eat together.

Right now, I have an awful hankering for some stewed goat...


Joanna said...

I discovered your blog just as you went away to the Caribbean, and it's great to see the pictures and read your thoughts on it now that you're home.

I'm hugely interested in your methods of cooking dinner for a crowd mostly in the morning, and then making it easy for yourself when it's time to serve. I imagine some of these techniques are derived from the catering trade, but you could write an entire blog on how to adapt them to a domestic setting!

No wonder they gave you a round of applause.

Thanks for sharing

Beo said...

It is sad to here first hand accounts of the death of local fisheries and their far reaching social impacts.

Thanks for your promotion of Keepin' it slow!

Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, I borrowed those techniques from what I call "catering your own dinner" party, something I've written about for The Washington Post and lectured about for Smithsonian Associates. We don't like to be cooking when guests arrive. We like to be drinking a cocktail with everyone else and having fun. So the food is done ahead and brought up to serving temp at the appropriate time. After a while, you just learn which kinds of foods lend themselves best to that kind of presentation. It's just the opposite of cooking a la minute, something we try to avoid at all costs. So no stir fries or risottos around here...

beo, it is depressing. But not nearly as depressing as reading the literature on what's happening to our oceans. It's as if we've dropped a nuclear bomb in the ocean with no thought or care to what will be left for the future. Devastation on an unimaginable scale...

grace said...

ed, it'd be nice to know what exactly those kinds of foods are that lend themselves best to that kind of presentation. i've got a mental list going - frittatas, yes - risotto, no.