A Cultural Cookbook

cultural-cookbook

By Dr. Catherine Milligan Terrell

“Meh son, le me mekase gu a Exira’s Kitchen Fu a me din, din” (My son let me hurry up and go to Exira’s Kitchen for my food).

This is a cookbook with a delectable compilation of recipes that were passed along three generations of Cruzans—from the author’s maternal grandmother, Christiana Henry Sackey, to her mother, Exira Marie Sackey Milligan.

exiras-kitchen-cook-bookExira’s Kitchen is a cultural cookbook that looks through the food lens of my ancestral past. Through this ancestral research, I found that the journey into the recipes began to take shape in the early 1800s during slavery in St. Croix under seven flags. Some Africans from Ghana arrived on the shores of St. Croix around the early 1800’s. The dishes as presented are an extension of the foods these people ate in Africa with some modifications because some specific ingredients were not available.

Throughout this cookbook, users will find terms and recipe titles that are unusual because it was the only way that I forged a connection with the voices of my ancestors. It was the only way I placed meaning to our cherished culture. In the Breakfast section, I called it “Morning Glory.” Why? Because as a child, my ancestors told me that each morning I must give thanks and give glory for the new day.

Another section is called, “Start Up.” This is a reminder that before serving a selection of the section “Belly Full,” there are a few dishes such as, Salt Fish Gundy, Salt Fish Harripa, or Lobster Salad that can be served to satisfy any guest while waiting for the main course meal.

To really get the pulse of the foods, I often visited and spent time with Granny Sackey. Although she could not read or write, she was a masterful cook. She had to be a masterful cook because she was mother to sixteen children.

Once when I visited her, she had just finished cleaning a wash pan of Jax and had already seasoned a batch to cook. She seasoned the Jax, not with salt and pepper, but with her special Cruzan Season Salt. She said, “Chile, cum ya, cum ya, we gonna have fried Jax with yu special scrumptious Cruzan Fried Fish Sauce and a nice soft ball of Okra Fungi.” I knew that I would have a good day and a “Belly Full.”

Next, she fetched her coal pot and placed charcoal in it. The charcoal was arranged in a strategic way with a small pit to place the pitch point chips that she used to ignite the fire and catch the coal. If it were a windy day, she would have tried several times. In the end, once the fire got started and the charcoal had sufficient firepower, she was ready to fry her Jax. She reminded me that her mother told her that, “before Fungi was Cruzan, Fungi was African.” She also pointed out that, Fungi made its way to St. Croix in the parcels of African slaves. Further, she said,
“Cruzan added okra and you know what? Okra Fungi taste better than plain Fungi.”

With my belly full, I always needed a “Wash Me Down.” In the “Wash Me Down” section you will find an excellent recipe for Maubi and having a tall glass of the local drink with plenty ice is an excellent treat for a “Wash Me Down.” The best part comes at the end of the meal. It is not unusual in the Cruzan culture to hear someone say at the end of a meal that they have a “Sweet Tooth” meaning that they are now ready for desert, like a piece of Guava or Guavaberry Tart. Further, at weddings Vienna Cake, Black Cake or both is a staple and go hand in hand. There is no
wedding celebration without these two mouth-watering treats.

There are many unusual terms used throughout this cookbook. They reflect terms of endearment that make meals total enjoyment and add the cultural depth of the people of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. People familiar with the Cruzan culture near and far will find in the cookbook memorable, and those unfamiliar are in for a special treat!

Each recipe is filled with traditional African blends and artful traditional preparation. As you try each recipe, you’ll have both a grand time preparing and a grand time eating. For Cruzan’s, we love our way of life, which first but first and foremost starts with a belly full. Experience each recipe and enjoy the results!

Dr. Catherine Milligan Terrell is a native Cruzan, business owner, markets hot sauce and Cruzan Gourmet Season Salt.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it!
Icon Icon Icon