Bouquets of thyme, parsley, celery, chives, sage and other herbs (locally called seasonings), sweet and hot peppers, ginger root and bay leaves, trays of allspice and cloves, tied rolls of cinnamon bark (called simply "spice" in Barbados)-- all this and more can be found at open-air markets throughout the Caribbean, including Road Town on Saturdays (above drawing by Dee Carstarphen from Maverick Sea Fare).
Nothing compares with a lively spice like nutmeg, so fresh that its threads of bright scarlet mace are still clinging to the outside, waiting for the nut to be freshly "ground" onto a frothy rum drink.
As we peer into a jar of spiced rum at Cane Garden Bay, at what appears to be large and strange roots, the term "spices" takes a somewhat broader meaning.
Maybe the cooks are not telling all their secrets. :)
A dish, a gumbo, a mystery, even a love potion in the old calypso songs, Callaloo is emblematic of Caribbean cooking. Garlic, scallions, thyme and a Scotch bonnet pepper contribute to a combo that can be used to season many Caribbean dishes. And the parsley- substitute cilantro (coriander) is often added..
Sauteeing the seasoning in the cooking oil is a handy medium for the transport of flavor to food items, often in combination.
Scotch Bonnet Pepper. Another item grown in and identified with the Caribbean is the Scotch bonnet pepper, considered the hottest pepper in the world (alongside the Mexican habanero used in the Americas).
The Scotch bonnet pepper contributes its fiery heat to world-famous jerk seasoning as well as its distinctive, apricot-like aroma and fruit pulp.
Called Scotch bonnets for their wrinkled crowns, these little chile peppers look like walnut-sized lanterns, coming in a rainbow of colors.
When handling, wear gloves and don't touch your skin or especially eyes. Neutralize skin touches with sugar. They can be de-seeded to lessen their impact. Or substitute a bird or jalapeno pepper.
See a recipe for Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce (christophene can be substituted for the cho cho squash).
Garlic. Garlic has become a universal flavoring item. Garlic is highly concentrated so a small number of cloves are often used. Roasted garlic is more mellow.
Scallions and Chives. Scallions give an onion flavor. The green tops can be used as a garnish.. Shallots are frequently substituted in many dishes.
Chive sticks make a nice delicate onion-based garnish. The West Indian chives have thicker stems, but some of the flavor of shallots.
Onion, of course, is also a flavorful vegetable, but must be distinguished from the basic flavoring accenting the cooking oil.
Thyme. One of the most widespread and popular culinery herbs in the islands and elsewhere, thyme, with its pungent flavor (which may increase upon drying), is said to bridge the gap between milder island spices such as allspice and nutmeg and the stronger hot peppers (see jerk seasoning).
Ginger can be added for an eastern taste, sometimes replacing thyme.
Parsley or Cilantro (Coriander). Parsley is a ubiquitous additional seasoning and/or garnish. In the Spanish Caribbean, cilantro traditionally is used like parsley with its lacy green and heavily aromatic fresh leaves (which do not dry well).
Often called coriander in recipes, although strictly speaking, coriander refers to its seeds, with their sweet musky fragrance conveying the herb's aroma, especially notable in Indian mixed spices such as curry powder.
Utilizing the basics of garlic, scallions, thyme and a chile pepper, this Barbados seasoning used in Baxter's Road Fried Fish adds onion, chives, parsley, marjoram and allspice and a little salt. Process into a thick paste and store in sealed containers (from Sky Juice and Flying Fish).
From the days of sail and salt fish, the BVI's Salt Island was an important stop for the British Royal Navy. Salt-based seasoning is still favored in the British and U.S Virgin Islands and elsewhere.
Here is the recipe from the Maverick Sea Fare (see review) for seasoned salt: "Grind the following in a mortar and pestle: 1/2 cup salt, 2 cut up cloves garlic, 1/2 cut up medium onion, 1 stalk celery with leaves, 1 sprig parsley, 2 tsp. ground black pepper, 1/4 tsp. cloves, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. thyme." Great for dry marinades!