That’s one of the many questions that
constantly swirl around Melissa Thompson’s head – a food writer and cookbook
author who says she’s “always been interested in the stories behind food”.
Jamaican food – where her father is from
– particularly piques her interest. “Ackee and saltfish just rolls off the
tongue, it’s such a classic dish. But those things are quite odd, when you
think about it – there’s ackee, then there’s saltfish. They’re not necessarily
a natural pairing,” she muses.
“How did they become, who thought to put
them on a plate together? It works so well, but obviously everything has a
Thompson, 41, was surprised to learn
ackee isn’t originally from Jamaica, despite being synonymous with the
country’s cuisine (it’s actually native to West Africa, and came to the
Caribbean through the slave trade). “I was looking for a book that satisfied my
curiosity about the history of Jamaican food,” she says, but “it didn’t really
exist” – so she decided to write Motherland. She refers to her debut as a
“cookbook with this historical narrative”, with Jamaican recipes interwoven
with powerful essays about the history of the country, particularly the impact
of slavery and colonisation.
sweet potato stew
1 onion, chopped
2.5cm piece of
ginger, finely grated
1 tbsp ground
potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2.5cm cubes
400g can of
red kidney beans, drained
bunches of spinach, washed and roughly chopped, coarse stalks removed
1. In a Dutch
pot or large saucepan, fry the onion in a little oil. After eight minutes, add
the garlic and ginger and cook for another couple of minutes before adding the
spices, mixed with a little water to prevent them burning. Stir and cook until
the spices become aromatic.
2. Add the
sweet potatoes and stir to coat, then pour in the stock and add the beans and
peanut butter. Put a lid on the pot and cook for 10–15 minutes until the sweet
potatoes are soft.
3. Remove the
lid, mix in the spinach and leave for five minutes until cooked through. Taste,
then add salt until seasoned as you prefer.
4. Serve with
(Serves 4 as a
raw king prawns
2.5cm piece of
ginger, finely grated vegetable oil, for deep-frying
ginger beer (not diet)
Sea salt and
freshly ground black pepper
1. Remove the
heads and shells of the prawns, leaving on the tail sections. (You can also use
shelled prawns, as long as they are raw.) Mix in a bowl with the garlic, ginger
and some pepper and leave for 30 minutes.
2. Pour oil
into a medium-sized saucepan, following all the usual precautions for
deep-frying and heating to 180°C.
3. Mix the
flours in a bowl and pour in the ginger beer. Stir loosely, as vigorous mixing
will get rid of the bubbles you want to keep; don’t worry if there are some
4. Just before
cooking, season the prawns with a good pinch of salt. Holding a prawn by the
tail, dip into the batter, then drop into the hot oil. Cook until the batter
puffs up, about two minutes. Repeat to cook all the prawns, frying them in
small batches so as not to overcrowd the pan.
5. Drain on a
wire rack placed over kitchen paper, not directly on kitchen paper or the
batter will go soggy, and serve with a squeeze of lime.
7 egg yolks
(freeze the whites for another time)
405g can of
nutmeg, plus more to serve
butter, plus more for the tin
flour, plus more to dust
1 egg yolk
1. In a
saucepan, simmer the Guinness until it reduces by about two-thirds. Leave to
make the pastry. Using your hands, rub the butter and flour together until the
mix resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the sugar and egg yolk and then add the
measured water a little bit at a time, until the dough comes together. Don’t
knead any more, just wrap in cling film or greaseproof paper and refrigerate
for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the
oven to 160°C/fan 140°C/Gas Mark 3. Butter a 20-centimetre tart tin and remove
the pastry from the fridge. Dust your worktop with flour and roll out the
pastry into a circle roughly 28-centimetres in diameter. Coil the pastry around
the rolling pin and uncoil over the tart tin. Carefully push the pastry into
the corners of the tin and leave the edges rising above the edge. Prick the
base of the tin with a fork all over, then line with greaseproof paper and
baking beans or rice. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Take out the greaseproof
paper and baking beans and bake for a further five minutes. Remove from the
oven and leave to cool.
4. In a bowl,
gently beat the egg yolks with the condensed milk, trying not to get too much
air or too many bubbles into the mix. Stir in the double cream and reduced
Guinness, then stir in the remaining ingredients.
5. Pour the
custard into the pastry case and bake for 40–45 minutes; it should still have a
wobble in the middle. Remove and leave to cool.
6. Grate extra nutmeg over the top and chill before slicing.
Motherland by Melissa Thompson is
published by Bloomsbury Publishing