Today I warmed up the last of my Christmas gift from my brother- homemade Jamaican patties. It has become an annual tradition for him to lock down the kitchen and spend a day (or two) preparing the filling, making dough from scratch, rolling, stuffing, and pinching, dozens of patties to gift to his friends and family. My food loving self (along with my overstimulated mompreneur self), deeply appreciates this gift, as the time it takes to make these yummy treats is more time than I am willing to dedicate myself- and the post Christmas haze really is THE best time for hot, fresh food that you don’t have to make yourself. This year, I am in the throes of building a business around food and culture; this new endeavour has me thinking about my own culinary influences, the memories connected to certain recipes or foods, and how they tell stories about who I am. This story ends with me eating a delicious homemade gift from my brother, but its roots come from our childhood and extend to people and places far beyond our family in Edmonton, AB Canada.
We were lucky to grow up in an area where you could go outside and play from sun up to sun down, with all of the neighbourhood kids at the local park, and the various parents, and seniors in the hood were always looking out for the kiddos (or waiting for us to do something mischievous to report back to our parents). When I think about my childhood, I think about long days riding bikes, playing at the park, exploring the neighbourhood, and getting into (mostly) innocent trouble. I also think about the people who played a part in my daily life- my neighbours. Watching us run around the backyard in our bathing suits through the sprinkler, roller blade up and down the front street, and surely hearing all kinds of household chaos through the open windows in summertime. Right next door to us, separated by a chain link fence, were Arline and Granis, a lovely couple that immigrated to Edmonton in the 70’s from Trinidad, but who were originally from Jamaica. I remember Arline as a tough and outspoken woman with a kind heart and soft spot for us kids (unless we did something she didn’t like…. then you better watch out), and Granis being a warm, calm, joyous soul- they certainly balanced each other out. They would often call us over, with something interesting to share with us from their house (she had a room full of cockatiels that she adored- which was one of the coolest things ever, I mean how many people do you know that have a tropical themed room full of domestic birds?!), or to give us fancy little treats unlike the ones we were familiar with. They also regularly set up a hammock in their yard during the summer, a BIG, woven, colourful, beautiful hammock that could fit several people and you could fully wrap yourself up in… and it was pure magic to us kids. It felt like we were their grandchildren, before the real grandkids came along.
As we grew up, my mother would make these special patties a few times a year. At that stage in my life, I didn’t love ground beef (and to this day, I still only eat it in patties or tacos, and maybe a really spectacular meatball) , so I would scrape all of the meat out of the pattie so I could enjoy the curry scented pastry. You could also regularly find all of the tips of the patties eaten, as I would sneakily pull off the ends from a whole batch to devour. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that the recipe was from Arline. I studied the recipe, written out in her distinctive handwriting, splattered with bits of food from all of the use over the years, and asked my mom how she had come to get the recipe. She shared the story about Arline teaching her how to make these ‘special’ patties. She had been given something that so many of us don’t realize the value of- a hand written, personal recipe, something passed down through generations of women. I wish I knew more about all of those stories, and women- a lesson I take with me now- to ask, listen, learn; the value in stories and histories, how it often shapes us in ways we don’t even fully realize.
Now, 30+ years later, our family has a Christmas tradition that is connected to a special woman that shared a part of her culture, and who she was with us. It inspires me to pass this recipe, and others on to my own children, and keep the stories, the memory of how it started, and with whom alive. It reminds me that some of the everyday things that make us who we are, connect to a larger network of people, and places in the world. It’s women like Arline, my mother, my Aunts, and so many amazing women in my life who shared love through food that inspired and brought the idea of Secret Ingredient YEG Cooking Classes to life. I invite you to reflect on some of these connections in your own life, flip through your recipe book and maybe even reconnect with someone that shaped a part of your life though their food. I hope you get a chance to try this special recipe- shared in loving memory of Arline and Granis King.
By: Steffanie Beekman; Secret Ingredient YEG Founder