Diverse and indigenous cuisine brought by the many ethnic people to St. Maarten from all over the world piques our interest. To this end, we are on a quest to find where it comes from, if it is used for celebrations, if it is exotic to some but normal food to others. Anything to do with keeping the body and soul nourished with what is produced from good old terra firma is what makes the world go around.
Life has changed with this new virus doing the rounds. While there is so much heartache for many – being scared of being caught up in an ailment that may or may not affect one for life; having to change many of our ways – there is one thing that has come out of this that is all for the good and that is gardening.
Gardening is being done by many around the world who have never grown anything before. Gardening is being done by folk who profess to not have a green thumb. Gardening is opening up the hearts and souls of folk who may never have communicated with each other in the past. Gardening is becoming common ground between groups of people who want healthy food put on the table, but it is not just that; it is that these folks realize that going back to the basics is what life is all about at this present time.
Keep in mind that gardening will not make things difficult for the shopkeepers and bigger scale farmers, because these home gardeners will only be able to grow small quantities but, boy, will those veggies and salads be the best tasting ever! Gardeners are uniting everywhere and there is no exception on St. Maarten.
This is partly due to the new and very lively Facebook group called Kitchen Garden Club. One enthusiastic gardener felt she had to share; share what she was doing; share in her excitement; share the seedlings she seemed to be producing by the hundreds – literally – and so she created this Facebook club! The club has drawn in so many on island who are keen to start growing.
But that is not the only Facebook group to be full of life at the moment. There is the Home-Growers of St. Maarten group; SXM Fisheries; Spaceless Gardens, who put out there that this “pandemic is of great concern, it is an eye opener to help shape new innovative ways to move forward with our food security in mind” – food that not only is fresh and tasty, but food that heals is uppermost in everyone’s minds.
I have possibly missed some of the enthusiastic groups above, and have not I mentioned the groups of growers on the French side that are producing excellent veggies, salads and herbs too – this upsurge to grow our own food that many/most folk have not done/attempted to do in the past 40 or more years. History is in the making on our wee rock; we are going back to our roots and doing what was done many years ago, producing food that is good for our health.
Everyone, beginner gardener and those whose livelihood depends on it, is growing things that one would not believe is possible to grow on island. It is fascinating to see pictures of the huge jackfruit in one garden, the enormous soursop in another, and beautiful carambola fruit that is in yet another garden. How is it that those plants are doing so well? Questions about gardening are put to the group on social media and answers come back, encouraging and kind.
Where can one get dirt? Who has seeds or seedlings to spare? What can one use as planters? How can one cope with pesky monkeys and iguanas? Questions and answers keep on rolling along with great videos thrown in. Oh yes, things have suddenly changed in the gardens out there, history is being made.
Did you know that there’s a couple of grapevines producing table grapes in someone’s garden? Did you know that there’s a great variety of basil that grows in this climate very happily? Have you seen the size of the cucumbers, the eggplant and the variety of tomatoes coming out of some gardens? There are some plants that will not grow here, plants that need cold weather to give them a boost, but one of those plants is not potatoes. Potatoes can be grown in containers. In fact, most of the plants we can grow on island can be grown in containers.
There is one element that cannot be allowed to slip up and that is watering. Watering is a tricky one as first you need water, preferably rain water as desalinated water does not have the nutrients. Grey water is fabulous if you can get it piped to the garden. You also have to be careful not to overwater and the plants need feeding as well as watering.
Many folks have been very innovative putting up planters. One enthusiastic gardener has built a lovely vertical garden up a wall. The planter boxes are not deep and will grow lettuce and arugula (one can never have enough of these plants) as well as other fresh herbs. Stepping outside the kitchen door to snip some great fresh herbs is what life is about.
The big problem for some people is what to cook with all this freshly picked stuff – a problem if the gardener is really not into cooking. What does seem to be happening is those non-gardeners and non-cooks are taking an interest and trying their hand at cooking their lovely produce.
Container gardens is the way to go if there is no space for raised beds. As I have mentioned before, making compost is an offshoot of growing and cooking – nothing needs go to waste or be thrown out to the dump. Liquid compost/tea/manure is a bit smelly but easy to make. Using leaves, like Neem leaves (and garlic and pepper) will make a good organic spray to squirt over fruit. It turns out the monkeys don’t like their stolen gains to taste different. Remember to wash the pickings so you don’t have tainted fruit to eat either.
History is being made by many islanders, they are going back to their roots, back to basics. It is a good feeling.
Sweet potatoes/any potatoes. You need potatoes with wee sprouts/eyes. You will also need a big enough container (fairly wide and deep), good loose-dirt and some banana skins. You can check out growing container potatoes on YouTube, but essentially this exercise is easy for the beginner.
Fill the pot with dirt about 2 inches deep. Place some banana skins over the dirt, add another 2 inches of dirt. Set the potatoes 4 to 6 on the bottom, evenly spaced. Cover with dirt until just over the potato. When leaves appear, lay them down gently and cover with more dirt. Continue until the pot is full. Water with a liquidized banana skin every other week. Wait for a few months until flowers start appearing, making sure the dirt is kept moist all the time. Empty your container, harvest the potatoes and start another pot.
Recipes with potatoes
Sweet Potato Pie – check out this recipe online. https://www.cookingclassy.com/sweet-potato-pie/
This way of eating sweet potato is not my favourite. Sweet potato is already sweet. But having said that, the recipe found at this site is very, very good.
Sweet Potato Curry – I love sweet potato cooked with spiciness and this vegan recipe does it for me.
1 TBL coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ inch piece ginger, grated
3 TBL Thai red curry paste
1 TBL smooth peanut butter
500g sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
400ml can coconut milk
200g bag spinach, chopped
1 lime, juiced
Dry roasted peanuts,
Melt coconut oil in a saucepan.
Soften onion 5 mins.
Add 2 garlics and grated ginger, stir cook 1 min.
Stir in Thai red curry paste, peanut butter.
Add sweet potato.
Add coconut milk and 200ml water.
Bring to boil, turn down heat to simmer, uncovered, 25-30 mins.
Stir in spinach and lime juice.
Season well with salt and pepper.
When serving with rice, sprinkle with dry roasted peanuts.
New Potato and Cheddar Quiche – sweet potatoes can be used here, although I have mainly used regular fingerling type new potatoes in a quiche.
Pastry - to make pies. You can buy or use homemade pastry.
250g new potatoes, peeled, cooked and sliced or halved (depending on size)
2 bunches spring onions, sliced
250g cheddar, diced
200ml double cream
Heat oven 400 °F.
Roll out pastry, line a deep 23cm tart tin.
Cover with baking parchment, fill with baking beans, bake blind 20 mins, remove beans and paper bake 10 mins more.
Turn oven temp to 350 °F.
Layer base with the potatoes, onions and cheddar.
Whisk eggs, milk and cream together.
Season with salt and pepper (potatoes need more salt than you would think (for those who like salty food).
Pour over potatoes, cook 40-45 mins until just set.
Remove, cool on a wire rack.