If you are going to live on a tropical island know that you may not be able to find everything that you want, but you can get everything you need, though you may need to visit a couple of stores and a couple of market vendors to do so.
When you can’t get what you want in the stores or markets, you have to make do with what you can get. Sometimes it’s easier to plan your menu based on what is available rather than trying to adapt a recipe; though some of the adaptations come out wonderful and create a new favorite dish.
You need to learn to cook with what is available locally. There are many vegetables that I’d never cooked with before moving to Bequia: okra, eggplant, christophene, snake gourd, sweet potato, dasheen, breadfruit, pigeon peas, plantain, pumpkin. We love plantain, and came up with a version of lasagna that uses thinly sliced plantain in place of lasagna noodles. It’s so delicious. Eggplant is wonderful cooked in coconut milk with onions and a little hot sauce. I’ve always slow cooked okra in a vegetable stew, but recently started roasting okra just tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper, and the pods taste delicious with a french fry crunch.
I happened to be offered a lift one time by a couple who were staying with neighbors and they were hoping to buy a house here, and the woman went off on a tangent because she couldn’t get a yellow sweet pepper and she wanted a yellow sweet pepper as she wanted to make dinner for her hosts and the recipe called for a yellow sweet pepper. You’d have thought it was the end of the world. Her husband asked if she couldn’t just use a green pepper since it tastes the same. She glared at him and said it would taste right but it wouldn’t look the same. I was almost afraid to say anything, but said that usually the only time of year that you can get yellow peppers is at Christmas time when all sorts of foods are brought in. I told my husband later that we shouldn’t expect those people to be neighbors as she’d never be able to handle life in Bequia, if not being able to get a sweet yellow pepper was such a calamity.
There is a huge variety of fruit that varies from season to season, from bananas that taste like candy, papaya, mango, soursop, sugar apple, wax apple, pomegranite, star fruit/five fingers, passion fruit, guava, limes, and more that I just can’t think of right now. So many fruits ripen quickly that we peel ripe banana’s and freeze them, and then cut them in chunks and throw them in a blender to make banana shakes. We take the seeds out of soursop or sweetsop and put the pulp into a container in the freezer and it’s like ice cream. We make juice from five fingers/carambola/star fruit. We make juice from the sorrel flower that is usually only available near Christmas time. Guava jelly or jam is a popular item here. For a change of pace and because I was curious to see what I could do with extra ripe mangoes I altered a recipe for lemon curd and made mango curd, which was very tasty, and would go nicely with vanilla ice cream, pannacotta, or custard.
In the winter months, because of demand from private and charter yachts, and winter residents, there are more imported items available, but in the summer months you just make do without. We have a fabulous shop in Bequia, called Doris Fresh Food and Doris imports wonderful treats, but even her stock tends to run low by the late summer and fall. If you are looking for something out of the ordinary though, Doris’s is where you will likely find it, even yellow peppers on occasion! She has the most wonderful selection of chocolates which are a real treat, and if you want cheese other than mild cheddar, then Doris’s is the place to go. She also carries an amazing wine selection, as well as just about everything else edible.
We often purchase non perishables when we see them as they might not be readily available when we run out, and we fill a shipping barrel to ship down whenever we go to Canada or to Miami, because it is cheaper in the long run, even after you pay the shipping and duties, to import many items.
You can get fresh milk in the winter months when there is more demand for it from the winter visitors, but the rest of the year it’s scarce so you usually have to get tetra pak sterilized milk that doesn’t taste anything like fresh milk…some brands taste better than others. Learning to drink tetra-pak sterilized milk is an acquired taste, and it goes down better if you drown it with chocolate syrup!
We get locally made yogurt here, made by Maranne and it is fabulous. She also makes lovely ice cream.
We also get lovely farm fresh eggs. Farmers in St. Vincent grow pigs and the ham is incredible, as is the pork tenderloin and the ribs. There is also local beef, and chicken, though that is primarily imported. And of course there are fish in the sea: Snapper, Cavalli, Grouper, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Lionfish, and Lobster, to name a few.
The strangest thing to me is that we have lots of almond trees, but nobody bothers to collect the nuts to shell them to sell. We have lots of coconut trees and though people will climb the coconut palms to collect coconuts to sell coconut water, you can’t get freshly ground coconut for baking; you have to get a nut from the beach, and you tell if it is ready by the sound and the color, the color needs to be brown, and there should be a sloshing sound inside, break it open, get the meat out and grind it yourself, it’s very labor intensive. I did discover a trick that makes it easier though, once the nut is free from the husk, if you freeze the nut overnight, the next day, cracking the nut open leaves the meat, which looks like a snowball, free from the shell, and it just pops out; then you poke a hole or two and let the liquid inside drain out into a bowl as it defrosts, then you can drink the coconut water and shred the coconut meat in your food processor or with a madeliene slicer. We also don’t have local sugar; although some sugar cane is still grown in St. Vincent, it’s not processed for sugar, our sugar is imported, so believe it or not, sometimes sugar is scarce if the sugar boat hasn’t come in.
Funnily enough, sometimes you go looking for a common item in a store only to be told that ‘we don’t carry that anymore as we couldn’t keep it in stock.’ That seems a strange way to do business.
Colored pencil drawing of Papaya, Lime, Mango, Bananas, Passion Fruit, Mango, Soursop, and Avocado