The holiday season in Jamaica is a time of celebration and feasting and consists of three different holidays: Christmas Day (Dec. 25), Boxing Day (Dec. 26) and New Year’s Day. Multiple meats may be featured on the Christmas table, and it’s not hard to guess that the main meat at the center of a Jamaican holiday meal is a form of pork. It’s often a ham, but this ham is a cured one that may be seasoned with molasses or rum, slow-cooked to tender perfection and served garnished with a slice or two of roasted pineapple. Rice and peas turn up so frequently on Jamaican tables that they’re known as the “coat of arms,” so it’s only natural that they would make a holiday appearance as well.
Side dishes may vary but are often yams and eddoes, fried plantains and leafy greens like callaloo. Sweet potatoes may also be featured. The meal is a lengthy celebration of family and friends gathered around the table and culminates in the serving of Christmas pudding. In many households the upcoming holiday season is signaled by the appearance of dried fruit soaking in rum in crocks and containers. As Christmas nears, the fruit is removed and transformed into a pudding that mirrors British plum pudding but is rich with the very Caribbean addition of rum. It’s so intensely flavored that it seems at times as though it should be sipped through a straw.
Christmas pudding is not the only place in which rum appears. The elixir of the Caribbean is also often paired with the rosy-hued beverage known as sorrel that is prepared from infusing cinnamon, cloves, orange peels and sugar in water with the pods of sorrel, a relative of the hibiscus.
And so, with the holiday season upon us, in the islands to the south, glasses of sorrel, shrubb and coquito are lifted with sincere wishes for health and happiness for those we love on Christmas and in the new year. I lift my punch cup and second the thought.
Jessica B. Harris is a New York-based professor, writer and food historian. Her most recent work is High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America.