While sailing around the Caribbean, Ann Vanderhoof and her husband Steve track wild oregano-eating goats in the cactus-covered hills of the Dominican Republic, gather nutmegs on an old estate in Grenada, make searing-hot pepper sauce in a Trinidadian kitchen, cram for a chocolate-tasting test at the University of the West Indies, and sip moonshine straight out of hidden back-country stills.
Along the way, they are befriended by a collection of unforgettable island characters: Dwight, the skin-diving fisherman who always brings them something from his catch and critiques her efforts to cook it; Greta, who harvests seamoss on St. Lucia and turns it into potent Island-Viagra; sweet-hand Pat, who dispenses hugs and impromptu dance lessons along with cooking tips in her Port of Spain kitchen.
Back in her galley, Ann practices making curry like a Trini, dog sauce like a Martiniquais, and coo-coo like a Carriacouan. And for those who want to take these adventures into their own kitchens, she pulls 71 delicious recipes from the stories she tells, which she places at the end of the relevant chapters.
The Spice Necklace is a wonderful escape into a life filled with sunshine (and hurricanes), delicious food, irreplaceable company, and island traditions.
A Look at The Spice Necklace Photos from the Islands
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Spicy Bites: A Taste of The Spice Necklace
1. Wild oregano is a mainstay in the diet of goats that graze in the hills at the northwest edge of the Dominican Republic--which means the meat comes to the kitchen preseasoned, and infused with flavor.
2.Seamoss is a type of seaweed that is reputed in the Caribbean to be a potent aphrodisiac, the island version of Viagra. It’s dried, boiled until thick, then mixed with milk and spices (such as cinnamon and nutmeg). One restaurant in Grenada calls its version of the milkshake-like seamoss drink “Stay Up.”
3. Nutmeg and mace come from the same tree. When its apricot-like fruit is ripe, it splits open to reveal a lacy, strawberry-red wrapper around the hard glossy brown shell that holds the nutmeg itself. This waxy red corset is mace, and more than 300 pounds of nutmegs are needed to yield a single pound of it.
4. On the Scoville scale of pepper heat, Trinidadian Congo peppers rate about 300,000 units. Even the most fiery Mexican jalapeño only measures about 8,000.
5. Coconut water--the clear liquid inside a young or "jelly" coconut--has the same electrolyte balance as blood and was given intravenously to wounded soldiers as an emergency substitute for plasma during World War II. Coconut water is also better than energy drinks for rehydration, replenishing electrolytes and minerals such as potassium. For the same reasons, it's used as a hangover cure in the Caribbean.
6. Much of the ground cinnamon sold in North America is actually cassia, which is the variety of cinnamon grown in the Caribbean. Cassia has a stronger, more pungent flavor than true cinnamon. Once a year, the trees are harvested by carefully peeling the bark away from the branches. After the outer layer is removed, the inner bark is dried in the sun. As it dries, it begins to curl into sticks, and then is rolled and pressed by hand to complete the process.
7.The aroma of allspice is a sensuous combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper-- which leads to the common misconception that it is a blend of several spices. In fact, allspice is a single spice-- the dried berry of a tree that is native only to the West Indies and Central America. Jamaica produces 90% of the world's supply; Grenada, the remaining 10%.
8. To make removing coconut meat from the shell easier, bore holes in two of the eyes of the coconut using a pointed utensil and drain the liquid. Bake the nut in a preheated 400° F oven for 15–20 minutes. This cracks the shell and shrinks the meat slightly, so it virtually pops out.
9. Mauby, a popular West Indian drink, has a proven ability to reduce high blood pressure. It's made by steeping the bark of a native Caribbean tree with spices such as bay, cinnamon, star anise, and fennel.
10. Vanilla is the world's second most costly spice (after saffron). Not only do most vanilla flowers have to be hand-pollinated to produce beans, but the beans also have to be fermented and aged to develop their flavor. Straight off the vine, they're odorless and tasteless.