Caribbean Christmas recipes

As chill winds blow up here in the north, hastening the birth of Christ, everyone around me is happily browsing or buying gifts, looking forward to a white Christmas. I, on the other hand, am yearning for the land of my birth, and a true Caribbean Christmas.

  • Served with or without ice, ponche á creme is a heady delight. Photograph courtesy Nestlé Trinidad and Tobago Ltd
  • Wrapped in banana leaves, these pastelles are ready to serve. Photograph courtesy Nestlé Trinidad and Tobago Ltd
  • Photograph by Ian Randle Publishers Ltd

Christmas the Caribbean way

As chill winds blow up here in the north, hastening the birth of Christ, everyone around me is happily browsing or buying gifts, looking forward to a white Christmas. I, on the other hand, am yearning for the land of my birth, and a true Caribbean Christmas.

The scent of pines may not prevail in the Caribbean, but the aroma of exotic foods and potent drinks does. I remember my mother adding cloves and grated nutmeg (and the inevitable Angostura bitters) to Ponche à Creme. A bottle of rum finishes the mixture, which is drunk in small pony glasses over cracked ice.

It doesn’t stop there. There’s the grating of fresh young ginger for Ginger Beer. The boiling of Sorrel, a scarlet fruit (family to the cotton plant), which is plucked, cleaned and steeped in water, then sweetened and bottled with cloves and a few grains of rice to produce fermentation. Many families gather at one house to make batches of Christmas drinks. Dozens of bottles are lovingly put in cupboards, ready for holiday guests.

As the days go by, the food is prepared too. Pastelles, adapted from a Venezuelan recipe, is now a tradition. No self-respecting family would buy them “ready-made”. Long ago, women used to dominate the kitchen, but lately men have become experts in making pastelles: grated corn flour, pressed onto greased banana leaves, filled with meats, capers, olives, raisins and herbs, the mixture then rolled, tied, and finally steamed. They are made by the hundreds, depending on the size of the family, and eaten as a snack or meal. Black Pudding is a delicious, highly-seasoned blood sausage, eaten with sizzling bakes. And I can almost smell the wonderful aroma of sugar-baked ham, topped with thick-skinned crackling.

And of course, loads of friends stop by to sample the food and wish Merry Christmas. Some families take gifts to the children’s hospital, to the homes for the aged, or food to the less privileged. No one is forgotten.

I miss that close feeling of community when I go to mass at midnight, and stop for Black Cake and Ponche à Creme at a friend’s home afterwards.

As I think back to those warm tropical nights, I can hear the strains of steel pans on a late cool breeze. Someone starts humming a calypso, out comes a cuatro, and then the bottle and spoon. Someone pipes up “Fire one”, and the party begins. The house bursts with laughter as the parang starts up.

That’s Christmas the Caribbean way!

Caribbean cookup — Christmas edition

Christmas in the Caribbean, as elsewhere, is marked by its celebration of food and drink. This issue of Caribbean Cookup features favourite Christmas dishes from around the islands. And even though you’re familiar with grandma’s Black Cake recipe from Barbados, why not, for a change, try the recipe this year from Trinidad? Same with Garlic Pork and Sorrel. You’ll love it.


Garlic Pork


  • 3-4 lbs lean pork (with just a little fat)
  • 2 pints vinegar
  • 1/2 lb garlic
  • 1 bunch thyme (1 broad leaf & 4 stalks fine leaf)
  • 6-8 wiri-wiri peppers (optional)
  • 4-6 cloves
  • 4 tsp salt


Cut pork into bite-sized pieces. Steep in mixture of vinegar and water, then lift out using two forks and put into a large jar or bottle. Pound garlic, peppers and thyme. Add to the rest of the vinegar. Add salt and clove. Pour over pork, making sure that there is enough liquid to cover pork completely. Leave to soak for about 3-4 days or longer if possible. Boil pork with some of the liquid until liquid evaporates, by which time the fat of the pork will fry until brown.

Ginger Beer


  • 1/2 lb dried ginger (pound green ginger)
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1/2 lime
  • a few cloves
  • 3 lbs sugar
  • 1 lb white rice


Put all ingredients into a clean jar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover jar and leave for two days. On the third day, strain through a thin muslin and then pour into bottles. Serve with cracked ice.

NB For a mild flavour, lessen the amount of ginger.

Courtesy What’s Cooking in Guyana by the Carnegie School of Home Economics/Universal Company, Guyana, in association with the Carnegie School of Home Economics.





  • 3 lbs sorrel
  • 1 in root ginger, washed, crushed and blended
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 5 pimento leaves, or 4 green dried grains of pimento
  • 6 cinnamon leaves
  • 6 pts boiling water
  • 1/2 cap overproof rum (optional)
  • 1/2 lb granulated sugar or sweeten to taste
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp rice


Cut sorrel sepals from seeds and wash well. Put sepals in a crock jar with ginger, cloves, pimento and cinnamon leaves. Pour on boiling water. Cover with a cloth and set aside for 24 hours. A tablespoon of rice can be put in to speed fermentation. Strain and sweeten with granulated sugar and a little lime juice. Add rum. Bottle and chill.

Courtesy The Real Taste of Jamaica by Enid Donaldson/Ian Randle Publishers



Ponche à Creme


  • 4 medium eggs
  • peel from a green lime
  • 3 tins Nestlé Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1 pack Carnation Evaporated Milk
  • 1 bottle rum (750 ml)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tsp almond essence
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg (grated)
  • 1 tsp aromatic bitters


Whisk eggs with lime peel. After 12 strokes remove lime peel. Add mixture to blender along with other ingredients. Blend well. Bottle and store in refrigerator. Serve on ice. Yields approximately 1.75 litres.

Tip: Do not over beat lime peel or your ponche à creme will be very rindy. Reduce rum to 2 cups or 500ml for milder taste of alcohol.

Courtesy Nestlé Trinidad and Tobago Limited

Christmas Cake


  • 400 ml (1 2/3 cup) dark rum
  • 400 ml (1 2/3 cup) cherry brandy
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) Angostura aromatic bitters
  • 450g (1 lb) raisins
  • 450g (1 lb) currants
  • 225g (1/2 lb) prunes
  • 125g (1/4 lb) mixed peel
  • 450g (1 lb) margarine or butter
  • 450g (1 lb) brown sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 450 g (1 lb) all purpose flour
  • 15ml (3 tsp) baking powder
  • 1 ml (1/4 tsp) each, cinnamon and allspice
  • 125g (1/4 lb) cherries, chopped
  • 10ml (2 tsp) mixed essence
  • 180ml (3/4 cup) browning

Seed and cut up fruit, except cherries, into 1/4 inch pieces.


Combine rum, cherry brandy and Angostura aromatic bitters and add fruit to mixture. Let soak for one week. Preheat oven to 300˚F. Cream margarine or butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together flour and baking powder, cinnamon and allspice. Drain fruit and reserve liquid. Add drained fruit and cherries to margarine and sugar mixture. Stir. Fold flour into fruits and margarine mixture. Add mixed essence and browning and mix well. Butter and line two 9” cake pans with waxed paper. Butter paper and dust with flour. Spoon cake batter equally into prepared baking pans. Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Pour reserved rum and cherry brandy mixture over cake when baked. Cool in pans before removing.

Courtesy The Taste That Changed The World/The House of Angostura.



  • 1 lb minced beef
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 bundle chive and thyme, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp hot pepper sauce (optional)
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp beef-flavoured Maggi Tastemakers,
  • 1/4 cup tomato ketchup
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp capers
  • 3 tbsp chopped olives
  • 1/2 cup raisins

For outer case

  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 tsp beef-flavoured Maggi Tastemakers
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil or 1/4 lb margarine
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 3 banana leaves
  • string


Season beef with onion, chive and thyme, garlic, hot pepper sauce and Tastemakers. Cook, then add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, capers, olives and raisins. Adjust seasoning by adding more Tastemakers and pepper if desired. Let cool.

Make outer case by mixing cornmeal, Tastemakers, oil (or margarine) and warm water to make a soft dough. Form the dough into about 15-20 balls of approximately 2 inches in diameter. Cover balls with a damp kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out. Prepare banana leaves. Wipe with a clean cloth dipped in a weak solution of bleach and water. Quickly pass the leaves over a medium to low open flame, allowing the leaf to get dark but not burn. Cut leaves into squares approximately 6”x 6”. (If banana leaves are not available, cut aluminum foil into squares.) Baste two banana leaves (or squares of foil) with some oil. Place a cornmeal ball on one square of leaf, cover with another basted leaf (or piece of foil) and flatten using a pastelle press or a rolling pin to about 1/8” thick. Remove the top leaf and put approximately 1 tbsp of meat mixture in the middle of the flattened ball. Fold the cornmeal around the meat in a rectangular shape, sealing the edges with a little water. Fold the banana leaf around the pastelle and tie in place with a piece of string. Steam the pastelles in a colander or steamer for about 20 minutes. Cool and remove from the banana leaf before serving.

Courtesy Nestlé Trinidad and Tobago Limited


Open Mince Tart


  • 1/4 lb raisins
  • 1/4 lb prunes (cleaned and seeded)
  • 1/4 lb sultanas
  • 1/4 lb mixed fruit
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon


Mince all the above together and put to soak in 1 cup of red rum for a couple of months. Add nutmeg and cinnamon and leave in a jar until ready to use at Christmas time.


  • 1/2 lb flour
  • 2 oz margarine
  • 2 oz lard
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tbsp ice water
  • syrup (mixture of sugar and water)

Mix all dry ingredients together. Blend in margarine and lard until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Gradually add the ice water and make into a ball. Roll out on floured board into a circle, and place on a Pyrex plate. Cut off edges that can be used later to decorate across the top. Spoon mixture over pastry. Decorate with remaining strips of pastry and brush lightly with syrup. Bake in the oven for 25-30 mins at 350 degrees.

Recipe courtesy Mrs Joyce Renwick

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