Saltfish and ackee stew made by the author and her familyHeather Cameron

There’s just as much danger in overusing sayings as there is over-cooking pasta. But, now that I’m home for the holidays, it’s definitely true that my family’s cooking has been an upgrade from my own. Now January is with us, I am happily seeing the days grow longer and spring draw closer. In the meantime, to bring comfort and warmth, here are some recipes from my mum’s side of the family!

My mum was born in Barbados and grew up in Jamaica. Though she has lived her adult life in the UK, her Caribbean childhood has shaped who she is today, including her cookery. I write a few of these recipes below in conversation with Traditional Jamaican Cookery, a well-loved book that lives in our kitchen and is falling apart. These are definitely our family’s renditions of them – like any dish, they will continue to evolve over time and space! Do try these recipes, and then add your own adjustments to your tastes!

“These are definitely our family’s renditions of them – like any dish, they will continue to evolve over time and space!”

A particular favourite of mine is her rendition of Jamaica’s national dish: saltfish and ackee. Ackee is a fruit, the pulp of which is yellow and resembles scrambled egg! Mum bulk-buys tins of the stuff online. Our cupboard ends up so full of the tins, she tries to distribute some to friends. Instead of saltfish, which according to the book is salt cod, we use smoked haddock. There’s a certain ritual of going to the local fishmongers, and buying the fillets wrapped in paper. If you don’t eat fish, try smoked tofu. When you have a bowl of steaming white rice with a sea of this over it, life somehow looks a bit more palatable.

To serve four, slice two to three small white onions and two yellow or red sweet peppers. Slowly soften them in a generous amount of butter or oil. You can add a couple of pieces of smoked bacon at this stage to add to the flavour but it is not necessary. Either add in chopped fresh tomatoes – or two tins. Season with bay leaf, plenty of thyme, and black pepper. Slowly bubble till soft. Stir the sauce, and add a little water if drying out. Add in your smoked haddock, put a lid on the pan and leave to cook. After roughly five minutes, when the fish is opaque, add the ackee – one large tin will probably be enough. Heat through and stir again. Ready to enjoy!

Next is rice and peas. When we have a special meal of roast chicken, which we seem to call “sticky chicken”, Mum will make this as a side. My mum’s sisters have an ongoing implicit competition: who makes this family favourite the best? Now, the second generation is getting involved. I am impartial. Its taste hides a deceptively easy method. Try it also with jerk chicken or pork and a side salad. If you don’t eat meat, why not try a spicy meat alternative?

“There’s a certain ritual of going to the local fishmongers, and buying the fillets wrapped in paper”

Wash enough white rice to serve four people, and cook with ham stock, thyme, bay, garlic and black pepper. When nearly cooked, add in one tin of kidney beans (drained or undrained according to your preference), and about 30-50g grated creamed coconut or a tin of coconut milk. Try not to eat it out of the pan.

A traditional Jamaican breakfast of ackee and saltfish, the national dish of Jamaica, as well as callaloo (greens), fry dumpling, some have a dense biscuit with jam, citrus fruits and part of a honey bananaCreative Commons / Karolyn

Next is possibly my favourite cake in existence: banana bread. I have taken this from Traditional Jamaican Cookery, but in my own words. On the well-worn page, my mum has written a quote from my eldest sister, “Banana bread is one of the best things in life.” I have written this in ounces, because that is the language of my baking.


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Sift together 10oz self-raising flour, ½ tsp salt, and a generous amount of nutmeg. Set aside. Cream together 4oz butter and 8oz sugar (soft brown if possible). Add one egg and three mashed black bananas. (We have made it vegan, with oil replacing the egg.) Mix well, and add the flour, with about 125ml milk (but this will depend on your mixture), and lastly 1 tsp vanilla. The mixture should be “thick but not too stiff”. Pour/spoon into a greased and floured loaf tin. For extra yumminess, add more grated nutmeg and sugar on top, and bake in a preheated oven at about 150C for one hour, or until brown. Test with a skewer. You may need to turn down the oven for the last 20 minutes or so, otherwise it can be too sticky inside. If you can manage to wait to try it until it’s cool, you will avoid a banana bread mess. But if you can’t, a banana bread mess is not such a bad thing.

I hope these recipes can bring you as much joy as they do for my family. Enjoy!