Thursday, March 25, 2010

What's Duckna? A Caribbean St. Patrick's Day Treat

I had the wonderful and  exciting pleasure of celebrating St. Patrick's Day on the island of Montserrat in the West Indies.  Montserrat is the only country besides Ireland to celebrate March 17th as a national holiday.  The day commemorates the Irish, English and African immigrants and their heritage. Cheers to all!

One of the highlights of the day happens in the afternoon at the Village Festival of National Heritage in Little Bay.  Replicas of slave huts are erected and locals prepare traditional dishes and bring them for sale. 

I learned all about Duckna, a Caribbean treat, from chef Bessie and her daughter. Duckna is made from a paste of shredded sweet potato, coconut, oil, sugar and spices. The sweet potatoes are a deep ruby color on the outside and white inside.  
The mixture is wrapped in elephant-ear leaves (taro)  and tied with strands of banana palm. I'd say something like preparing a Mexican tamale, except tamales use cornmeal and cornhusks.  Bessie said it is important for the duckna to be boiled a long time- about an hour and a half. 

To eat one, simply untie and enjoy the starchy sweetness.  Islanders like to nibble them along with the national dish, Goat Water. While I thought the name sounded less than enticing, Goat Water was delicious. Taxi driver Reuben Furlonge, a warm, caring and special man, made a batch and shared.  Looks, tastes and smells like spicy gumbo with pieces of tender, succulent goat meat. Yum.


Other favorites were souse (pig's feet), spinach-- sort of creamy, and rice.  I skipped the souse.

Naturally, the kids at the festival wanted more modern treats. They begged their parents for ice-cream cones, which I admit, I enjoyed, as well as a few rum punches in the bar.
Quite a different St. Patrick's Day from corned beef and cabbage and green beer.


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