Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ackee and Saltfish and Life

This is ackee, which my family knows is my favorite dish on earth. It's considered a fruit but eats more like a vegetable, and its cooked up with lots of saltfish and onions, sweet peppers and sometimes bits of bacon, with Johnny cakes or green bananas or sweet plantain on the side. I grew up eating this for any meal of the day, but most often for Sunday morning breakfast after church.

There was an ackee tree in our yard,  and so we had only to walk outside and pick the ripe fruit off the tree. For transplanted Jamaicans in New York, there is always a little grocery store in Harlem or the Bronx or Brooklyn with cans of ackee stashed under the counter for the asking. It is illegal to display ackee on the shelves, and perhaps to sell it at all, but I suspect this is not enforced as the only people asking for it are the people who know what it is and how to cook it. 

Time magazine listed ackee as one of the world's top ten most dangerous foods, and described it this way: "In Jamaica, the ackee fruit is a mixed blessing. Though originally native to West Africa, it migrated to Jamaica in 1778 and is now the country's national fruit. If improperly eaten, though, ackee can cause what has been dubbed the Jamaican Vomiting Sickness—which, other than the self-explanatory symptoms, can lead to coma or death. Unripe ackee fruit contains a poison called hypoglycin, so preparers must be careful to wait until the fruit's protective pods turn red and open naturally. Once open, the only edible portion is the yellow arilli, which surround always-toxic black seeds. With all that risk comes a delicious payoff—Jamaica's national dish is ackee with codfish."

To be honest, I'm just distracting myself with this post. My daughter is upset about something I can't blog about, and she's feeling anxious and unsure, and this means I am feeling much the same way. I heard someone say once that mothers are only ever as happy as their least happy child. This might actually be true. I am sitting here wishing I could fix everything, but of course I can't. I can only listen sympathetically if she calls me and let her work it through.



12 comments:

  1. Well I now know what ackee is and I had only heard of it before. So thank you for that.
    And let me add this- I am the very same kind of mother as you in so many ways and until you and I learn to let our children's problems be their own to work out (unless they need us, of course) we are going to be suffering a lot more misery than we need to. It's complex. And hard. And your girl will be fine but I'm sorry you have this worry. And I think that saying is as true as anything else I've ever heard.

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  2. How interesting! Thank you for sharing!

    And i hope your daughter's worries are soon worked out, and do remember that every time she goes through this sort of thing now it makes bigger badder worries later more easily handled. We learn problem solving and resilience by being thrown through flames.

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  3. I've never heard of this fruit before, how fascinating.

    I hope your lovely daughter is back to being her cheerful self again soon, and this passes quickly.

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  4. Well, I would love to try some of that delicious looking food.
    As for the daughter--oh, dear. Yes, I can feel that. Wishing for a resolution. xo

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  5. After your birthday post I went and googled ackee and found the same Time article. They had some interesting facts about other dangerous foods as well. I learned some new things today, thank you.

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  6. It looks like heaven and what's more true than a food that's so good it could very well kill you?

    Here's hoping your girl's storm clouds clear up soon.

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  7. Well, I think talking about this strange and wonderful fruit is a good diversion from the matters at hand. I wish you -- and her -- a good resolution!

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  8. I have never in my life heard of ackee. That is FASCINATING! I'd love to taste it but I'm kind of terrified, too!

    Hope things go OK with your daughter.

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  9. How gorgeous and exotic that ackee is. I hope peace comes soon for you and your girl.

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  10. How funny - have never ever heard of this fruit! I wonder if its grown in NZ too? we have loads of fruit there that I miss including feijoas my fave of all time. I ordered them here and they were $2 each!

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  11. I don't think I've ever eaten Ackee before but the mention of it brings Harry Belafonte singing "Ackee rice, salt fish are nice and the rum is fine any time of year ..." on my mother's record player.

    I hope it all works out for your daughter soon.

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  12. Very good post. The food looks delicious.

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