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Date with a Dish

By Grace Cameron

Weekly Series

Date-worthy Turn Cornmeal

My grandmother, the one we called Aunt, was a bad cook.

No matter how she tried, her dinner was, at best, so-so.

Her food literally went to the dogs on the days that she made turn (tu’n) cornmeal. Whether she paired it with saltfish, chicken or other ‘meat kind,’ it inevitably turned out as a mass of unpalatable yellow blob. I don’t know why she kept making it, but there it was about once a month.

Still, us kids didn’t really mind as we would eagerly wait for my grandfather (called, you guessed it, Uncle) to get home. On arrival, he would summon the dogs and turn the spongy yellow thing into the dog dishes. (In hindsight, I think Aunt must’ve felt hurt, although she never showed it.) Then, Uncle would call me, my brother and/or my cousin Juliet to run out to the shop to buy “dry food,” usually those old-time round cornbread with fried fish along with some kind of beverage. We loved it. If he were feeling particularly wealthy, he would send us on a second trip to buy more dry food, which made us giddy with delight.

Much later in life, I learned that the turn cornmeal that we scorned and that many Jamaicans fed to their dogs was known as ‘fancy’ polenta to the Italians. Still, I’ve never felt the desire to make turn cornmeal…until recently.

I made a date with turn cornmeal because of Dr. Winnette McIntosh Ambrose’s Duck Coocootinis with Hibiscus Relish recipe (Issue 3, 2017, JamaicanEats magazine). A champion of the U.S. Food Network’s Chopped and Cupcake Wars, the Trini born and raised Dr. McIntosh Ambrose shared this fancy dish, which is really a glammed-up version of turn cornmeal with duck meat and sorrel (another name for hibiscus) relish.

Dr. Winnette McIntosh Ambrose’s Duck Coocootinis

Confession: Mi neva mek di duck an’ hibiscus relish, but I gave the coocootini (turned cornmeal that’s cut into thick, long batons…think large French fries…and toasted.

I paired it with some ‘jazzed up’ curried chick peas…and…and…I loved it.

The dogs at my house came sniffing around but, trust me, I would’ve wrestled them for any crumb of coocootini that fell to the floor.

Luckily, for them, it never came to that.

So, the date was successful. Not only do I plan to keep on seeing this coocootini, I’m thinking of introducing it to family and friends…maybe topped with the duck meat and fancy sorrel (hibiscus) relish. Find it under the Recipe section of this site.
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P.S. Besides making a wicked cornmeal dish, Dr. McIntosh Ambrose has 2 degrees from the prestigious MIT; a PhD in Biochemical Engineering from Johns Hopkins; holds 2 biomedical patents; owns and operates 2 bakeries in Washington, DC.; and has 2 toddlers. Her story, issue 3, 2017.

- Issue 3, 2017, JamaicanEats magazine

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Have gone through a breakup; suffered heartbreak; fallen in love with; or discovered a new way with an old sweetie (Caribbean) dish, ingredient, fruit, vegetable...? Then we want to know about it. Send your DATE WITH A DISH story to caribbeanfoodguide@mail.com, with Date with a Dish in the subject line, and we'll publish it in this space.
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