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Jamaican Food Stories: School treats of yesteryear.

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

Those of us who attended Jamaican primary schools in the nineteen seventies will remember the variety of sweets and snacks that were available from vendors at the back gate.


For the uninitiated among us, the vendors with their various wares of toys, sweets and snacks were not allowed to sell on the school compound. They would set up outside the gates of the school usually at the back gate. Students who were able to get outside the gates for break and lunch would purchase their sweets. Many schools did not allow students outside the gates for break and lunch. Bold students would make snack purchases over the fence under the disapproving glare of the school’s watchman. The more adventurous among us would find their way outside through one of the many holes made in the fence by students. We were only allowed to make purchases to and from school.

The vendors had a wide assortment of sweets and treats. Some were imported candies, but most were local. We enjoyed stewed June plum which is the June plum fruit stewed in a sugar syrup with ginger and cinnamon until soft and flavorful. Asham (Brown George) was another favorite, this I believe was finely ground roasted corn with sugar, salt and other spices added. The result was a powdery substance that the children loved. Jackass Corn was also on offer; this is a hard biscuit made with grated coconut sweetened and spiced. A favorite local sweet was the Busta you could keep it in your mouth for a long time. It is also made from grated coconut flavored with molasses and wet sugar I believe. Also popular was the peanut cake, this delicious treat is made from roasted peanuts boiled in a sugar syrup then left to harden. It is somewhat similar to peanut brittle but not as hard. Gizzada was also available, grated coconut boiled in the same type of sugary syrup flavored and placed in short crust pastry shells. Grater cake would be a similar filling without the crust. Coconut drops is the coconut finely diced and boiled in that familiar sugar syrup, but with a strong ginger flavor.


It is clear that the coconut was integral to the Jamaican lifestyle and diet in those days and still today. There was, however, a period in the nineteen eighties when the Jamaican population was discouraged from consuming coconut in large quantities. It was deemed unhealthy at the time by some new medical research. Many families stopped using coconut oil to cook and switched to imported oils for cooking. It seemed strange to me even as a youngster and the person responsible for scrubbing the Dutch pots (Jamaican cookware) as the task became twice as hard to get the pots to their shiny luster. The new oils left a black residue. I am not surprised that nowadays the research community sings the praises of coconut and its oil. It is even now revered as a superfood. Fortunately, many of us never stopped using coconut oil as we did not believe the research. We also knew that most food is made better when cooked with coconut oil. Nothing goes better with some roast breadfruit or roast yam. We would not abandon this food of our forefathers.


Do you remember the government provided lunch? I know many of my compatriots will remember those vegetable patties and the pink “Nice and Nuff“ ”milk. Not many though will have fond memories of that discounted lunch. Enterprising students would take the patty home, open it add pepper sauce and other seasoning and warm them in a pot until they got crispy. The cherry milk would taste better somehow after it was frozen. It was cheap many many kids bought those snacks even if they didn’t need them. Some kids would never eat the government snacks but would buy them and have food fights. They did, however, serve as an important means of sustenance for many children who came to a school without breakfast or had very little money for lunch.

Jamaican vendors are always visionary and industrious. Today vendors sell mostly imported sweets and snacks as the taste of Jamaican children today is more cultured to imported sweets and snacks. I hope some of the more industrious among us will continue to make and sell our local treats. Modernize them, hopefully then today’s children might eat more local snacks from the primary school back gate.


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