Updated: Jun 24, 2020
I often tease youngsters of today that they are not eating right. Too much junk food in the diet and not enough nutritious food
I remember when we were young adults our diets were very different from today. Fast food was still around, but the giant fast food retailers had only just come to Jamaican shores. Those corporate burgers and chicken were more of a treat, not an everyday diet. We ate a lot more callaloo, pak-choy, and cabbage. Drank a lot of jelly coconuts and ate cane. Fruits were a significant part of our diet we ate them all. The meat and chicken at the cookshops were mostly local, and farm raised passing through fewer hands to reach the consumer.
Most importantly we enjoyed Irish moss, Magnum punch, and Roots brew. These were made by community vendors and sold in repurposed rum bottles. Many a youngster and old folk regarded these drinks as tonics. I was an avid consumer of these products and still do today. My friends and I did a lot of jogging and sometimes went to the gym. They were our fuel of choice as we could not afford the designer protein powder and shakes for the gym. We refueled our bodies after workouts with these homemade drinks, Guinness and dragon Stouts. Strong and energetic we were a formidable force. I don’t see today’s youngsters drinking much of these drinks, but I know some must still do.
Irish Moss is a seaweed that grows in the rocky bottom on the seafloor. I would occasionally dive and collect the moss with family members as we knew where there was a large patch in about twelve feet of water. We would take it back home and leave it outside to dry. When it dries, it shrinks significantly but will get larger when rehydrated. To prepare the Irish moss drink just a handful of the dried moss will do. Rehydrate moss by washing then soaking in water for a few hours, Add to a pot of boiling water with a stick of cinnamon and some salt. Boil until the moss is very soft and the water takes on the consistency of a thin porridge. Strain and add Linseed (Flaxseed), season with spices grated nutmeg, cinnamon powder, vanilla and add a tip of brandy or tonic wine. Sweeten with condensed milk, cool then bottle. The old folks would add isinglass; I don’t. Irish moss is a nutritious and delicious drink when made well.
Magnum punch was another well loved and consumed beverage. Made from fresh raw peanuts. This would be ground in a blender with milk, oats and similar spices to the Irish moss. A stout would be added and a bit of tonic wine. Sweetened with condensed milk, this is the magnum I made others might have variations, but the main ingredients are the same.
We also drank brewed roots this consists of beneficial roots and tree barks selected and brewed by persons with significant knowledge of the roots and the amounts to be used. These were strong portions that would be made mostly be persons of the Rastafarian faith who have significant knowledge of these plants or other individuals who inherited this information. Purchasing brewed roots was more difficult as it is not advisable to buy this concoction from any random individual. We would buy roots from persons known to the community who had been brewing and selling roots for years in the same area. Nowadays well run reputable companies are brewing good roots and selling locally and overseas.
The other tonic I drank was a punch my mother made on special occasions. Christmas and other holidays when she knew her sons would be home. She prepared this early in the morning so it was the first thing you would drink in the morning like tea. I don’t know all the details, but I know the ingredients included carrot juice, tomatoes, stout and beaten free range eggs from the chickens she raised. Many other brews and concoctions are commonplace in Jamaica. Many people will swear by their benefits, If you know how to properly make these punches, make them for the younger folks and share the knowledge. Keep our food culture vibrant.