Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Mr. Hansel pays a visit

George came over this afternoon. He’s been threatening to for months and today finally made it with a bottle of homebrew, 3 giant avocadoes from his tree and an apple, “to sweeten your mouth”. He filled the afternoon with stories and gardening advice. George’s family came here in the early 1900s from Jamaica via Columbia. They settled with 6 other families this last stretch of southern Caribbean before Panama. They fished and they farmed cacao. That was when most of the coast was Jamaican and Mosquite – a blend of Nicaraguan Indians and former African slaves who moved steadily south until they could find peace. The Costa Rican indigenous people, here the BriBri, stayed in the mountains away from the coast. The ticos stayed around Limon or up in the hills. The life they had sounds good. They fished and hunted and put together gardens in the sandy soil by the beach: papaya, banana, plantain, melon, sugar cane, taro and yucca while they cleared the jungle and planted cacao and orchards of fruit trees: breadfruit, avocado, mango, akee, soursop, citrus, nutmeg, cinnamon. Then they waited for the trees to grow. Cacao are short shade loving trees so they cleared the bush and left the big trees. This was all virgin land, jaguars and crocodiles, macaws and harpy eagles. And mosquitoes. They brought their medicinal plants with them. Work was hard but living was easy: lobsters and crabs were so plentiful they almost walked into the cooking pot, bananas and coconuts fell from the trees into the embers. The kids too young to clear land caught dinner.

Rondon is now the famous local dish. Rondon means run down and is a stew of whatever was found that day. George kept telling me, “everything was fresh, there were no iceboxes, no chemicals, it was all fresh, all organic, all good for the body”. There’s no recipe.
Take fish, crab, prawn, lobster or a combination and cook with chopped plantain, taro, yucca, breadfruit, pumpkin or sweet potato, in whichever combination you have that day. Add the water and flesh of a grated coconut, chopped ginger and chili, black pepper and salt, perhaps a little nutmeg or cinnamon and cook slowly until it smells done.