A Community Fellowship

Thursday, May 02, 2019

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There was thankfully not much traffic Sunday, so opting to use the Junction road to St Mary put us in Bailey's Vale at a respectable hour. The Port Maria route led us to a small, hilly, rural community named Gray's/Grey's Street, which is part of a wider community called Bailey's Vale.

The history surrounding the naming of this community, Thursday Food quickly gleaned, is unclear, but contemporary history indicates that it was possibly named by the Greys, who owned significant portions of land in the area.

Whereas there is not much recorded history surrounding Gray's/Grey's Street, the community of which it is a part, Bayly's Vale, which later evolved into Bailey's Vale, is of much historical significance.

Based on the research of our Food Awards judge Pauline Edie, at whose family home we broke bread, the first reference to Bailey's Vale was in 1701 when Thomas Manning, a planter in the parish of Westmoreland, by his last will and testament dated October 28, 1701, left 90 acres of land in Bailey's Vale; about one-and-a-half miles from Port Maria. Then, by the 1730s, the parish (St Mary) and communities surrounding the Port Maria (capital) area, including Bailey's Vale, Trinity, Tryall and Brimmer Hall, were widely settled and had thriving, well-established sugar estates with roadways connecting them to the wharves in Port Maria.

According to St Mary Parish History by Satchell, it would appear that Bailey's Vale was named after Zachary Bayly, born circa 1721 and who died on December 18, 1769, who was a major slave and property owner. He also owned three contiguous estates – Trinity, Brimmer Hall and Roslin sugar plantations – with a total area of 4,000-5,000 acres. The area was known as Bayly's Vale. In fact, his will of June 4, 1771 indicated that he divided his estates between his brother Nathaniel and his nephew Bryan Edwards. These include, inter alia, Trinity, Tryall, Bayly's Vale and Brimmer Hall.

History has it that Tacky, who led the 1760-1761 war for freedom, stormed Trinity, well-armed and ready for battle. However, an informant and enslaved domestic from Trinity informed its owner, Zachary Bayly, who at the time resided in Ballards Valley, approximately one-and-a-half miles from Bailey's Vale.

Today, Gray's Street is a thriving rural community, albeit with its challenges: deteriorated roads, little or no access to running water and a high poverty rate. Despite this, however, it is a close-knit community, spanning generations. It is not unusual to find at least three generations residing in the same house or as immediate neighbours.

Issues aside, we were welcomed like family where in the kitchen an entire orchestra was at play, led by Monica Ottar. The gas stove inside was lit, while outside the wood fire was stoked. Our celebration of community had begun.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that a traditional Sunday culinary experience means a day of non-stop cooking. It's no idle boast! Enamel mugs of steaming-hot chocolate tea were followed by the creamiest, most comforting hominy corn porridge. Truth be told, it could have ended there for many, but for the warning that dinner would follow brunch! Pace yourselves, was the subtle message. Ottar's sister Paulette Walker stirred the Dutch pot of stir-fried vegetables with salt fish from the stove as Pauline Adams peeled the roast yam, sweet potato and roast breadfruit. Culinary whiz Tyrone Anderson handled dumpling duties, even as he kept an eye on the goat head soup outside on the coal stove as Ottar gave the ackee and red herring a final nod of approval.

What was instructive about the kitchen was the conviviality. There was no drama; there were no loud voices, no meltdowns. “We always cook together,” explained Ottar. “Some are family, some friends, but we are all from the community and cook in fellowship.”

As the judges tucked into breakfast, some seated around the table, others lounging in shaded areas, neighbours Desrene and Winston Grandison, along with their son Garfene, arrived. They were, like us, welcomed with open arms.

Breakfast/brunch segued effortlessly into an early Sunday dinner. Canister mugs of chocolate tea gave way to Mason jars of freshly-made otaheite apple juice. Goat head soup and coconut-lashed rice and gungo peas, oxtail and garden peas, baked and fricasee chicken, pot roast, roti and curry goat and pasta salad would then replace the multi-course breakfast.

The deft hands and sharp machete of family friend Conroy Sinclair kept apace of the demands for sugarcane and jelly coconut as Ottar's brother Colin Campbell picked otaheiti apples from the heavily-laden trees.

As the afternoon sun played hide and seek with the lush foliage, chairs were moved to shadier areas or refuge sought inside. Dessert was ready! Eschew all notions of earlier double scoops of ice-cream, courtesy of fudge man Patrick Caven, dampening the enthusiasm of an all-star cast of straight-from-the-oven toto, sweet potato pudding, grated cake, coconut drops and blue draws.

It took several attempts to leave the community embrace, for we had once more experienced the excellence of our culinary heritage, and tasted from the seasoned, wizened hands of community members who have against all odds kept our traditions alive.

We are celebrating our culinary tradition and counting down to the 21st staging of the Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards, Thursday, May 30.

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