Making this Jamaican spiced sandwich recipe for my mom was a last act of love

Making this Jamaican spiced sandwich recipe for my mom was a last act of love

Jamaican Herb Rolls

Active time:35 minutes

Total time:two o’clock


Active time:35 minutes

Total time:two o’clock


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From the jump, baking was natural to me, almost as natural as the cycles of inhalation and exhalation, of life and death. Like many culinarians of the African diaspora, I use the muscle memories of my five senses to ensure that my flavors never stray too far from the cuisine of my Jamaican-American home. And like so many others, I suddenly lost a loved one during the pandemic.

I never expected that my recipe for Jamaica’s best-loved post-Communion snack would be the last indulgence my mother would taste.

In February 2021, as the coronavirus vaccine rollout was in full swing, my mom made a special request: “Tiff, can you make me a gluten-free sandwich? That would be so nice. I haven’t eaten a sandwich and cheese in so long .”

She was referring to the Jamaican spiced bun, a descendant of the British hot cross bun and akin to a moist fruitcake or banana bread. I understood her question as a deep longing, a longing pregnant with memories of past gatherings, a longing for connection to something familiar that could take her back to the Sunday afternoon lines at Charlie’s Pastries in Lauderhill, Florida, where I met her. would pull. dress hem, nagging her for the treats I was denied all week. I wanted coconut drops, a spicy beef patty with coconut bread, cola champagne and some bun and cheese for later. She didn’t answer every request, but I could count on sandwich and cheese; it was her favorite.

So when she made her own request a few months ago, I knew that only spiced bun and Tastee cheese, the traditional accompaniment, could provide the comfort she sought.

Towards the end of our phone call, she said, “Easter is early this year.” Her tone was reminiscent of Ned Stark preparing the north for the dreaded Winter Games of Thrones.

With an irrational sense of urgency and zeal, I sprang into action. I wanted this sandwich to be packed with everything she and so many other covid quarantiners missed: the warmth that comes with human touch, the excitement of a new yet familiar experience. And the excitement was there: Later that month, after three long days of FedEx tracking, I received a text filled with exclamation points: “It’s only March! I got it today! Thanks!” Easter, when spicy sandwiches were especially popular, actually fell in April.

(I later realized I had made the Guinness bun as traditional, not realizing it contains gluten, and was relieved when she had no reaction.)

That evening she called to express her appreciation and approval; the joy in her tone could have fueled my baking for years. But time is not promised. It’s borrowed.

In the late morning of March 18, 2021, I received a call from a police officer regarding an ordered welfare check. He hesitated for a moment, then said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but your mother passed away.” He described the grim scene. I couldn’t hold or speak to the phone. My ‘mom’, Claudette Leonie Johnson-Parkes, didn’t die of covid or any of the physical complications, but her situation was complicated. She had battled paranoid schizophrenia for twenty years of my life, and halfway through that battle, she was diagnosed with angioedema. Gluten became her worst enemy, and the list of foods she couldn’t consume seemed to expand with the progression of her mental illness.

It meant so much that for a moment, just weeks before her death, she was able to cast her worries to the fringes of her mind and enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures: food.

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From her overuse of ginger to her love of currants and guava, my mom’s taste buds informed this recipe. The classic Jamaican snack is characterized by the peppery and bold profile of allspice, the acidity and zest of orange peel, the sweetness of honey, the intensity of cloves and the depth of muscovado sugar combined with browning – a Caribbean cuisine staple made primarily from burned sugar. (In this recipe, the easier-to-find molasses plays the same role.) And it’s never complete without a can of Tastee cheese, a pasteurized New Zealand cheddar blend sandwiched between slices.

As I tested each trial, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “You can’t run from your mom’s kitchen.” You see, from my adolescence to my early 30s, I spent so much energy measuring my every move, taking careful steps in spite of her examples of pious and virtuous femininity. I denied myself indulging in softness or vulnerability because I feared I might become too much like her one day. To look like her meant maybe I took over her illness, which scared me more than anything. In turn, the possibility of our likeness also frightened her, as it emphasized the potential for a re-embodiment of her traumas. In the aftermath of her death, I have not stopped imagining, discovering and accepting all the quirks and tastes that distinguish me as her daughter.

Show mom how much you care with these sweet and savory Mother’s Day recipes

Easter is late this year because real Jamaicans eat bread and cheese whenever they feel like it. That feeling usually comes when they need comfort after a long sermon, a long lecture, or – in my mother’s case – before an expected transition of cosmic proportions. If there’s one thing the coronavirus pandemic has exposed, it’s that we all need community. It has not escaped my notice that the social isolation and widespread hysteria caused by the pandemic may have been a catalyst for its rapid decline, and I hope that as you celebrate or commemorate this Mother’s Day, you do so with lavish appreciation for the gifts of life and temporality. Enjoy every moment.

In search of my mother’s garden, leafing through the torn photos, patchwork of newspaper clippings, handwritten bible verses – all the ashes of her earthly life – in search of remnants of the seeds she kept for bearing fruit she may never see I’m at peace to find that we had so much more in common than I’d ever wanted to admit. This recipe is a sign of everything we’ve shared.

Parkes is a writer, artist, event curator and owner of Pienanny. She lives in Haarlem.

Make Ahead: The dark and golden raisins can be soaked in rum for 12 to 18 hours at room temperature, if desired.

Storage notes: Store tightly packed at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Where to buy: Guava paste can be found in Caribbean markets or well-stocked supermarkets in the Caribbean/Latin American aisle. Tastee cheese can be found in Caribbean markets or online.

COMMENTS: This recipe was developed with duck eggs, which have larger yolks and a unique flavor, resulting in a softer and less chewy bun. You can use a large chicken egg, but if you want to recreate this plusher bun, here’s a trick: use 1 large egg plus 1 large yolk.

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Correction: In an earlier version of this recipe, we mentioned Guinness as the favorite stout. Guinness contains gluten, so use instead a gluten-free stout to keep the recipe gluten-free. The recipe has been updated.

  • 1 (24-ounce/680 gram) box gluten-free flour mix, such as King Arthur Baking brand (can be substituted for 5 1/3 cups/663 gram all-purpose flour)
  • 1 1/2 cups (346 grams) dark muscovado sugar (can be substituted for 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon/346 grams packed dark brown sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried orange peel (can be substituted for 1/4 teaspoon orange extract)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more if needed
  • 2 1/2 cups (600 milliliters) gluten free stoutlike Ghostfish Watchstander Stout
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) red wine
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons/57 grams) unsalted butter, melted, plus more at room temperature for greasing pans
  • 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons blackcurrant preserves (can substitute thick cranberry jelly)
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, beaten (see NOTES)
  • 1 3/4 ounces (50 grams) candied ginger
  • 1/2 cup (80 grams) dark raisins
  • 1/2 cup (80 grams) golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup (42 grams) 1/2-inch cubes of guava paste
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons boiling water
  • Tastee cheese, to serve (can be substituted for a sharp cheddar cheese)

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, lightly whisk together the flour mixture, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, xanthan gum, allspice, cloves, orange zest, and salt. In another medium bowl, combine the stout, wine, butter, oil, jam, molasses, vanilla, egg and a pinch of salt.

Cut the ginger into 1/4 inch cubes and add it, along with the dark and golden raisins, to the firm mixture; let hydrate for 15 minutes. While the fruit is soaking, add the guava cubes to the flour mixture, toss so they are covered with the dry ingredients and not sticking together; each cube must remain separate.

Add the stout mixture to the dry ingredients, about 1 cup at a time, stirring after each addition, until all of the stout mixture is incorporated and well combined and resembles pancake batter. Let the mixture rest for about 10 minutes to fully hydrate.

Generously grease two 9 by 5 inch loaf tins with room temperature butter and fill them three quarters full with the batter.

Bake for about 30 minutes; the buns should rise to the top of the pans. Cover with foil – this prevents the top from drying out – and bake for a further 30 minutes, or until a sharp knife comes out clean when inserted into the center of each bun.

While the buns are baking, in a small bowl, whisk together the honey and boiling water until combined.

Remove the pans from the oven and carefully remove the buns from the pans. Brush the top and sides of the buns with the glaze, but be more generous with the glaze. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Cut the buns into 1/2-inch thick slices and serve with the cheese sandwiched between two slices of the bun.

Calories: 513; Total fat: 10 g; Saturated fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 26mg; Sodium: 751mg; Carbohydrates: 105 g; Dietary fiber: 8 g; sugar: 56 g; Protein: 4 grams

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietician or nutritionist.

From writer, artist, event curator and owner of Pienanny Tiffany-Anne Parkes

Tested by Alexis Sargent; e-mail questions to [email protected]

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