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Eureka’s green thumb

Expanding our palates

Very early on Saturday mornings just as the sun rises to embrace the day, there, at the Cheapside Market, you’ll find Eureka Carver and Dazzle Blackman proudly standing behind their stall with an array of fresh herbs, some potted and some parcelled out for sale. There are decorative plants for sale too but it’s the herbs that draw you in.

Eureka Carver

Now, Eureka and Dazzle are not names that you hear every day. However, when I first discovered their stall in the market I definitely shouted “eureka!” at the dazzling array of fresh herbs. Okay, so that was a pretty corny sentence, but never mind that, all you have to understand is this is an amazing stall and these are two fantastic women!

Thai basil, sweet basil, lemon basil, purple basil, lemon balm, lemongrass, Chandon Beni (culantro), cilantro (coriander), Chinese celery, dill, tarragon, marjoram, regular chives, garlic chives, spring onions, Cuban oregano, anise, parsley, a variety of thyme and more can be had at this herb-treasure stall.

Eureka Carver’s passion for herbs initially arose because of her interest in exploring cuisines from different cultures. She started her own herb garden and now it is full of herbs that are not commonly found in Barbados or the Caribbean.

What started as a hobby has now become a business. Besides her green and fragrant array of herbs, what also attracted me to Eureka is her desire to educate her customers. She is very interested in expanding our palates and encouraging customers to grow their own herbs.

I first discovered the stall more than four years ago and as time has passed, the variety of herbs on offer has grown and grown. Eureka credits this expansion not just to her own culinary curiosity but also to the many, many interactions she has had with customers. A number of these customers are from countries other than Barbados looking for herbs from their home.

Their enquires have frequently prompted Eureka to do research and work out ways to cultivate those herbs in Barbados. For her, these interactions are worth the four hours a day she spends in her garden and waking up at 4:30 a.m. each Saturday to get to the market in time to greet shoppers. Through these interactions she learns about other foods and dishes and, at the same time, shares her knowledge by enticing her customers to try some of the herbs that are unfamiliar to them.

To encourage us garden novices and food enthusiasts to grow our own, Eureka nurses the seeds to saplings and then retails them for as little as $1 to $3. I dare you to go into any nursery and secure such a deal.

“Some of the other vendors criticise us for doing this. They say that nursing the herb-plants and then only selling them for a dollar or two will encourage people not to come back and buy — you know, buy herbs on a weekly basis,” says Eureka. But this kind of criticism only makes Eureka laugh with a satisfied look on her face, for you see — this is what she wants to have happen. She wants people to grow their own, she wants people to expand their palates by experimenting, she wants and encourages feedback and discussion about what she is growing and eating and what her customers are growing and eating. She wants people to become self-sufficient.

As the New Year steps in, many of us will have made various resolutions that have something to do with eating. Some folks will decide to restrict a particular food or beverage; some folks will have taken the drastic step of cutting out certain foods and drinks altogether.

However, I hope some of you will be like me. I have resolved to experiment more and try new things and explore new ways of using familiar ingredients. I want to expand my palate and the palates of those with whom I share my meals. It is for this reason that I am thankful to have found Eureka. The use of herbs is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to expand and experiment in the kitchen.

There are so many things that we can do with herbs — we can make dressings, pastes, salads, we can eat all of them cooked and at the same time have many of them raw, we can bake, grill, fry, saut?, boil, roast, stew, marinate and even create drinks with our herbs.

So Tastes Like Home reader, whether you are in Bridgetown, Brooklyn or Brixton or in other places far flung around the globe, I’m throwing out yet another challenge to you (I seem to do that a lot!) — visit your market, supermarket or wherever you shop for your herbs and get cooking and experimenting. Engage your vendor in a discussion, ask questions, and seek suggestions.

This challenge is especially for those living away from home; don’t be afraid to ask about an herb that you’re familiar with or that defines your cuisine, you may be surprised how open some gardeners and farmers are to experimenting. Discuss various dishes that use the herb or herbs you are enquiring about, people always respond well to food. If you have a good enough relationship and rapport with your vendor you can even cook and take a little for them to taste.

Here’s to a year of good eating!

* Cynthia Nelson is a journalist, tutor, food photographer and author of the award-winning book: Tastes Like Home – My Caribbean Cookbook (IRP 2010). She writes regularly about food in various Caribbean publications.

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