Celebrating farming and agriculture

The year seems to have only just started and already we have come to the end of the first month. We’ve barely had enough time to recover from our last big season and already we have to switch gears to focus on our next grand event, AGROFEST.

At this point, I really have to control my emotions as I write about this event because I have a very close connection to it, having been a part of the planning and organization committee from its inception 13 years ago.

I remember very well the end of the first AGROFEST, standing in the middle of Queen’s Park chatting with an extremely dejected chairman of the planning committee. I clearly remember him saying to me “… Peter it didn’t do exactly as we expected, so what are we going to do?”

Being quite bemused by that question, I responded, “What do you mean? Take a few days off and start planning for next year. That’s what we’ll do”. For even then, I just knew that it was going to be a massive event on the Barbados calendar.

I also remember him looking at me with the blankest expression that I have ever seen, but that’s all history. Here we are now at year number 13 of  what has become one of the biggest events on the island, second only to Crop Over.

That first year, there were about 15,000 people who attended. At our last AGROFEST, the attendance was in excess of 60,000 persons. So why do so many Bajans make it a must to spend one, two and in some cases, even three days walking through the now crowded Queen’s Park to be a part of the experience?

Well, in case you are one of the very unfortunate few who have never been to AGROFEST, let me try to paint you a picture of that most cultural weekend. Yes, I did say cultural, as AGROFEST displays the very best of our agriculture, culinary and farming cultures. These sectors, to me,  still represent the most pure and unadulterated sectors of our Barbadian culture, quite unlike our dance, our speech, our sports and even our music, which all seem to have been influenced in some way by foreign infiltration.

This is not to say that attempts have not been made to infiltrate our culinary culture. Just take a look at the fast-food chains that are currently in Barbados and you will understand what I am trying to say. Luckily for us, we’ve still been able to stand strong and defend our culinary culture against the pressures of such invasions.

Here is where AGROFEST plays its first vital role in maintaining these cultures for, as you traverse the well-populated acreage of the event, one of the things that stands out is the abundance of local plump, sun-ripened fruit and the most nutritious and colourful root, tuber, bulb, gourd and stem vegetables produced on this island.

I am always amazed at the quantity of this produce, which is on sale for the most reasonable prices from as early as Friday morning. Come Sunday, late into the afternoon, you can still see a bounty of these items; here is where you can get the best bargains imaginable as the vendors are intent on leaving the Park with just their trays.

I often wonder if these items are specially grown for the occasion and if so, what happens for the remainder of the year.

Also available all across the venue are the most aromatic, full and fresh looking herbs that your culinary mind can imagine. So, it is not at all difficult to be inspired as you venture from booth to booth. What is also evident is the joy and pleasure exuded from the vendors as they ply their trade.

It is the warmest and most welcoming feeling that brings to mind memories of early Saturday mornings in Bridgetown years ago. It also is an opportunity for education as every one of the vendors can tell you a story, be it historical, nutritional or medicinal, about each of the food items they have for sale in their allotted space.

A short walk to the East of the exhibition and you will find the healthiest looking and best-groomed animals, both large and small, vivacious birds and a wide array of fish. These are just for show but it clearly indicates the quality of what can be had or what can be produced here on this island.

Needless to say, as a chef, I get very excited as I walk through to view these exhibits. So I can well imagine the feeling of the thousands who pass by, totally oblivious of the fact that all of the fruit, vegetables, animals, birds and fish had a life before they ended up in the market or even on their plates.

What is also very captivating is the fresh fragrance of the herbs and spices, the nutritious aroma of the fruit and vegetables and the earthy farm feel and smell of the animal and bird displays, coupled with the farm chorus of this choir of animals and birds, which bring back memories of a good, old country lifestyle.

Over the next few weeks, we will continue to look at how AGROFEST, the biggest and best agricultural exhibition in this region, impacts both locals and visitors.

Meanwhile, enjoy these two recipes!

CREAMY EDDOE SOUP

INGREDIENTS

2 lbs eddoes peeled & roughly cut

4 pts of vegetable stock or water

2 ozs onion, chopped fine

1 pod garlic, minced

2 ozs butter or margarine

2 tsps chives, chopped

½tsp thyme, chopped

½tsp marjoram, chopped

2 ozs Heavy Cream

Salt & pepper to taste

METHOD:

1. Melt margarine or butter in a saucepan, add onions and garlic and cook for one minute.

2. Add eddoes, cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add stock or water and herbs, bring to a boil and cook until eddoes are soft.

4. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly; then blend until smooth.

5. Return to heat, bring to a boil, add cream and season with salt and pepper.

CHICKEN GUMBO

INGREDIENTS

6 cups chicken stock

2 tsp margarine

8 ozs okras sliced

4 ozs celery thinly sliced

4 ozs onions, diced

1 pod garlic, crushed

4 ozs carrots, small dice

2 ozs bell peppers, diced

4 ozs English potatoes, small dice

1 lb of chicken, medium dice

1 tsp thyme, chopped

1 tbsp chives, sliced

Dash of Bajan hot sauce

Salt to taste

METHOD

1. In saucepan, melt margarine and cook

chicken for 2 –3 minutes.

2. Add onion, garlic, celery and okras, cook for another 2 minutes.

3. Add stock, potatoes and carrots; cook until tender.

4. Add bell peppers, thyme, chives and cook for another 3 minutes.

5. Season to taste with salt and

pepper sauce.

(Peter Edey is a Certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation, a graduate of l’École Ritz Escoffier, Paris and a Certified Caribbean Hospitality Trainer. Email:peter@dcbarbados.com)

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