Talking about coconut sugar cake the other day got me thinking about all those delightful snacks I enjoyed as a child. Things like bellyful, rock cakes, shaddock candy, kaser balls (not sure about that spelling) and covity pocham have virtually disappeared.
I have some views about why they disappeared and I'd love to hear what other Trinis feel about this. I think factors like mass-produced snacks, American TV, changing tastes and the death of the parlour have contributed to demise of these delicacies.
Let me start with the parlour. In Trinidad, a parlour is a small shop, set up under or at the front of someone's house. These small shops were usually somewhat dark and crammed with stuff that looked as if it had been there for years.
You could get a lot of basic items at the parlour like bread, cheese, tinned condensed milk, bottled soft drinks and blue soap. It was a staple of the community and the parlour keepers – usually with names like Miss Dolly, Harry and Mousey – were either quite pleasant or notoriously hoggish.
For many children, the allure of the parlour was the cakes and sweeties that were prominently displayed in glass cases or in big glass bottles. In the old days, a lot of these cakes and sweets were homemade but nowadays, most small shops are mini-groceries and you'd struggle to find one that still sells homemade stuff.
I remember the influx of imported snacks and the accompanying advertising that took place in the late 70s and early 80s. These snacks were somewhat expensive, so local companies began to produce goods that were similar but much cheaper.
Most of the imported snacks came from the US and by the mid 80s, cable TV opened our eyes to more of the goodies that were available but a slow down came with the recession and a series of TT dollar devaluations.
I don't know how come the local manufacturers didn't think about packaging our own local stuff and marketing it in the way they did the foreign imitations. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the manufacturers – after all, I have eaten lots of Kiss cakes (the Trini version of that venerable American snack Twinkies) over the years – but it's probably an opportunity that was missed to preserve a bit of our food heritage. There endeth my dodgy theory.
I was doing some research about Trini food on the Internet and came across an article by former Trinidad Guardian journalist Elma Reyes titled The T&T Heritage at Christmas.
In her article, Reyes spoke about the birth of one of our lost treasures, the cake known as bellyful. Here's an excerpt from her article, followed by a recipe from Sylvia Hunt.
"On January 6 however, every employer was obliged to attend Church and to sit with those in his (or her) employ, and later host an all day celebration for the workers at his (or her) home.
On this day too, members of the family were expected to utilise all of the remnants of the Christmas goodies and this gave rise to the custom of making as a dessert for that day Gateau Tan which means literally Brown Cake.
It was made by cutting into small pieces all leftover bread, sweetbread, cake, and sweet biscuits (cookies) the latter being crushed. This was then soaked in milk, the proportion being one cup to two cups of leftovers.
To this was added a dash of bitters and of vanilla essence, leftover raisins, currents, mixed peel and chopped cherries.
Yeast, prepared according to direction, was added to the mixture and so were two eggs (or more depending on the amount of batter), which were well beaten.
Finally flour was added, a quarter cup at a time to make a smooth "pouring" batter, and finally enough "burnt sugar" colouring to give the mixture a rich brown colour.
This was poured into a well greased tin dusted with flour to prevent sticking, and baked in a moderately hot oven for one hour or until a skewer (or ice pick) in the centre came out clean. Commercial bakers of yesteryear appreciating the practicality of this recipe made a "more substantial version" the batter of which was poured on a pastry base.
It became very popular with schoolboys who gave it the alternative name of "bellyful".
Bellyful by Sylvia Hunt
5g granulated sugar
125 ml caramel colouring
5ml vanilla essence
3g mixed spice
1. Preheat the oven to 175 °C.
2. Mix 5g of sugar into water and add yeast. Leave to stand for 10 minutes until yeast rises in buff foam on top of water.
3. Cream butter, add sugar gradually and cream.
4. Whip eggs, fold with creamed butter and sugar.
5. Mix caramel colouring into yeast with vanilla essence and mix into mixture.
6. Add sifted dry ingredients and blend in well.
7. Spoon into a well buttered shallow baking tin, about 2 inches deep.
8. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Do not open the oven before 30 minutes.
9. Cool before cutting into squares.
From Sylvia Hunt's Cooking