Our taste for exotic and alternative food isn’t new. Curry was a popular dish in this country in the late eighteenth / early nineteenth century: the first vegetarian restaurants also opened around that time, but it didn’t last; going out of fashion in the Victorian period and becoming popular again in my lifetime.
Dave Wilson grew up in Manchester’s Moss Side, a predominantly West Indian suburb south of the city centre, where he developed a taste and passion for their culture and cuisine, which stayed with him when he moved to Blackburn twenty five years ago. He loves cooking and his exuberance is infectious: he’s had a number of cafes over the years before opening Calypso, a Caribbean restaurant at Eanam wharf; a former warehouse beside the Leeds Liverpool canal, where I went along to meet him. I’d assumed we’d be sitting around a table having a chat and taking notes, but I should’ve known better – Dave has a reggae boat: we climbed aboard, started the engine, switched on the speakers and spent the next hour or so cruising up and down the canal.
At 127 miles the Leeds Liverpool is the longest canal in the country, begun in 1770, war and local politics delayed its construction and it wasn’t completed until 1816. With access to the port of Liverpool and the coalfields of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire towns like Blackburn mushroomed with factories and warehouses lining its route, some of which, though long derelict, are still visible today. Dave pointed out the old police station with the rusted bars of the cells still fixed in the wall just above water level. Here petty criminals would be held prior to being loaded onto barges and taken to Liverpool for transportation to the penal colonies. Next to the police station are the remains of the bank: its money chute, now home to a family of pigeons.
As a native of the town the canal also courses through my veins and I found myself journeying back to my own childhood: being warned to stay away from the black water because Ginny Greenteeth lived there and drew in children who strayed too close to the edge; walking with a sweetheart down the towpath and stealing a kiss beneath one of its many bridges. A local legend, Spring Heeled Jack was said to have jumped across the canal. Witnesses record how his foot touched down in the middle and without breaking the surface tension he sprang onto the opposite bank. It was noted on examination that the sole of his right boot was wet
The decision to build broad locks allowed the canal to compete with the railway for trade and it continued to carry coal and aggregates up until the 1970s: its demise coinciding with the decline of the manufacturing industries across the region.
These days the canal is given over to pleasure craft, and former warehouses such as Eanam Wharf, which were once storage depots for goods and raw materials from America and the West Indies have been adapted for today’s needs. Geographically Calypso may be a long way from Kingston but in terms of the building’s history, it’s almost on the doorstep.
Dave’s recipe for:
Jamaican Jerked Chicken
5 pounds chicken pieces
2 cups distilled white vinegar, plus 1 tsp
2 cups finely chopped scallions
2 Scotch Bonnets, seeded and minced (please wear gloves)
2 tbsps soy sauce
4 tbsps fresh limejuice
5 tsps ground allspice
2 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp salt
2 tsps sugar
1 ½ tsps dried thyme, crumbled
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups Jamaican Barbecue sauce, to serve
Rinse chicken pieces well in 2 cups of the vinegar, drain, transfer to 2 sealable plastic bags and set aside
In the bowl of a food processor combine remaining 1 tsp vinegar, scallions, Scotch Bonnets, soy sauce, lime juice, allspice, bay leaves, garlic, salt, sugar, thyme, and cinnamon. Reserve 2 tbsps of this marinade for the Jamaican Barbecue Sauce
Rinse chicken pieces well under cold running water and pat dry with paper towel. Divide chicken pieces between 2 heavy-duty gallon plastic sealable bags and divide marinade evenly between the two. Turn bags over to evenly distribute marinade, and refrigerate the chicken for at least 24 hours and up to 2 days.
On an oiled grill rack set about 6 inches above red-hot coals, grill chicken (in batches if necessary), covered, for 10 to 15 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Transfer to a warm platter and keep warm until serving.
Serve with Jamaican Barbecue Sauce, alongside fried plantains, rice, or bread of choice.
Next week: A Subterranean World