Christmas Day in Trinidad


For some inexplicable reason, the other day I was looking through my paternal grandmother’s recipe book – or, more accurately, given that she started writing in this ledger in 1916 prior to her marriage, her Collection of Receipts.

It makes fascinating reading. It is heavy, and I use the word in its most literal sense, especially in respect to puddings. Nothing seems to require less than 2 gallons of cream, 5 lbs of butter, several dozen eggs and a hundredweight of sugar.

Cholesterol and County Cork were yet to be formally introduced.

There are also, once one gets beyond the artery-clogging puddings and cakes, Mrs. O’Sullivan’s finest marmalade and a “cold cure”, alongside recipes of immense complication involving all manner of game.

I digress. Within the pages of this little Bible, I came across a piece of paper which my mother must have tucked into Granny’s tome for safe-keeping: a recipe for Portuguese Pork, a part of Trinidad Christmas that’s tradition with a capital T.

Of all the islands in the Caribbean, Trinidad has perhaps the greatest diversity in its history. A culinary calypso, evolved through the people of many nations who made their home there. Not least of these were the Portuguese and, more particularly, those from Madeira. The first recorded Portuguese settlers arrived in the mid 1600’s, but the largest influx began in 1848. The Portuguese/Madeirans were farm workers, wine merchants and bread makers. Portuguese surnames continue to be a part of Trinidad.

With them the Portuguese brought a traditional method of curing pork. At home this had been done in large quantities to last through the winter months. Trinidad, of course, is a different climate. Curing pork continued but tended to be only eaten on Christmas Day.

Every family had its own version but, essentially, it was the same thing: cubes of pork “brined” in a mixture of garlic and herbs, the whole thing covered in vinegar. Stored in glass demijohns or earthenware pots, the mixture would sit for several days. Or a week or two.

It is much more delicious than it sounds.

My parents and I used to start Christmas Day in Trinidad by going to visit friends for breakfast. More specifically, to have Carne Vinha D’Alhos – Portuguese Pork, or Trinidadian Garlic Pork – for breakfast. These friends, of Portuguese descent, were some of the first people my parents got to know when we moved to the West Indies.

It might sound peculiar to start Christmas Day with super-garlicky pork. But it was the most sumptuous treat: the pieces of pork would be patted dry and then fried in vegetable oil, the oil hissing and spitting.

Eaten in one’s fingers with some bread to dip into the brine liquid which was heated up separately, the grownups might wash it down with a small Christmas rum punch. Or a glass of champagne.

If I were to make a list of ten Desert Island Dishes, Portuguese Pork would be one of them. It is one of the most magical eating delights. Heaven on a plate.

Just reading the recipe makes me glow. A garlicky glow, but a glow warming great memories.

One thought on “Christmas Day in Trinidad

  1. Well the pork receipt had my mouth watering just reading it. The joys of a nice healthy bit of fatty pork is lost on many now. I may give it a go, I shall throw in random herbs and see what happens.

    As for the gallons of cream and pounds of butter isn’t it peculiar how, after years of government guidance against such evil foodstuffs, it turns out they’re no so bad for after all.

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