Friday, 29 November 2013

Conkies

As we here in Barbados celebrate our 47th year of Independence (November 30th), and feeling patriotic and all that, I thought I would prepare one of our local delicacies that are eaten during this time of celebration.
Especially since last year I did not have the urge to make them and I was cussed to "hell and back" by my friends and family. 
Wow the words out of their mouths...decent respectable people that know how to cuss like pirates when they are irate...gotta love them.
This year I thought I would surprise them with the tasty treat.

Conkies.
These are a sweet treat made with cornmeal, pumpkin, sweet potato and coconut along with spices and steamed in banana leaves.

These traditional corn based Bajan delicacies are synonymous with the month of November and our Independence Day.
The local word "conkie" was more than likely adopted from the Ghanian "kenkey" which refers to a similar prepared cornmeal dish from that territory.
Prior to Independence, eating conkies was associated with the British Colonial Celebration - Guy Fawkes Day (Nov 5th).

Yesterday I made a batch of conkies.  I remember my mum would make us conkies and I would watch her while she prepared them thinking to myself...what a lot of work, but they sure taste good when they're done.
I had requested some banana leaves from my girlfriend who lives in the country and she was happy to oblige.
 
Eight big green fresh banana leaves
Banana leaves stain, so be careful to wear some old clothing while preparing them.

Next cut the spine of the leaf out...you can use a knife but I prefer a scissors.

Wash the leaves thoroughly in water with a little bleach and dish soap.

Clean leaves after a thorough washing to get rid of all debris, dust, and whatever may have been lingering on them.
The next step is to singe the leaves to make them pliable so that they can be folded into neat packets with the conkie mixture inside.
The old method of singeing the leaves over an open flame.


The new way (trick) which I learned from my girlfriend is to use a plastic bag (preferably one without a logo or words printed on it) and place a few banana leaves inside.
Place about 4-6 leaf strips inside the bag and fold it over and place in the microwave for 2.15 minutes.  The leaves are singed easily this way and in record time.
Be careful when removing the bag, the contents are HOTT and one can be burned easily with the steam.

Wipe and dry the steamed leaves. Some will now have a camouflaged pattern and that's okay.

The leaves are now ready to receive the conkie filling.
My friends in New York purchase their banana leaves from the Asian market already processed.  Some supermarkets here on the island also carry the banana leaves pre-packaged.  I prefer to clean my own leaves.
Time to get the ingredients ready.


Pumpkin, Sweet Potatoes, Coconut, Butter, Milk, Flour, Corn Flour, Sugar, Raisins (optional), essence and spices.
See recipe below.
Did I mention that conkie-making is time consuming?  We're not even half-way there yet.
Make sure your hands are in a grating mood, it is now time to grate the pumpkin and the sweet potatoes (I buy my coconut pre-packed and already grated to cut down on the time).
Grated pumpkin and sweet potatoes with the grated coconut peeking out from at the bottom of my very big bowl.


Add all the wet ingredients and mix well, then add the dry ingredients until it resembles a fairly thick but smooth paste.
 
 Just like so.

Now where is my Big-A$$$$$ pot? This is the big daddy of pots and very much needed for conkie making, if not you'll have to use several pots or make several batches.  The photo above does not do this Big McGuffy any justice at all.
I must tell you the story of my Big A$$$$$ pot. Many years ago, at an auction sale one day, there were four big pots up for bid, and as I sat there watching a well-known hotelier outbid me for the first three, I was quite frustrated.  I immediately said to him, "Cuddear, give me a chance nuh, I need one of those big pots to make my conkies....let me get the last one nuh?"
He conceded and allowed me to have the winning bid on the last one. I thanked him.  He told me that I owed him conkies for the rest of his life.....hahaha.

Okay, so now we have our big pot, and we need to continue with our task.
Remember the spline that I removed from the banana leaves, well they will be playing a part as well.

Take the splines and cut them into pieces to fit the bottom of the pot where they will serve as a rack for the conkies to rest as they are steaming.
Fill the pot with just enough water to barely cover the cut splines.

Now it's time to cut the singed banana leaves into squares which will be folded into the conkie packets.
The banana leaves give the conkies a distinct taste.


Time to start making our conkie packets.

Take about 2-1/2 tablespoons of conkie mixture and lay it on the banana leaf, making sure the ribbed part is on the outside.

Make the packet by first folding over one half and then the other half and fold under the two ends to form a neat package.
Just like so.

Sometimes the leaf may rip as you're filling it up with the mixture, and you need to work a little patchwork technique by slipping in another piece of leaf to "patch" the hole....and then carry on smartly.



Now that all the packets are folded it's time for their steam bath, so load them into the pot on a low /medium flame and soon you'll have a tasty treat.  Did I say soon?  My pot is a Big A$$$$ pot, so it takes about 3 hours for all the conkies to be cooked and firm.

At last they're done!!!

Remove from the pot and place on a tray to cool.  This way you can wash the pot immediately before any stains from the banana leaves and stems set in. That's why I also put just a sprinkle of oil in my pot to aid with cleanup.
Finally they're cool enough to eat....look out here I come.
I'm like a child on Christmas morning...excitedly opening my conkie present and enjoying the contents.
Unwrap the conkie from the banana leaf and savour the aroma, admire the texture and salivate over the tasty treat and then enjoy...enjoy...enjoy.


 Hmm....hmmmm.....GOOOOOD!!!

Here is the recipe which was shared with me by a good friend years ago.
6 cups corn flour (the finest grain corn meal can be used)
1-1/2 cups regular flour
2 cups grated coconut
6 lbs grated pumpkin
1 lb grated sweet potato
12oz butter - melted
6oz shortening - melted
4 cups sugar (good brown sugar not granulated)
3 cups milk
3 teaspoons salt
Raisins
3 tablespoons almond essence
2 teaspoons spice
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
8-10 banana leaves
Makes 50 conkies

These cornmeal packets are made throughout the Caribbean but have different names.
In St.Lucia and Trinidad they are called Paime, and in Jamaica they are known as Duckunoo, Blue Drawers and Tie A Leaf.  They can be savoury or sweet and they are made for various festivals in these islands.
 
I know you're wondering where was Mr.BrownBerts during the whole process....where else would he be, but......
....waiting patiently for the conkies to be finished, stretched out sleeping on the kitchen floor......"timing de pot."
He shared a conkie with me, and he was gobbling quicker than I was, so I think he had more I did.  Don't worry, I picked the raisins out of his portion since they cause a potential health threat for dogs and the toxicity can lead to renal failure.
Dogs should not have grapes either in case you're wondering.

A day of hard work, but paid off a gazillion times over with my sweet scrumptious tasting conkies.
My friends and family are all happy now.



6 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Not many left......you know these greedy people that I have around me. They're eating for last year and this year all together.

      Delete
  2. If I could afford the airfare I'd be coming to try some too. Meanwhile have a wonderful celebration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Missy. ....there is always FedEx and a cooler.

      Delete
  3. They look really good but whether I'd actually make them I'm not sure: not many banana leaves here!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Don't let the lack of banana leaves in your area stop you from making them.
    Folks also wrap them in foil to steam, however the taste is definitely not the same.

    ReplyDelete

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