For most of the World, there are Four Seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. But that’s for the rest of the World. For Jamaicans, however, the year is not defined by seasonal changes determined by climate, environment, and or farming practices, as that is an old-world concept that never took root in the Cultural mindset of the people who settled in Jamaica, whether they were the victims of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, refugees fleeing persecution because of race, religion and or tribal, caste and or provincial issues.
Not that Jamaicans ever argued with the concept and or precepts that ordained the Four Seasons of the World, it was more like the Jamaican seasons were born out of necessity, and their own practical reality, fueled by their own experiences. Whilst Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, might have been ideal classifications for a country so conditioned by geography and or cyclical changes, occasioned by social structures designed to extract the most productivity, based on the vagaries that attended the Seasons, based on weather, for the Most part, Jamaica, with its year-long summer climate, with the occasional interruption, was never so structured.
Except for what was and still is loosely termed the “Rainy-Season”, Jamaica’s seasonal calendar has been dictated by Food.
Food insecurity has been with the Jamaican population from the days of Slavery, when, the Plantation overseers and Slave-owners, sought to minimize expenditure and maximize profits by exercising strict controls over the diets of not just the field slaves, but the the general population of the Plantations they served.
So with food being an ever-rationed commodity, the slaves, found supplementary dishes, to augment their daily rations. At first, those supplementary dishes were protein-based and included such animals as wild boars, coneys, mongoose; wild fowls/birds.
This was later expanded to include Fruits, as their roaming brought them into more contact with the natural fruits of the Island, which was further expanded, when the Plantation owners introduced more fruit groups to their ‘gardens’, to augment their already meager rations.
As post-slavery life, for the freed slaves, still revolved around the Plantations from which they were freed, as with little or no employment available elsewhere, some of the freed slaves exchanged labour for Food, and even tended plots, (Kitchen Gardens), where they planted crops for themselves and the landowners; the excess, then traded with other former slaves, for whatever they had.
And this was the beginning of the embedding of the Culture of food, replacing the Four-Traditional Seasons. The naming of the seasons was based on the bounties experienced at specific times of the year, which was instrumental, in helping them to plan around the seasons, to stave off hunger, and made them better prepared to manage their supplemental gardens.
And so the seasons that emerged were the:
Rainy Season: This was of crucial importance, as it helped them establish a planting calendar, based on the ‘monsoon’ season, and was instrumental in helping them to decide what crops were planted where, and when.
Mango Season: The mango season, was of great import as this was a time of plenty, and would have been regarded as Fast-Food. To be eaten on the Go, with the additional bonus of people being able to harvest some for their households.
Guinep Season: Guinep, was another food, regarded as fast food, but was never treated as a full-blown meal as a feast of mangoes, but was more of a treat, ‘Dessert”, if you will that was harvested and taken home, as a treat for the missus and children, when it was in spate.
Breadfruit Season: If there’s A favourite season in Jamaica, it is Mango Season. Correspondingly, the second favourite would be Breadfruit, or ‘Breshay’ as it is called in some places. Breadfruit is not quite the fast food, Mango is, but it is a relatively fast food as it is easily cooked, over an open wooden fire or on coals; and can be baked. When cooked over coal or a wood fire, it is regarded as being at its best, according to some connoisseurs, as the process of roasting, especially on pimento wood, is said to enhance its natural flavour, whilst absorbing some of the flavour of the Piment.
Of the many assets of the Breadfruit, is that it pairs easily with many other dishes. For the poor and hungry, a complete meal could be freshly roasted breadfruit and ripe avocado; Roasted breadfruit, with salt and butter or margarine; it also pairs well with the national Dish – Ackee and Salted-cod along with fried plantain and friend dumplings; and on the other hand, Freshly roasted breadfruit along with the mushy Run-dung, is a Sunday Morning breakfast treat for many.
My least favourite way of having cooked breadfruit, is to have it boiled, as it seems to take on a completely different flavour, and viscosity when it is boiled. But roasted and fried over; near-ripe oven-baked is also a fab treat; as is boiled breadfruit salad, as a replacement for Potato salad.
Generally, Breadfruit is not only one of the more enduring foods of this island, it is also one of the more delicious, as it does pair well, with almost every and anything. And it is a low-maintenance high-yield food, that can’t quite make up its mind if it is a tuber or a legume!
Sucking Salt: Outside of the four main food seasons, and in addition to the rainy season, there’s the Salt Season. Not quite recognized as a food season, it’s like the rainy season, in that it speaks to a specific occurrence and or happening. When Jamaicans say they are sucking salt, they are in fact not referencing the literal act of sucking salt, but speaking to a period of ‘bad-luck’, and is usually the response to a question about one’s wellbeing.
A, for example, is running into an old friend, who inquiry’s how one is doing. The typical response could be: “Here sucking salt through a wooden spoon”. Which roughly translated means ‘Times are very tough, but I am doing what I can to survive’.
And, whilst the rest of the world operates on the axis of 4-seasons, essentially, Jamaicans have six or more primary seasons, which inform their day-to-day existence, based on their needs and or social status.