Caribbean History began long before the arrival of Columbus. As a matter of fact, the Caribbean itself takes its name form the fierce Caribs, a race of cannibals who terrorised the other inhabitants of the Islands at that time – the peaceful Arawaks. In the following pages we’ll be telling you about the contributions of the original Caribbean inhabitants to our culture, particularly as they related to cooking.
All the peaceful Arawaks ever wanted to do was to be left alone to grow their corn and manioc, to fish and to catch the occasional Agouti. Since they weren’t very good hunters, their main food source was manioc, which just happened to be a very poisonous root. The Arawaks had long ago learned how to extract the poison from the root. This was done with the aid of a woven Matapi and a few children. The Matapi, which was woven from palms and vines was about ten feet long and resembled a snake; it was filled with grated manioc and hung from a tall tree.
At the other end it was fitted with a hoop through which a piece of wood was passed. Children took turns sitting on the ends. The weight of the children resulted in the Matapi being stretched and the juice was thus squeezed from the grated manioc and collected in a container placed underneath.
The liquid was discarded and the resulting Cassava flour made into Cassava bread (more of a biscuit than bread) which was one of the mainstays of the Arawak diet.
As time progressed, the Arawaks realised that if the liquid was left in the sun, it turned to a dark brown colour, which made an excellent natural preservative and was given the name Casareep. This magical liquid is still used today and forms the basis of my next recipe ‘Pepperpot’.
The great thing about Pepperpot is that all you need to do with it is to keep adding meat and boiling the liquid at least once per day to maintain its preservative qualities.
All the Arawaks needed to do was to dump their fish or vegetables into the pot and boil it This can keep going on forever.
In the Caribbean today we normally keep Pepperpot going for several weeks at a time. Although it does not always form the main course but is often used as a side dish.