My Granny, the Queen of Garlic

123_533823631282_6375_nDid you know that garlic can turn blue? I’ll explain, but first let me tell you a story…

My mother’s side of the family is Portugese-Guyanese. In our culture it’s tradition to eat a dish called Garlic Pork for breakfast on Christmas day. Garlic Pork is basically pork chunks that have been pickled in white vinegar, minced garlic, thyme and wiri pepper (a hot pepper native to Guyana). The process to make Garlic Pork is easy, but you have to be careful and “wash” your jar, knives and pork with vinegar before you begin. The pork sits in this pickling “soup” for about a week, after which it’s boiled then baked. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but this is one meal I will never be able to give up. The smell of the pickled pork in the oven is glorious, and if you’re a fan of garlic and sour foods, you’d love it too.

My grandmother, Philomena, used to make Garlic Pork for the whole family every Christmas, as well as another dish called Pepperpot to accompany it. In short, Pepperpot is a “stew” native to the Amerindian culture of Guyana that is made with cassareep (a dark syrup similar in look to molasses that’s made from cassava), sugar, cinnamon sticks, water, wiri pepper and a whole bunch beef, pork or mutton. It’s sweet and savory. Oh, I could go for some right now…

For dinner the family would do the traditional North American turkey, stuffing, rice, potatoes, etc. For dessert, Gran’s pièce de résistance would be enjoyed — her Black Cake.

Aptly named for its colour (the Guyanese are very literal 😉 ), Black Cake is a rum cake enrobed in almond paste that’s then covered in rolled fondant and decorated. It’s traditionally served at Christmas as well as at weddings for the actual wedding cake.

Granny was renowned for her cake and cake decorating skills, and her role of cake maker spanned fifty to sixty years. I’ll never forget the story of how she once made the wedding cake for a couple back home in Guyana, then years later made the cake for the wedding of that same couple’s daughter, here in Toronto. Her high repute lasted generations!

In her later years, Gran was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and eventually had to be placed in a home for the elderly. One day at the home, being the spunky and stubborn woman that she was, Gran decided that she was finished eating her meal, no longer wanted to sit in her wheelchair at the dining room table, and forced herself out of her chair. This unfortunate move resulted in a fall, a broken hip, and emergency hip surgery. She made it through the surgery, but it ultimately led to her demise as the recovery was too much for her frail body, heart and mind to take. Philomena passed away in the early hours of August 12, 2007.


From left to right: Gran and my sister, Cathy, circa 2004-2006; looking like a pin-up girl in the 1950s; Gran enjoying a laugh; Gran with her first child, Carole, in the 1940s.

Alzheimer’s is a cruel and ravenous beast that stripped my grandmother of her cognition. Her life and the memories created over the forty years since she immigrated to Canada were for the most part lost (she’d often say “I want to go home”, referring to my family’s house in Georgetown, Guyana). She entirely forgot who most of us were and would constantly ask the grandkids “Who’s child are you?”. The only time my grandmother recognized me in the years of her disease was while she was on her deathbed. I had gone to visit her in the hospital after her hip surgery and my aunt said to her, “Look Mummy, Ashley came to visit you”, and Gran turned to me and looked me in the eye. I’ll never forget that moment and I cherish knowing that just before she passed, she finally remembered who I was.

Prior to her death, various family members chose to take over the responsibility of making the traditional Christmas dishes to honour my grandmother and ensure that the family traditions remained. It now takes three of us to make what that little woman used to do all by herself: my aunt Mariese prepares the Garlic Pork; my mother does the Pepperpot; and I am so proud and honoured to say that I have taken over the role of cake maker.

My sister, Cathy, wanted to learn how to make Garlic Pork as well. Mariese went through the process with her, and my proud sister put her jar of pork to pickle on the shelf. A few days later, the garlic turned blue.

Never before had I heard of this happening, especially not with Granny! I attributed it to my sister and made fun of her for years following. I was successful with my own first attempt at making Garlic Pork last fall. Surely it had to be Cathy…

Nope, it wasn’t my sister. I can now say that I, too, have turned garlic blue.

Although the Live Below the Line challenge begins on Monday, I had purchased broccoli to use in my lunch, so I decided to prepare those meals in advance and preserve them in the freezer. As my total budget of $8.75 for one week of groceries didn’t allow for the luxury of olive oil, I decided to use a method called “water sautéing” to prepare the veggies for my rice dish, which was supposed to be brown rice topped with sautéed garlic, broccoli and lemon juice.

Everything was looking good until I was portioning it all out, and to my horror, discovered that the garlic was blue. Apparently it has something to do with a chemical process involving the garlic and water, or garlic and acidity (i.e. my lemons). Thinking back to the blue Garlic Pork, I sort of laughed at myself, blushed at the mistake, and quickly threw the containers of blue broccoli rice into the freezer.

According to the research I’ve done on “blue garlic”, it’s still edible. However, when it comes to food I can sometimes be finicky with appearance and texture, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to eat the lunches I prepared (the image of little blue Smurf bits tossed with my broccoli just came to mind. See what I mean?).

Right now I’m on the fence of replanning my menu for the week or just toughing it out and sticking with what I got. Part of me is leaning towards sticking it out because honestly, when you think of the goal of the Live Below the Line campaign, it would be wasteful and sort of ignorant of me to not use what I already have. Besides, it’s still edible after all.

By participating in this campaign I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of someone who has to live below the poverty line. Someone who has to try to survive on $1.75 a day doesn’t have the luxury of replacing used ingredients only because a chemical reaction ruined the aesthetic appearance of a dish. Screw it…I’m eating my blue garlic, Smurf image and all.

Cath, I’m sorry I made fun of you all those years for turning your Garlic Pork blue 😉 And Gran, I dub thee “Queen of Garlic” for never making the same mistake as your two granddaughters. Long may you rule!

Only two and a half more days until the Live Below the Line challenge begins!

Feeling generous? Why not donate to my fundraising efforts and check out my page here.

Are you a resident of Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia or New Zealand and would like to get involved in the Live Below the Line campaign? Participate and create your own fundraising goal by signing up here.


5 thoughts on “My Granny, the Queen of Garlic

  1. Pingback: On the Eve of Living Below the Line |

  2. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: Happy Birthday, Gran! | Meandering Mac

  3. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: A Belated Guyanese Christmas Brunch | Meandering Mac

  4. Pingback: Hosting Christmas for the first time | Everyday 30

  5. Lovely guyanese food memories. I cook these recipes too but can never replace my mom’s touch. Sorry about your grand mother’s suffering in her later years.

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