That would be a conk shell you would be thinking of. This one is a traditional Bajan dessert made with pumpkin, coconut and sweet potato, wrapped up and steamed in a banana leaf. You may remember me eating some around Independence Day (think same time I tried pigs tail). Sherri-Anne, who works at the UN, lent me a “Best of Barbados Cookbook” and inspired me to at least attempt some of the recipes. And why not start big!
So after collecting all the ingredients on Friday, I woke up Saturday morning with the intention of starting early. After remembering the warnings from others that conkies take all day, I finally pulled up two recipes I decided on - the one from Sherri-Anne’s cookbook and this one - and starting assembling the ingredients.
Step 1: Leaf hunting
Luckily we have a banana tree in our backyard, which has rebounded at least partially from Tomas. I tried to pick big, green leaves that weren’t torn much, so I could get good square sections to wrap the mixture in. I found out that you need big pieces so that the mixture doesn’t fall out everywhere. Didn't really get that until later on in the process. I felt a little odd out there with my kitchen scissors snipping away, though by the end of the day I would have to go out about 4 more times to get leaves. I scrubbed them off with soap and water and let them dry.
Step 2: Singeing the leaves (and that means fire!)
This one seemed pretty straightforward at first: take the clean leaves, put them over an open flame so they will get pliable to be able to fold around the conkie mixture. After burning up my fingers and a little trial and error - how was I supposed to know the leaves actually change colour when you leave them over the flame for the right amount of time? - I got the first batch of leaves singed. I started separating the leaves from the stalks, which I chopped up to use in the pots to create a steamer for these little guys. Cut 'em up in squares and on to the mix.
Step 3: Grating, grating and more grating
I bought a 3lb piece of pumpkin and used about 2lbs of sweet potato, and without a food processor or blender, and with the help of Melissa and the finest side of our hand grater, it took about an hour to get a pile of orange and white goop into the mixing pot. Mix that with the pictured ingredients (plus a pack of grated coconut) and you some delicious conkie batter! I put in dried cranberries and some raisins - normally its raisins and dried fruit or candied cherries but it can be whatever your heart desires really.
Step 4: Packing those parcels
This is the most fun part! And also took even longer than the grating, since I had to repeat step 1 and 2 about three or four times after grossly underestimating how many conkies the batter would make. And I had a few casualties where the banana leaf split while I was folding them. In the end, I had three pots with the banana stalk steamers set up inside them going at once. I heard different cooking times depending on the recipe - anywhere from 30 mins to 2 hours. But I read that the conkies get fairly firm when they're done so I just waited until the leaves got darker and opened them up to check. Without anyone to ask, I just winged it!
Step 5: Steaming and sampling
So after two ronds of steaming, and burning the bottom of two pots from not have enough water, I ended up with about 25 pretty looking conkies, 2 that broke while cooking and stuck to the inside of the pot, and 6 that burst a bit out of the leaves. I thought I'd photograph the ugly ducklings of the bunch. Started just after 1pm and finished just before 7pm, with one very messy kitchen. I lay them all out to cool but was hesitant to sample - what if after 6 hours of work, I had made conkies that would either disgust or offend people? This was almost a national dish! Luckily a friend of my roommate Julie, a Bajan, dropped by an sampled one. And I quote: "That's a good conkie." Phew. Fears curbed, I set about dividing them up to give to people in the office, to a few friends and of course, for us! I can't wait to see the reaction of people :)
Now I just need to find some coconut ice cream to top it off - and it will be heavenly!
UPDATE: I brought conkies over to Copper and Agatha's place (where I snorkel, fish and kayak on weekends) and got a really enthusiastic response :) Copper said they were really good, and even said I make conkies better than some Bajans he knows. One of Copper's daughters said she loved it. Left some for Avalon, who was fixing the fishing boat I caught the big fish on. Bringing some to work tomorrow!