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Breadfruits roasting (Budget Foods of Ye

Photo by Julie-Ann Maughn


Budget Foods Of Yesteryear
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During the 1950s-1960s many Barbadian households struggled financially. Jobs were limited, housing was modest and families were relatively large. To compound matters, many jobs still revolved around sugar plantations. This resulted in seasonal work and meant little to no pay for many months. During the off-seasons many households fulfilled their nutritional needs by living off the land. This economic climate had a long lasting impact on this island’s culinary history which is apparent in many of the foods we enjoy today. 

One Hand Can' Clap

Despite many families' meager circumstances, being your brother’s keeper was the lynchpin of the Barbadian ideology. Those who lived in the more rural parts of the island depended heavily on the rich bounty of their land. Fruits such as mangoes, soursop, sugar apples, cherries and guavas were all sources of food and many a resourceful housewife found ways to stretch these perishables by turning them into drinks, jams and more. 

Well-tended kitchen gardens were known to feed entire communities with yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, eddoes and pumpkin. These ground provisions or ‘ground food’ as they’re colloquially called, would be combined with a bouquet garni to create hearty soups and stew meals that were both nutritious and filling. These might be served with salted meats such as pork or beef, as many households didn’t have refrigerators to store fresh meat. 

These ground provisions also worked well for the morning meal with older folks demonstrating their ingenuity by creating ‘old hats’ for breakfast. These ‘old hats’ were made with dried, grated cassava that was flavoured with sugar and salt. They were shaped into flat disks and then fried to crispy perfection. They went beautifully with a cup of pear (avocado) leaf tea to wash it all down. Modern lovers of old hats can skip the grating with cassava flour such as the option offered by Carmeta's.

Old hats are made with dried, grated cassava and flavoured with sugar and salt

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Bet who bet you

From Six Men’s in the north to Skeete’s Bay in the east, fishing villages were ecosystems that formed a vital part of Barbadians’ daily life. Fishing villages were often a hive of activity after young men returned with their haul of flying fish, jacks and crayfish after a long day at sea. Fish boners and other villagers greeted them on the beaches, often passing the time by roasting breadfruits (these days we add a dollop of Sunflower) or playing boisterous games of dominoes. The fresh fish would be destined for open-fire roasts or fried in coal pots and served for lunch and dinner. Even though fresh fish was sometimes in abundance, the lack of refrigeration meant fish could not be stored for long periods. These days, we no longer have to turn our heads to the horizon to see if our ship is sailing in. Local companies such as Morgan's help us to keep our freezers stocked all year round. 

Yuh Got Sweet Mouth?

While the land and seas provided many essentials when funds were limited, many Bajans found ways to create many sweets and treats. Children and adults alike enjoyed many sweets such as guava cheese, sugar cakes and nut cakes. At school the typical lunch time snack for children ranged from tamarind balls to suck-a-bubbies and gooseberry jam. Bajan budget foods of yesteryear were the delicious outcomes of tropical harvests, fishing and innovation. Despite the country’s ready access to more imported foods and the wide-spread availability of fridges, many of these budget foods have remained embedded in the minds and hearts of Bajans as part of our cultural experiences. So the next time you enjoy a cool glass of soursop punch or a warm soup with nuff dumplings, remember that these meals are also delicious historical references that outline our country’s journey from a time when our great forefathers sowed the seed to a time of plenty.



Dann, Graham. The Quality of Life in Barbados, 1984.

Interview with Venistine Maughn, former resident of Bath Land, St. John during the 1950s-1980s. 



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