Burt Wolf's Table: St. Thomas and St. John - #212

BURT WOLF:  St.  Thomas and St. John.  St. Thomas is a port with the biggest duty-free shopping allowance ever allowed by the U.S.  We'll find out why.  We'll discover why we were told not to swim after we eat.  We'll take a tour through St. John and see one of the most beautiful spots in the Caribbean and we'll cook along with some great chefs.  So join me on the islands of St. Thomas and St. John at Burt Wolf's Table.

BURT WOLF:  The islands of the Caribbean form a chain that starts just off the southern tip of Florida and continues down to the northern coast of South America.  About midway through the group are the U.S. Virgin Islands.  There are actually about fifty islands.  But the most important are St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.  And each has its own unique quality. 

When Christopher Columbus first bumped in the islands of the Caribbean, he claimed them on behalf of the king and queen of Spain.  Nice try, but no cigar.  As soon as the other kings and queens of Europe found out what was going on, they began to challenge his claim throughout the area.

France, England, Holland and Denmark sent their ships across the Atlantic and battled for a piece of the pie.  For 300 years, European monarchs fought over the islands of the Caribbean.  The only reason for all the action was money.  European powers realized that the islands of the Caribbean were ideal locations for trade and profit.

For Denmark, the prize possessions were three parcels of land known as the Virgin Islands.  Two of them, St. John and St. Croix, became agricultural centers covered with plantations.  The third, St. Thomas, became a duty-free trading port.

The U.S. government purchased the islands in 1917.  It was the First World War and Washington was concerned that the Germans might use the area as a submarine base.

When the Danish finally made the sale, they insisted that the area be kept as a duty-free port.  And today it offers U.S. residents the dutiest-free port in the world.

Most of the action takes place here in the central shopping district of the town of Charlotte Amalie.  The old stone buildings that once housed cargos of rum and molasses bound for European and North American traders now hold jewelry, perfumes, watches, china, and cameras which are still bound for Europe and North America, but these days they go right into the hands of the vacationing customers.

Attention shoppers!  U.S. residents may bring back up to $1,200 worth of duty-free goods.  That's twice the amount for other Caribbean islands and three times the amount for most other foreign nations.  And while you are here, each day you can send back up to $100 worth of gifts, duty-free also.  And you should do it.  It's your duty.

Paintings of the St. Thomas port of Charlotte Amalie from the 1700 and 1800s clearly show the development of the town as a commercial center.  Buildings of merchants who were buying things from other parts of the world and selling them in the Caribbean.  A perfect example of that tradition today is a group of shops called Little Switzerland.  Their specialty, as you might expect from their name, is the Swiss watch.  But they also carry jewelry and pearls and precious stones.

But that's not what brought me here.  Little Switzerland is a major retailer of fine tableware.  And I find that interesting.  More and more of our food is coming to us in plastic bags and paper boxes and styrofoam cups.  So who's buying crystal stemware and porcelain plates -- and why?  The answer to “who” seems to be people who are going through a change of life.  Getting married and starting a new home.  Or they've come to a better economic environment.  Why they are buying these objects is also quite interesting.  Porcelain is harder than most other ceramics so it chips less and lasts longer.  The top-quality flatware has better balance and feels better in your hand.

When it comes to the stemware, it's because crystal sends more light into the glass and there's no distortion.  Everything looks better in crystal.

In the Western World we take the table fork for granted.  It can operate on its own, in combination with the spoon, and teamed with the knife, its potential is awesome.

The fork is the most recent of our common table tools to arrive on the scene.  It was first mentioned during the 11th century and it wasn't a very nice mention at that.  The Bishop of Venice had seen a woman using a fork at a dinner party and he threw an absolute fit.  He was thoroughly convinced that the fork had been invented by the devil and it actually took about 800 years before the fork came into common use in the west.  During those early days food would come to the table in a big bowl.  Everybody would reach in and take their portion and put it onto a piece of bread that sat in front of them like a plate.

If you use a fork on a hunk of bread, there's a good chance you'll make a hole in the bread and let the moisture drip out onto the table, then onto your lap.  Not good form.  Eventually, a hard wooden or pewter plate was introduced under the bread and that gave the fork a chance to get into fashion.

It was a three-pronged design and a four-pronged design and at one point, they introduced a five-pronged model based on the success of the five-fingered hand.  But in the end, it was the four-pronged fork that went out and became the most popular.

The fork has clearly become a fashionable part of western ritual.  But you never know what's going to happen.  Most of the people on our planet eat with their hands.  The next largest group eat with chopsticks.  The knife, fork and spoon gang is actually only a tiny minority.  And as people migrate from one part of the planet to another, it's impossible to know which fashions will take hold and which will disappear.  Here in the U.S. Virgin Islands, there is a blending together of many different cultures.

The beautiful enclaves of the U.S. Virgin Islands were first inhabited by native tribes that came here from South America, followed by the Spanish, English, French, Dutch, Africans and North Americans.  Each group has made some culinary contribution to the islands' kitchen.  Very often when you come to a place that's famous as a vacation spot, it's almost impossible to get a taste of the real local cooking unless somebody brings you home for dinner.

Fortunately, that is not a problem on St. Thomas.  There are a number of restaurants here that are famous for reproducing the classic local dishes of the area.  One of my favorites is Eunice’s Terrace on the Eastern end of the Island.

EUNICE:  The key to West Indian food is the seasoning.  We use thyme, chervil, onions, garlic, celery.  And we use the mortar and pestle and pound it with salt.

BURT WOLF:  So tell me what's cooking on St. Thomas.

EUNICE:  We have callalou, which is okra, spinach, conch, fish.  All like in a gumbo.  It's excellent.  This is our local boiled fish.  You haven't tasted anything like our local fish.  We have a fish called the Old Wife Fish.

BURT WOLF:  I had that the other day.  Why is it called Old Wife?

EUNICE:  It's a story.  Listen to the story.  It's a fish with a skin.  Alright?  And when they skin the fish, they take the skin off and put it in the sun to dry and the women used to use it as brillo.  So they ... it got the name Old Wife.  The correct name is Trigger Fish.

BURT WOLF:  I don't think that's fair.  If we're going to have an Old Wives’ Fish.  We ought to have something like an Old Husbands’ Shrimp, you know?

EUNICE:  I agree with you on that.

BURT WOLF:  We have to really correct these things.  What else is here?

We have our fungi, which is excellent.  It's yellow corn meal, we use okra and boiling water.  Whip it together, add a little margarine, no cholesterol, super dish. 

BURT WOLF:  Eunice also makes a traditional West Indian drink called Roots.  Eunice, what is in there?

EUNICE:  This is pure cane rum, catania roots, sea-grapes, cashew nuts and peanuts.

BURT WOLF:  And the rum soaks in all of that stuff?

EUNICE:  Soaks for two weeks.

BURT WOLF:  Two weeks!

EUNICE:  Yeah.

BURT WOLF:  Okay.  (PAUSE)  Mmmmm.  (COUGHS)  Not only is it an alcoholic beverage, but I now know where all my cavities are.  Whoa!

BURT WOLF:  The classic island specialty called Fungi makes an excellent side dish and it's very easy to prepare.  Here's how it's made by Chef Velda Brown at St. Thomas' Grand Palazzo Hotel. 

Okra slices are cooked in water.  Margarine is added.  Corn meal is mixed in.  And it's pressed against the sides to prevent lumps.  A margarine-coated bowl is used to flip individual portions into their traditional shape.  It's pretty simple.

Okra was believed to have special properties in connection with childbirth and was brought to the Caribbean by African slaves.  The African word for okra is “gumbo.”  And eventually, we began to use that word for any stew that we thickened with okra.  The techniques used in making the fungi are so ancient that they could have come here from anywhere in the world, including the original tribes that came up to this area from South America.  But the okra is clearly African.

BURT WOLF:  During the 1930s Sir Edward Cunard of the famous Cunard Steamship Company built himself a magnificent beach house here in the Caribbean.  He modeled it on his family's Renaissance palace in Venice.  And it was that piece of architecture that became the inspiration for St. Thomas' Grand Palazzo Hotel.  Stucco walls, gridiron balconies, classic Italian red-tile roofs.  That's what the great villas of the coast of Italy look like.  But those magnificent homes never look out on anything as beautiful as the Caribbean. 

Both the public and private rooms of the Grand Palazzo offer views that consistently remind you that the greatest architect of all is really Mother Nature. 

Their informal restaurant is called the Cafe Vecchio Terrace and it was a 180 degree view of the beaches and the island of St. John in the background. 

The more formal restaurant is the Palm Terrace and it really is an excellent example of good restaurant design.

One of the great challenges to a restaurant architect is to design a space that gets in as many chairs as possible, but doesn't give you the feeling that the people at the next table have joined you without your personal invitation.  You may also be discussing something of a highly private nature that you don't want anyone else to hear.  Like what you really think about the people your children are dating.

Well, the folks who designed this space did a fabulous job.  Because try as I might, I cannot hear what the people at the next table are saying and they ... look so interesting.

Great views to dine by have always been considered a valuable asset to a restaurant.  And certainly the vista from the Grand Palazzo is radiant.  For me, however, the most important view in any restaurant has always been the one directly down to the plate in front of me.

I've always believed that it's really the cooking that counts.  And fortunately, the cooking here is in good hands.

Patrick Pinon is a classic French chef who gave up bistros for beaches.  But he has never given up his grandmother's recipe for a traditional homestyle beef casserole.

A little oil and butter are heated together in a pot and two dozen baby onions are browned and removed.  Five pounds of beef chuck cut into small pieces are seasoned, lightly floured and browned on all sides.  A few tablespoons of tomato paste go in.  Wine, beef stock, the baby onions return, and everything goes into a 450 degree oven for an hour.  At which point some additional herbs and the zest of an orange are added.  A few carrots, and an hour of additional cooking and it's ready to serve.

Patrick has worked in many places around the world and he brings his recipes from place to place.  For a number of years, he was the chef to the Crown Prince of Oman, and this recipe travels from there.  It's a date-stuffed chicken breast.

The stuffing is made by sauteeing together some shallots, chopped California dates, pinenuts, and pistachio nuts.  That's flavored with cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and cayenne.  And it goes into a chicken breast which has been cut almost in half.  The chicken is browned on both sides and then braized in a 400 degree oven for twenty minutes.

A mold of couscous goes onto the serving plate, a saffron sauce, the chicken, and a few toasted nuts.

The date may be the world's oldest cultivated fruit.  Seven-thousand-year-old sculptures clearly show the date palm.  The date's been a basic part of Middle Eastern agriculture for centuries.  The Arabs brought the date to Spain and Spanish missionaries brought them to California.

As a matter of fact, the first date planted in California, was planted in a town called Mecca.  These days, California produces just about all of the dates grown in North America. 

A date palm has been described as living with its feet in the water and its head in the sun.  Perfect for the dessert oasis and the Cochella Valley of California.  Dry air above, irrigation below.  Date palms come in male and female forms, but that doesn't work too well for farmers because it means that much of their land would be giving over to male trees that don't bear fruit.  So date growers do their pollinating by hand. 

Dates are often called Nature's Candy because of their sweet taste and caramel flavor.  It also contains some valuable nutrients.  Dates are a very good source of potassium, which may turn out to be a valuable tool in controlling high blood pressure.

The best way to store a date is in the refrigerator, in an air-tight container.  They'll last there for about eight months. 

The actual date harvest takes place in the fall, but they're in the supermarket all year round.

When I was a kid and lucky enough to spend a day at the beach, lunch always seemed to be an unnecessary interruption.  And the worst part was that after lunch, my mother wouldn't let me go back into the water.  It was always this lecture about the dangers of swimming after eating.

As I got older, I found it harder and harder to believe that the weight of a bacon-lettuce-and- tomato sandwich was going to sink me.  But my mother had given me some pretty good advice and so I hung on. 

Eventually I discovered that there was considerable scientific evidence for her recommendations. 

When you eat, your system supplies an enormous amount of blood to the center of your body to help with digestion.  It draws that blood from your extremities.  Your brain, your arms, your legs.  The reduced blood supply in your brain makes it harder for you to think clearly and the reduced blood supply in your arms and legs increases your chances of getting muscle cramps. 

So there you are, swimming along in the ocean, not thinking clearly, and getting muscle cramps.  It makes a good case for waiting about an hour between eating and swimming.  That's okay with me.  The idea of taking a short siesta under the palms on the beach sounds pretty good.  But I'm sure that your idea of riveting and entertaining television is not watching me taking a nap.  So I asked my friend Brownie Brown to take you on a tour of the island.  Brownie is a very famous disc jockey in this part of the world and a reputed genius at guiding tours.  So, I'll see you when you get back.

BROWN:  Allow me to say a most pleasant good afternoon, everyone.  My name is Brownie, I am a taxi driver, I'm a disk jockey, I am a well-known person here on the island and I welcome you and thank you for coming and we're going to have ourselves a wonderful time on this little tour here in St. Thomas.  Good t’ing.

We're going to pass up through an area called the Back Street.  These old buildings in this area here, are more than 100 years old.  Remember the United States bought these islands from Denmark in 1917.  Before that, we were all Danes.  Now we are all American citizens.

We're going to take a little ride up to the Jewish Synagogue.  The Jewish Synagogue is the oldest Synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.  Now this Synagogue still has the sand on the floor.  In a lot of words but I'm going to break it down for you, this is in memory of all the Jewish people that crossed the desert ... that took forty years to cross the desert.  So the sand that is there is in memory of all these people that crossed the desert many many years ago.  Good t’ing.  So just a capsule explanation of the reason why the sand is on the floor.

In front of us, we're going to see Fort Christian.  It was first used for a Moravian priest and then it became a fort and it was a police station for many, many, many, many years and a jail.  Right now it is being used as a museum.

We're entering into an area that I really like.  It's called French Village or French Town.  A French settlement; they have a lot of restaurants in this area.  We're passing one just as we go by here.  The Normandie Bar.   Very good and very popular.  All the restaurants on the island, they have to be good because the competition is stiff. 

These are the homes of the French people here on the island and most of these people build their own homes.  And some of the nicest people you want to meet.

Okay, we're going downhill now into the Megan’s Bay area.  When we get onto the beach you will see one of the most beautiful sights.  Megan's Bay.  Something I'm very proud of.  You've got to come and spend some time here.  I know what I'm telling you.  And that definitely will be good t’ing.

Megan's Bay Beach is shaped like a heart.  That, along with sixty-eight acres of land, belongs to the people of the Virgin Islands.  That's why you'll never see a hotel or anything built down there.  Because we don't want ... we want it just the way it is.  We are on Megan's Bay Beach.  You will see most of the native people come here and practically everybody comes here on this beach.

I think there's a navy ship in town, that's why you see all these guys from here.


BROWN:  Oh, there’s my family -- hello, sweetheart. Good t’ing.  Oh, my kid should be over there.  Isn’t that something?  My whole family's over there.  Man!  That's the way it is.  Megan's Bay is the place.  Good thing.  That's the way we like to do it. 

Well, that is a small part of St. Thomas as you've just seen.  I hope you enjoyed our little tour.  I want ya'll to come to my island of St. Thomas and to the Virgin Islands.  It was just a little piece that you saw.  I know you're going to enjoy it when you come.  So you folks, I'm going to let you off now, and please, go wake up Burt.  Wake him up and tell him Brownie say, Good t’ing.

MAN:  Burt!  Burt!!

BURT WOLF:  Ah, you’re back!  I've been coming to the U.S. Virgin Islands for thirty years, so Brownie's taken me on that tour before.  But I thought you'd enjoy it.

But now, how about some water sports?

Good t’ing!

BURT WOLF:  The European explorers of the Caribbean spent a great deal of effort describing everything that grew in the New World.  But they never said anything about the coconut.  It appears that the coconut came to the Americas from the South Pacific after the landing of Columbus.  For one-third of the world's population, the coconut is a very important food, especially for people living in the tropics.

Fabrice Dubuc is a French pastry chef who performs his art at the Grand Palazzo Hotel.  His specialty is adapting classic recipes to local ingredients.  These coconut drop cookies are a delicious example.

Five cups of grated coconut go into a bowl, followed by five cups of sugar, six eggs, two ounces of melted butter, a little vanilla extract and a splash of rum.  That's mixed together and given a one hour rest in the refrigerator.  When the dough comes out, it's rolled into balls about an inch in diameter, placed on a parchment-covered baking sheet and baked in a 375 degree oven for ten minutes.  Out of the oven, a light dusting of powdered sugar, and they're ready.

During the last few years there's been a lot of talk about coconuts because coconuts are high in saturated fat and there appears to be a very direct relationship between a diet that is high in saturated fat and heart disease.  But you've got to remember, there are no bad foods and there are no good foods.  There are just inappropriate amounts.  Scientists are telling us that we can take five to ten percent of our daily calories in saturated fat and still be okay.  So, with these cookies and with everything else, moderation is the word.

BURT WOLF: Excuse me, is this where I buy a ticket on the ferry?

WOMAN:  Yes it is.

BURT WOLF:  Great.  How much is a round-trip?

WOMAN:  Six dollars.

BURT WOLF:  Six dollars.  Great thing about the U.S. Virgin Islands, they use the same money as we do in the states.  Here you go.

WOMAN:  Thank you.

BURT WOLF:  Wonderful.  By the way, where does the ferry go?

WOMAN:  To St. John.

BURT WOLF:  Great!  That's where I'm going!

 At the Eastern end of St. Thomas is the town of Red Hook, a major anchorage for local yachtsmen and the point of departure for the St. Thomas to St. John ferry. 

A twenty minute trip across Pillsbury Sound will bring you to the town of Cruz Bay, the metropolitan center of St. John... a dramatic example of what a commercial hub can be like if the primary desire of the developers is to keep the neighborhood an unspoiled paradise.

This is the world headquarters for Relaxing-R-Us.  Lawrence Rockefeller, who you might remember from the song “as rich as Rockefeller,” bought the island and in 1956 donated it to the U.S. government so they could turn two-thirds of it into a national park. 

About 3,000 people live on the edges of St. John.  The central area is still wild and wonderful. 

Ranger Paul Thomas of the U.S. National Park Service has agreed to introduce us to the island.

THOMAS:   ... take a good look at what we have here on St. John.  Because the first time you came in, you came by boat.  Kind of missed all the action by not being on land.  Okay.

Now, right now we're here in Cruz Bay, the Visitors’ Center, come around the hill and then we stop at Solomon Beach.  You can only get there by ... hiking or by boat.  No vehicle access, so there's no carbon monoxide to mess up your day.

After we come back into Cruz Bay, we're going to jump into our vehicle and we're going to head out along the North Shore Road.  Fantastic scenic driving.  One of the first beaches we're going to run into is Hawksnest, which is very nice for snorkeling and not too crowded.  Mainly you would find just local people at Hawksnest.  But it's not as beautiful as about three reefs inside the bay which are, of course, fantastic snorkeling.

From Hawksnest we head out over in Trunk Bay.  Now Trunk Bay is probably world-famous because of the underwater trail.  And it's a series of markers that you find underneath along the reef that tells you what you're looking at.  And explains it all to you.  From Trunk Bay, we head over into Cinnamon Bay.  That's an area that I love.  There's a series of trails ... there's a little trail that winds through the ruins because Cinnamon Bay was also a site of one of the old sugar plantations.

And then there's a nice trail that takes you up on to Centerline Road, crosses through the whole island from west all the way to the east.   There's also a trail that's not featured on the map that takes you up to America Hill.

Now there's the ruins of the Great House of the Cinnamon Bay Plantation that’s up there.  Folklore has it that the house is haunted.  Now you're welcome to hike up there, Burt, but I'm not coming with you.  Okay?

BURT WOLF:  (LAUGHING)  You mean to tell me that the National Park Service doesn't have a ghostbusting facility?

THOMAS:  No we don't.  And I don't plan to start one either.

BURT WOLF:  That's it from the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas and St. John.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat and drink at Burt Wolf's Table.

Burt Wolf's Menu: Aruba - #119

Aruba... the most southerly island in the Caribbean chain. Magnificent beaches... interesting history... wonderful culture.  Good food that blends together the island's Dutch and Spanish cultures... and a population that is friendly, warm, and helpful.  The best description of Aruba is its national slogan... "One Happy Island."  So join me in Aruba for BURT WOLF’S MENU.

The islands of the Caribbean form a chain that runs from the tip of Florida to the coast of Venezuela. The larger islands in the north, like Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico are known as the Greater Antilles. The smaller islands, stretching for over 1,000 miles from the U.S. Virgin Islands down to Aruba, are known as the Lesser Antilles.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The idea of calling the islands “lesser” and “greater” is based purely on size. There are lots of things about the Lesser Antilles that are greater than the Greater Antilles. But size does have its impact. Starting with Columbus in 1492, the Spanish conquistadors bounced around the Caribbean yelling "finders keepers" on top of every piece of land that they could get two feet onto. And on the larger pieces of land they also got on some giant military fortresses in order to stress the "keepers" aspect of their claim.

About twenty minutes after the word got back to Europe about the New World, Spain's great rivals, the English, French, Danish and Dutch attacked the Spanish claims and they concentrated most of their attacks on the smaller, less fortified islands. And they carried on this military madness for almost three hundred years.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   As a result, the Lesser Antilles saw more action than the Greater Antilles which was great for the Greater Antilles and less great for the Lesser Antilles. But while the European nations were busy raising Cain around here, they also raised sugar. Almost all of the Caribbean islands ended up with a plantation economy, raising sugar to supply Europe's enormous sweet tooth.  And they supplied it at enormous profits.

But there were a number of Caribbean islands that managed to escape this scenario and one of them was Aruba.

Aruba is a small island just off the coast of Venezuela. The Arowaks of South America were the first people to inhabit Aruba, and they appear to have come over about 5,000 years ago. They were followed by the Spanish in 1500, and in the next century by the Dutch. Those three groups are the major ethnic influences on Aruba and they have produced a society of truly friendly and charming people. A perfect example of what I mean is a gentleman named Adri De Palm, who has been guiding friends around his island for a number of years.

ADRI DePALM:  This is the lighthouse of Aruba.  We are now at the western point of the island.  This area is also well-visited by the tourists that get to the island.  Why?  Because every side of this lighthouse you have a different aspect of the whole area.  The first one, one side you have the cacti... the other side you have the rocks... and the other side you have dunes... and the other side it looks like a desert area.  So you really, you have four aspects in one place on the island.  ... Yes, Burt, as you know, we also have scuba in Aruba.  As you can see right behind me here, this is Sea Scuba.  These people take people out every day on scuba dives and also snorkelling trips.  Besides that, we have very, very nice coral.  And scuba is very, very nice in Aruba also. ... Right now we are here in Oranjestad; this is the largest city in Aruba.  What it really means, “Orange Town” in Dutch.  Here’s where every people come to Aruba to do their shopping and go to special restaurants, and where they also buy their very expensive goods.  We have jewelry, crystals, from everything that you can imagine.  You get it right here in this city. 

BURT WOLF:   And at a good price.

ADRI DePALM:  And at a very, very nice price. ... Aruba is a very, very nice island for the cruise ships, for the cruise ship industry.  Last year we had over two hundred ships to the island, which really brings a lot of people to us.  Most of those people also come to this area, which is Oranjestad, because it’s a very, very close range, so it’s really a five-minute walking distance.  So they can walk from the ship to the city, and from the city back to the boat without no problem. 

BURT WOLF:   Great!

ADRI DePALM:  At night it’s also blooming here in this area.  So everybody that really comes to Aruba will have a night in Oranjestad. 

While I was researching the history of Aruba, I stayed at a place called the Costa Linda Beach Resort.  As I expected, it had a great strip of Aruban beach. And because the beaches of this island are so wide, even when every guest from the resort's 155 suites were on the beach, all at the same time, you were still literally off in your own space.  I also like the fact that all of the rooms face the beach.  That’s important.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   There have been times in my "life on the road" where I have stayed at places that were advertised as "beachfront facilities," and though that was true for the building, it wasn’t true for the my room. Fortunately, that can’t happen here. Every room faces the beach.

And every room is actually a 2 or 3 bedroom suite with a living room and a full kitchen. I like that feature a lot. It gives me some control over my non-professional eating.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   For me to get one recipe that’s worth filming, I have to taste about 15 different dishes, which adds up to an enormous number of calories. So to have a nice little kitchen in my room where I can prepare a few “off the record” meals is really nice.  It takes me twenty-three days to research, write and film a script.  And if I have to work three weeks in a row without a day off, to work in a place like this makes a big difference.

And it also helps when the resort has a talented executive chef like Scott Scheurman. Scott's first recipe is for a pan-fried fillet of Snapper. It's served on a bed of vegetables that combine the classic flavors of the Caribbean kitchen.  Scott starts his recipe with four fillets of red snapper with the skin on one side. A little salt and pepper goes on. A little lime juice.

SCOTT SCHEURMAN:  O.K. we take the scales off of this, but we leave the skin on - that helps hold the fish together and it also makes for an attractive, attractive fish because it's a nice red color here.

Three strips of bacon go into a sauté pan.

SCOTT SCHEURMAN: The bacon will provide us with a little bit of fat for the cooking and plenty of flavor as well.  Very important flavor.

When most of the fat has dripped out of the bacon the bacon is moved to the side of the pan or taken out. The snapper is given a light coating of corn meal and goes into the pan to cook for three minutes.

SCOTT SCHEURMAN:  This is not meant so much as a breading, as just a coating to protect the fish while it cooks.

Then the fish is flipped over and cooks for three minutes more.

SCOTT SCHEURMAN: Now when we turn it over, when the skin hits the hot surface, the skin is gonna start to contract a little bit, so it's going to curl the fish slightly - that's normal.  If the bacon starts to get too crisp on you, you just take it out of the pan right here.  We'll add it back in later on.

As soon as the fish is fully cooked it comes out, and in goes some chopped onion, green pepper, red pepper, scallion, and garlic.  If you live in a part of the world were your market carries green tomatoes then chop one up and add it in. If you can't find green tomatoes just skip it and keep on cooking.  All that simmers together for five minutes. At that point a half cup of chopped stuffed olives are added, plus some capers and some cilantro.

SCOTT SCHEURMAN: Olives and capers are two very popular ingredients in Caribbean cooking probably dating back to the shipping days when -- before refrigeration.

The bacon goes back in, followed by a half cup of white wine.

SCOTT SCHEURMAN: The white wine will help bring all the flavors together and bring all of the flavor up from the pan.

Then the fish goes back in. A top goes on and all the ingredients simmer for two minutes more. Then the sauce goes onto the serving plate, the fish on top and there's a garnish of lime and cilantro.

SCOTT SCHEURMAN:  Very classic creole flavors in this.

Many food historians believe that it was on the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean that the word barbecue first came into use. It describes a technique of grilling foods on green sticks set over a fire in hole dug into the sand. Today it describes the style of a recipe being used by Scott to prepare a Caribbean style barbecued chicken.  Scott starts by making a hot relish. A clove of minced garlic goes into a bowl, followed by a half cup of chopped scallion, and a chopped hot pepper.

SCOTT SCHEURMAN: This can be any variety of hot pepper; it could be a jalapeno pepper, it could be an oriental-style or tabasco pepper.  We're using the Caribbean variety here which is a kind of a cherry pepper - very hot, so be careful with it.

Next in goes a quarter cup of toasted sesame seeds, and two tablespoons of sesame oil. That's blended into a paste, and stuffed between the skin and the meat of four boneless chicken breasts.  A zucchini is cut into quarter-inch slices, lengthwise. The chicken is rolled up and goes on top of a slice of the zucchini.

SCOTT SCHEURMAN: What the zucchini is going to do primarily is to protect the meat surface of the chicken from overcooking and drying out.  The skin will protect the other side, of course.

Scott slips a knife under the zucchini to make everything easier to move onto a plate.  A barbecue sauce made from ketchup and dry mustard is painted on and the chicken goes into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or onto a grill until it’s fully cooked.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Now Americans love ketchup and sometimes we get picked on for that.  But a couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with the grandson of Escoffier - one of the greatest chefs who ever lived, and he told me that when Escoffier retired from the cooking at the Ritz Hotel in Paris he opened up a little company to make sauces.  And one of the sauces that he made, quite successfully, was ketchup.  So there.

While the chicken is cooking, a papaya relish is made by mixing together some cubed papaya, minced red onion, cilantro, white vinegar and olive oil.  The last element is the making of a pancake by mixing together a pancake batter with some pureed corn, and a minced red pepper.  The pancake goes onto the plate, then the chicken and finally the papaya relish.

If you’ve come to Aruba as a tourist to relax on the shores, sail on the sea, or dive below, the fact that it hardly ever rains in Aruba is source of great comfort and joy. On the other hand, if you are an Aruban running through hundreds of gallons of fresh water everyday, that lack of rain can be a real pain in the spigot.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   To solve the problem, Aruba constructed an amazing facility that produces water and electricity at the same time.

The process starts by drawing in clear clean seawater from the surrounding ocean. That water is brought to a boil in what is basically a giant tea kettle.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   At this point the steam is floating at the top of the kettle, losing its heat and turning back to water. But it does this in stages. The purest steam turns back to the purest water at the top. The most impure steam with most of the salts turns back to impure water at the bottom. So if you build a kettle with a system for catching the pure water at the top and draining it off, you're in great shape.  The process is really very simple and it’s called distillation. If you do it with water you get distilled water. If you do it with a mash of corn or barley you get whiskey. If you do it with molasses you get rum.  Here in Aruba they only do it with water. But the water that comes from the plant is so pure that even though it's perfect for your car battery, it doesn’t taste the way we like our water to taste.

They actually need to add back some mineral elements to give it the flavor that we associate with good water. So they let the distilled water, which is still quite hot, drip down through some local coral stones from the nearby reef. and now it’s ready for drinking.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   It’s one of the purest waters in the world and it tastes great. Because the plant is located in a part of Aruba known as Balashi, the people of Aruba refer to a glass of water as a Balashi cocktail. Cheers.

The primary food gathering activity of the original Arubian natives was fishing.  They also did a little farming. Corn, manoc root, potatoes and sweet potatoes were the most common field crops and their favorite seasonings were hot chilies.  When the Spanish came in they brought along sheep, goats, cows and pigs.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   When the Dutch arrived in the  1600's they brought with them their beer, cheeses, east Indian spices and their general love of good eating. I think  in the end the single most significant gastronomic influence that the Dutch will leave behind in Aruba is their love of quality. There are over a hundred excellent restaurants on this island, all interested in delivering good food. And because the island is small and the competition so great, they’re interested in delivering good food at good prices. Let me take you on a little tour of the places I’ve been eating in.

Brisas del Mar has one of the most beautiful locations of any restaurant I've seen.  It sits right out on the ocean, and they haven't bothered to put in any windows because the island's weather is so dependable.  The owner, Lucia Rasmijn, tells you how to find the place.

LUCIA RASMIJN:  You’re passing the airport, coming straight up.  You get a sign on the highway, you turn to your right, and a couple minutes you will be on Brisas side.  The food is very nice.  If you like fish, you can have fish Aruban style.  We fry two pieces of fish, with a sauce of tomato, green pepper and onion and we boil it for a couple of minutes.  Then with fried bananas... Aruban corn meal pancake --oh, that’s nice!  It’s a piece of a little bit of corn meal, flour, sugar, milk and baking powder.  Oh, it’s delicious.

Chez Mathilde is Aruba's Paris amongst the palms... an excellent French restaurant. The indoor dining room is filled with so much light and greenery that it feels like an outdoor garden.  Mi Cushina is the place for the real Aruban food. It's as authentic as the meal you would get in someone's home.  Le Petit Cafe is right in downtown Oranjestad. It has a rather unusual kitchen... the only thing that's on the stove are large rocks. When they're very hot the food gets put on, and the cooking actually finishes off at your table. Could this be the real hard rock cafe?  And there are spots that will feed you after the regular restaurants close.

BURT WOLF:   How you doin’?  I’d like a satay sandwich, aaaand an orange juice.

They’re kitchens, set up in trucks... with their own special menu and location. Each night as the sun goes down and the tide goes out, the vans drive around and the people start to shout... Hey Hey Uncle Buck... It's a treat to eat some meat from an all-night sandwich truck.

What's going on here? ... Aruban cannoli?  No... Aruban donuts? ... Aruban Bagels???

ALAN LAVINE:  About four years ago we hit on the idea that maybe a bagel store would be a good idea.  There are lots of tourists coming here, bagels are very healthy.  It’s very different to come four thousand miles approximately from the United States and see a bagel shop that you might see on the corner of your street, you know.  So they’re very happy with it and very excited, and the local people are getting more and more involved in the bagels as well.

Aruba has an amazing ability to absorb food styles from all over the world.

One of the earliest migrations of people to the Caribbean were folks who came here from India. Some came to work as laborers in agriculture and construction.  Others came to open up their own businesses.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   All of them came along with their traditional approach to cooking, especially when it came to seasonings.

Here at the Papiamento Restaurant in Aruba, Chef Edward Ellis shows that Indian influence with his recipe for Curried Shrimp.  A little olive oil goes into a pan followed by a half cup each of chopped onion... red pepper... and green pepper. That cooks together for a few minutes.

BURT WOLF:   One of my early surprises when I was learning about food was to discover that a red pepper is just a green pepper that’s been on the vine longer.

Then a little fresh ginger goes in.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  When you’re using fresh ginger, it’s important to remember to slice it or mince it, but not to grate it.  If you grate it, you lose a lot of the juices, and that’s where a lot of the flavor is.  It’s “de-grating” for the ginger.

Then six jumbo shrimp are added.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Edward’s using jumbo shrimp, and we figure three of them is enough for each person.  As a general rule in terms of weight, four to six ounces of shrimp per person should do it.

Next Edward adds some chopped celery leaves...a tablespoon of curry... salt.. fresh pepper... and a quarter cup of cream. The cream cooks down for a few minutes and the dish is ready to serve.

The island of Aruba has a unique weather pattern. Being the most southerly of the islands that make up the Caribbean chain, it is well out of the way of the hurricane belt. It is consistently warm, sunny, breezy and dry. It’s perfect for strolling beaches, but bad for storing bread. The result is a nationally-beloved pudding based on stale bread and called Pan Bollo.  Eduardo Ellis, the owner and executive chef of Aruba's Papiamento Restaurant, demonstrates a classic example.

Stale bread is broken up into small pieces until you have about four cups’ worth. Two cups of milk are poured over the bread, and the bread is mashed into the milk and set to soak for an hour. Then in goes a half-cup of sugar, a half cup of honey, six eggs, two tablespoons of baking powder, two tablespoons of vanilla, a cup of raisins that have been soaked in water, or juice, or rum. And finally a cup of dried fruits.  A loaf pan gets a light coating of oil. Then in goes the bread mixture. Bang the pan on a flat surface to get out any air bubbles and set it into a 350 degree oven for one and a half hours. When it's fully cooked, it has a rather dark brown top. The finished bread pudding is flipped over onto a serving plate and sliced.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In 1824, a 12-year-old boy by the name of Wilhelm Rasmijn came out of his house after a heavy rainstorm and started herding his father's sheep across the north shore of Aruba. As he came up over a hill, he noticed a sparkling rock. He brought it home to his father. His father found it quite fascinating, and brought it into town to show it to a merchant.

The merchant realized it was gold and bought it from the sheep-herder for $17. The merchant then resold it for seventy.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   There are some very important lessons to be learned from this story. First of all, always teach your children to bring home all the shiny rocks that they find. Second, sheep-herding does have its exciting moments. And finally, always get a second opinion on the value of anything before you sell it.

This is what remains of the Bushiribana smelting works that were built by the Aruba Island Gold Mining Company during the 1870's. Since that day when the young sheepherder discovered the first nugget, over 3000 pounds of gold have been exported.  And there is still gold in "them there hills". It's not easy to find, but almost every Aruban that I met during my visit had some tiny bit of gold that they found during a childhood search.  Even today, you can spot the real Arubans after a rain.  They are all walking along looking down at the ground. Though in all fairness, I should point out that it almost never rains in Aruba, so you'd better have an alternate source of income.

The oldest building on Aruba is Fort Zoutman. It was built in 1796 to protect the new capital city of Oranjested, a name which derives from the House of Orange, which was the ruling family of Holland at the time.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   When the fort was originally built, it was actually on the edge of the water, and armed with four cannons. Shortly after it came into service a British warship named the Surprise tried to surprise the fort, but the fort surprised the Surprise by attacking it first. And the old fort is still capable of a couple of surprises.

First of all, it is presently the home of the Aruba Museum which has a small but interesting collection of local artifacts, including some cooking equipment left by the native tribes.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  It’s interesting to see how much of our modern cooking equipment takes its design from ancient forms in nature.  The museum has a collection of blending or whisking sticks.  Obviously they’re twigs, where the intersecting branches come out at just the right angle and just the right thickness.  They’re held like this and spun around, and they have an amazing effect.  They’re just like a blender or a whisk.  There are four different forms here, and each of them has a slightly different effect on the food.  I guess the real question now is, were they offered as a set of four, and did you get a gift with purchase? This was a masher; it was used with root vegetables like the potato, which happens to be indigenous to South America, which is just fifteen miles off the coast of Aruba.  They would take the potato, heat it in some way, either in water or directly in a fire until it was soft, and then mash it up.  Wonder if it was dishwasher-safe. ... Obviously the top of the line in nested mixing bowls in the pre-stainless steel days.  You have the large, the medium and the small.  All made from natural gourd.  Comes along with our Easy-Grip Spatula, and our serving spoon with its abrasive cleanser back.  Pretty good.  $29.95, whaddya think?

Fort Zoutman is also the location of the Bonbini Festival that takes place every Tuesday evening from 6 pm to about 8:30.  The walls of the fort are lined with booths that sell local foods and local crafts.  The old parade ground is used to present an evening of traditional Aruban music and dance.  And if you don't know the traditional Aruban dances, they'll teach them to you.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Great weather, nice people, good food.  That’s what I found touring the southern half of Aruba.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat and the reasons why people eat them.  I’m Burt Wolf.

[end of closing credits]  BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Well, that’s all folks!

Eating Well: In the Caribbean - #109

BURT WOLF: The Caribbean, home to some of the best cooking in the New World. We'll cruise through the islands on the largest sailboat afloat, point out why it was food that really caused the mutiny on the Bounty... discover what you can eat to help you stay cool on hot days, and learn some of the best-tasting recipes from local Caribbean cooks. It's hot stuff. Join me. Burt Wolf, Eating Well, in the Caribbean.

The islands of the Caribbean start out just below Florida and form an arc that curves east and south for some 2,600 miles until it comes to the last landfall in the chain, just off the coast of South America. There are about 7,000 islands in the group. Sometimes they're called the West Indies, because when Christopher Columbus originally discovered them, he was looking for India. And these islands are somewhat to the west of his original destination. Actually, they're about half a planet to the west of his original destination.

To say that Columbus had lucked out would be one of the great under-statements of the past 500 years. They're also called the Antilles, which was a name used by 13th Century map makers, the designated group of imaginary islands that they placed in the Atlantic. But there's nothing imaginary about the beauty and charm that you find in much of the Caribbean. These islands were formed during the last Ice Age and were part of an unbroken land mass that connected Florida to Venezuela. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions changed the geology, and today, only the tops of the land ridge remain above water, forming these magnificent enclaves.

For hundreds of years after Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, the area was in constant conflict. The Spanish, the French, the Dutch, the English were perpetually battling each other and the local natives. Piracy was big, rebellion, slavery. Not the ideal environment to develop a great cuisine. And yet all of the natural elements were here, just waiting for a time when the cooks were free to cook.

The sea supplied an almost endless variety of fish and seafood. The area's rich tropical soil produced excellent fruits and vegetables. Many of the foods we take for granted were first brought to Europe from the Caribbean by Columbus and other early explorers: grapefruit, pineapple, hot peppers, tomatoes, all from the Caribbean. Think about that. Columbus was the first European to taste a tomato. Talk about landmarks in culinary history. Without Columbus, no tomato sauce on pizza. Just on the basis of that, he deserves to be a major hero in Italian history. 

Within the last hundred years, the islands have become politically and culturally independent. Colonial ideas no longer suppress local flavors and techniques, and that has led to the birth of a rich and fascinating Caribbean cuisine. Today, Caribbean cookery is hot stuff. 

The first inhabitants of the Caribbean islands were Arowak and Caribe Indians who arrived here from South America. Next came the European colonists, French, Spanish, English, Dutch. In the 1500s Africans arrived from the Congo and the Gold Coast. The most recent immigrants came here as workers as indentured servants from China and India. Those basic groups, South American Indians, European colonists, Africans, Indians, and Chinese, form the basic influences that create today's Caribbean kitchen. 

A dish that clearly shows the influence of the immigration from India is Madras rice. A little oil goes into a saute pan; some chopped onion is added, cooked and stirred for a minute, and three cups of rice are mixed in. Five cups of chicken stock, some raisins, chopped pineapple and grated coconut. Mixed, covered and cooked for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender. Rice is a wholesome grain that takes on the flavorings of the foods and seasonings that it's cooked with. It's very low in sodium and very low in fat, and only about 80 calories in a half cup serving. 

Another great-tasting, low-fat food that's common in the Caribbean is the banana. Some historians believe that the banana was the first fruit cultivated by man, though in reality it was probably cultivated by a woman, since in ancient times women did most of the farming in the family. The banana is actually a giant berry that grows on a giant herb. The banana starts out as a large purple bud. As the bud develops, it opens to reveal rows of tiny fingers. Each of these grow into a banana. The fingers are clustered together into a hand. Several hands make a bunch. One bunch grows on each plant each year. Side shoots are cultivated for next year's crop. They're called daughters and granddaughters. Bananas are one of the most nutritious foods available. They're low in fat, low in sodium, and only about a hundred calories in the average banana. What they're high in is Vitamin A, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin C, also iron and potassium. These days, many medical authorities are recommending we increase our intake of potassium as part of an anti-high blood pressure diet, and bananas are a great way to do that.

Columbus arrived in the Caribbean aboard three sailing ships. Five hundred years later, there's still no better way of exploring these islands. Today's cruise ships offer you the excitement of a floating city with the comforts of a private yacht. You'll find dining rooms with magnificent views of the sea, offering buffets at breakfast and lunch and classic, elegant dishes at dinner. If you like, you can take your meal right onto the deck. 

And to work off those calories, you'll often find fitness centers with floor-to-ceiling windows to keep your mind off your muscles. There are on-board swimming pools, aerobic exercise classes, and water sports programs that could entice Captain Nemo. The stern of this ship opens up and a huge door folds down to form a private marina. Then you can take your pick.

ACTIVITIES DIRECTOR: Today, specially for you, water skiing, sailing, wind surfing, scuba diving, snorkling. Everything here. Thank you very much.

BURT WOLF: During the days, you can stop in at local port towns for shopping and sightseeing, or take an excursion to a deserted island for a day on your own beach. This particular ship, the Club Med I, is the world's largest sailing vessel. It's also a marvel of engineering.

CAPTAIN: The Engine-- The engine here does not need any engineer. All information is given on the bridge and if something happen, we call one engineer on duty and he's go down to see what has happened. Each engine is 2,500 horsepower, forward thrusters is 1,000 horsepowers; aft thrusters, 700 horsepowers. That's me. If I throw something here (BEEP), just go to the bridge, I can turn all around it from 360 degrees and stay at one meter from it. 

BURT: That's amazing. What does that do?

CAPTAIN: That's gives me information about the sail here, the engine, the list, and this full information, what is most important information we have to look all the time.

BURT: Summary of everything you need to know, right here.

CAPTAIN: Yes. And then if you want to have something more or actually at about something like the sail, I ask for the information. You can ask everything like that. 

BURT WOLF: The captain is not only knowledgeable about his ship and the islands of the Caribbean, but also about the food that is cooked on those islands. Today he's asked the kitchen to prepare a Caribbean recipe for chicken and lemon with a slight French accent.

A few tablespoons of vegetable oil go into a saute pan. A sliced onion, a little minced garlic, a chicken cut into parts that have been marinating for three hours in a mixture of lemon juice, sliced onions and parsley. You can cook the chicken with the skin on or off but take off the skin before you serve the dish. Most of the fat and cholesterol in a chicken is in the skin. A half cup of lemon juice is added and the meat of two limes. That's covered and simmered for 20 minutes. And the cover comes off and a quarter cup of cream goes in. I tested this dish with buttermilk instead of the cream and it was fine. The shift to buttermilk turned the recipe into a rich-tasting dish that is very low in fat. But if you're as in good shape as Chef Chevee, I guess you can use the cream. A quarter cup of chicken stock is added, two more minutes of cooking, and it's ready to serve. Chicken, sauce, lime as a garnish. 

For over 400 years, the French Navy has been sailing through the Caribbean, so the officers of Club Med I are definitely part of a long tradition. And during those centuries they've had a considerable impact on the local cooking. As a matter of fact, the word "Creole" originally referred to someone who was a direct descendent of a French or Spanish colonist to the Caribbean. So when you see a dish described as Creole, you are looking at a European influence. 

A good example is this recipe for Creole snapper. A little vegetable oil goes into a saute pan, some chopped onion, green pepper, scallion, lemon, tomato, garlic, and pitted black olives. That cooks together for about five minutes and then the fish filet goes on top. A little lemon juice, a little saffron, the fish is turned and cooked a few minutes more, then the fish goes onto a serving plate, the vegetables, a garnish of lemon zest shaped into a flower, and a little fresh dill.

One of the most expensive foods in the world is a spice called saffron. A single pound of pure, top quality saffron sells for about $2,000.00. Saffron is hand-picked and you actually need to pick over 75,000 individual saffron flowers in order to get a single pound of the spice. You got plenty of hand labor in that little jar. Also, saffron is often grown in Middle Eastern countries. These days they are in turmoil and quite difficult to deal with. 

Hundreds of years ago, saffron was an important dye. It's what gave the robes of Buddhist monks their distinct color. And it does the same thing for many Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean recipes. The finest quality saffron is made up of whole strands called stigmas. Saffron should be crushed gently and allowed to sit in a little bit of hot liquid for a minute or two just before it's added to any dry ingredients like rice. If it's part of a recipe for a liquid-based dish like a soup or a stew it can go right in after it's crushed. 

It's one of the world's most expensive ingredients, so you want to try and get the most flavor from each pinch. Fortunately saffron goes a long way. A single pinch of top quality saffron is enough to flavor an entire quart of a soup or a stew.

Life on board this ship is quite opulent. But in the old days, existence at sea was often awful. Case in point: Mutiny on the Bounty, the account of a black-hearted, evil-minded wicked sea captain who was cast off his ship by his own men. Three major motion pictures have been made about this true story; one with Clark Gable, one with Marlon Brando, and one with Mel Gibson. But none of these films have told the true and complete story of what went on. It happens to be a food story, too. During the late 1700s, the planters here in the Caribbean were looking for a food crop that wouldn't take up much land and was easy to grow. They wanted their workers working on the sugar cane and not on the food. 

They heard that the ideal crop existed in Tahiti called breadfruit. And they asked the King of England, King George III to send a British naval vessel to Tahiti to get them some of this breadfruit so they could plant it. The king agreed and he sent the H.M.S. Bounty under the command of Captain Bligh. On the return voyage from Tahiti to the Caribbean, Bligh began to run short of water. He decided that he would rather care for his breadfruit seedlings than his crew. Naturally enough, the crew disagreed. So they mutinied, put Bligh into a small boat, and shoved him off. A true story that changed the history of food and the life of Marlon Brando.

And now we go from the Bounty's breadfruit to a bountiful fruit bread. This recipe stands out because the cake has a great flavor and texture, but it's very easy to prepare. Mix, pour, bake, eat. Hey, I can do that. Melted butter, confectioner's sugar, eggs, flour with a little baking soda, and candied fruits chopped into small pieces, plus some whole candied cherries. That's all mixed together into a batter and poured into a loaf pan. Into the oven for a short bake, and your fruit cake is ready to serve.

During the 15th, 16th, and 19th Century, the British Navy pretty much ruled the seas. But the long ocean passages were kind of tough on the health of the sailors. The diet was more or less limited to something called hard tack, which was a dry biscuit and salted meat when it was available. As a result, many of the sailors came down with a disease called scurvy. Then one day a British naval doctor sailing here in the Caribbean noticed that when his men were eating limes, the symptoms of the disease disappeared. Eventually limes were put on board all British naval vessels. When sailors from other countries noticed that the British were always eating limes, they began to call them Limeys. And even today that is an epithet for an Englishman. It was actually the Vitamin C in the lime that was curing the disease.

BURT WOLF: The Island of Grenada. It originally rose from the sea in a volcanic eruption. Its inner harbor is actually formed from the open mouth of that long-dormant crater. The capital city and major port is St. George, which has become famous for its picturesque beauty and it's easy to see why.

The blue lagoon is surrounded by English Georgian and French Provincial homes that reflect the town's colonial past. Just behind the harbor is the town's market square, a typical open air Caribbean affair with a substantial selection of locally produced fruits, vegetables, and spices, including nutmeg which is the national spice of the island. Grenada produces over 30 per cent of the world's supply. It's actually the kernel of the fruit of the nutmeg tree, and when it's growing, there's a lattice that grows on the outside of it. When that lattice is removed, dried out and ground up, it becomes a second spice called mace, double your pleasure, double your fun, two wonderful spices all in one. 

But don't overuse your nutmeg, it's kind of potent and too much of it can be dangerous. Use it in terms of quantity the way you would use black pepper. 

To sample some of the local specialties of Grenada, just stop into the Belasha Hotel and Restaurant. The owner, Dale Friday, can take you on a gastronomic tour of the island. 

DALE FRIDAY: We're going to be starting with a soup, Callaloo soup. Callaloo is a vegetable grown here in Grenada. It's a green leafy vegetable, which has been compared to spinach. They make-- it's also going to have a salad, garden fresh salad. All these vegetables that you will have today are freshly grown vegetables here in Grenada. And after that, we're going to have a Creole fish. A dessert, we were going to do a fruit salad for you, or we can give you a choice. You can also have nutmeg ice cream. 

BURT WOLF: Oh, nutmeg ice cream.

WOMAN: Again, you know, utilizing the nutmegs that are, you know, grown here. 

BURT WOLF: Grenada is the major spice- growing island of the Western Hemisphere. In addition to nutmeg, it produces cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, and of course, mace. The streets are peppered with women who place their spices into home-made baskets and offer them for sale. And now it's time to set sail from Grenada and travel east to the Island of Barbados.

The island of Barbados was discovered by Portuguese explorers in 1536 and named Los Barbarros, which means "The Bearded Ones." Hey, certainly makes me feel at home. It's a reference to the Banyan tree with its hanging roots that look a little like a beard. The real colonization of the island was undertaken by the English, and today, Barbados is a little bit of Britain in the Caribbean. 

Sugar cane was first planted in the Caribbean on Barbados and it was here that the great sugar fortunes were made. The landscape bears an unusual resemblance to England, and the colonists on Barbados have made a great effort to maintain an English atmosphere. The capital city of Bridgetown was founded in 1628 and has become a bustling center of activity. 

The Brown Sugar Restaurant is one of the sweetest spots on Barbados. Denise Shepherd showed me the classic dishes of the community. 

DENISE SHEPHERD: This is sorrel. It's a major drink. It's usually served at Christmas. It's quite delicious. It's non-alcoholic. This is traditional rice and peas. Sort of a staple that people have with their meals instead of, say, potatoes. Pigeon peas and rice. They give the rice its distinctive brown color. This is jug-jug. Now this is also made with pigeon peas and guinea corn, and mixed with salt beef and cooked -- pureed -- and this is what we get. This is Boljau; this is salted fish, salt fish, codfish, which is soaked to remove some of the salt, and then it's boiled, and tomatoes, cucumber and peppers are added to it. 

Our desserts include Bajan bread pudding. which is bread pudding, but we soak our raisins in rum, so it's sort of alcoholic dessert, very delicious.

BURT WOLF: Another delicious specialty of Barbados is the flying fish. The wide fins are used to sustain the fish in a long glide after it leaps out of the water. 

When they leap into a frying pan, they're lightly sauteed and taste great. Bajans are also famous for their pepper pot stews. Pepper pots cook indefinitely with fresh ingredients being added every day as servings are taken out. There are actually pepper pot stews on this island that have been cooking for generations. It's really nice to know that dinner's been ready for the last 60 years.

It's also nice to know what's cooking on the island of Martinique. The first European settlers on the island were Spanish, but as soon as they realized there was no gold, they moved on. An old Spanish saying: Why marry just any island when you can marry a rich one? Then came the French. They were a little more into true love. They colonized the island in 1635, planted sugar cane, and brought in Africans to work the plantations. Then the English and the French fought over the island for a couple of hundred years, until it became a department of France in the same way Hawaii is a state of the United States. 

The cooking of Martinique is a blend of French and African techniques carried out on the local ingredients. Traditional recipes include callaloo, a soup made from the giant leaves of the dasheen. Blaff, a fish stew that gets its name from the sound that the fish makes as it drops into the pot. There are also a series of dishes that show the influence of the Chinese who came to work the cane after the Africans were freed. Sweet and sour pork is an example. Bite size cubes of pork go into boiling water, where they cook for 20 minutes. Meanwhile a little vegetable oil goes into a hot sauce pan, chopped ginger is added, chopped onion, pineapple, carrots, green peppers, and a little white wine vinegar. All that cooks together for about five minutes. Sugar goes in, and then ketchup. Ketchup by the way is based on an ancient Chinese sauce that came to Boston on the clipper ships from the Orient. Five more minutes of cooking, the pork is strained, and goes into the sauce. Everything heats up and is served with rice. That's a really nice sauce and it's quite versatile. You can use it on pork the way we did here, or you could use it on chicken, or beef, or fish. It's pretty low in fat, too. 

The single most important ingredient in Caribbean cooking is the hot pepper. Local native chefs were using them when the first European explorers popped in. They were using them to make a hot sauce, the descendant of which is found on just about every Caribbean island today. The home-made version is produced by taking the peppers, putting them into a jar, covering them with vinegar, letting them steep for a day or two before use. 

These are the flame throwers of food, and many people are concerned that their intensity will cause stomach ulcers or eat away the lining of their stomach. But a number of recent scientific studies indicate that that's not the case.

Hot peppers in a meal appear to be fine. No damage to stomach tissue. No increase in the incidence of ulcers. As a matter of fact, hot peppers appear to have some positive effects. They increase your body's production of saliva and gastric juices and that helps your digestion. They also appear to reduce blood clots. They can, however, start a fire in your mouth. But don't try to put out those flames with water. Water will only spread 'em around. Your best bet is to take a piece of bread and chew it slowly while moving it around your mouth to absorb the heat. 

The cruise ships that sail through the Caribbean are devoted to their food and beverage service and usually offer an afternoon tea along with home-baked pastries. Today the chef is preparing a classic recipe for meringue cookies. Here's how they're made: 

A half cup of egg whites go into the bowl of an electric mixer where they are beaten until they form stiff peaks. I'm always a little hesitant about recipes that call for beating ingredients because I think there's took much violence on television already. But this cookie is worth it. A half cup of sugar is mixed in, the stiff egg whites are then folded together with a half cup of ground almonds and a half cup of confectioner's sugar. That batter goes into a pastry bag and is then pressed out onto a parchment-covered baking sheet. Each round is about two inches in diameter. And into a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven for one hour and 45 minutes, at which point they're ready. These will keep in an air-tight container in a dry place for about two weeks, assuming you've forgotten where you put the container. You can't eat just one. 

Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher, suggested that we eat a low fat diet during hot weather in order to stay cool. And he knew what he was talking about. 

BURT WOLF: The body has to work harder to digest fat. The extra work produces extra heat. In general, the lower the fat content of your diet during hot weather, the cooler you're going to be. And then there was Isadora of Seville. Now, you don't hear much about Izzy these days. But during the 6th Century, Isadora of Seville was a big deal. And he suggested that a spicy diet would keep you cooler during hot weather and he knew what he was talking about. A spicy diet will cause perspiration. The moisture on the surface of your body evaporates, and that cools you down. It's also a good idea to avoid foods that are hot in temperature or cold in temperature. Your body has to do extra work to bring the temperature of the food into line with the temperature of the body. And the extra work causes extra body heat. Finally, it's a really good idea to drink six to eight glasses of water every day during hot weather. 

So, what is there to comprehend from the Caribbean when it comes to food and good health? Well, first of all, rice is an ideal complex carbohydrate, low in fat, low in sodium, and only 80 calories to a half cup. Don't overdo your use of nutmeg. In large quantities it can be dangerous. Use it in the amounts that you would normally use black pepper. Hot peppers do not appear to cause any problems for stomach tissue or ulcers. They may actually help you with digestion and reduce blood clots. To deal with the fire that hot peppers can set off in your mouth, avoid water. Just dry your mouth out with bread. You can help lower your body temperature during hot weather by avoiding high-fat foods and foods that are very hot or cold in terms of temperature. Also foods containing chili peppers can bring moisture to your skin that will cool you off.

And a word on sugar. Until a German scientist figured out how to make sugar from the common European sugar beet, planters here in the Caribbean amassed enormous fortunes from their sugar cane. They also planted cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice, which were known as the sweetening spices. They understood that by adding a little bit of any of those spices to their sugar, their sugar turned out to be much sweeter. They saved sugar and they saved money. And you can use the same technique to save calories. 

That's Eating Well in the Caribbean. Please join us next time as we travel around the world, looking for something that tastes good and makes it easier to eat well. I'm Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Cayman Islands - #909

BURT WOLF: As Christopher Columbus was sailing back to Spain at the end of his fourth and final voyage to the New World, a storm came up between Panama and Haiti and pushed him off course. It pushed him to the west, directly into the islands that are now known as Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. His ship’s log for May 10th, 1503 reports the following: “We came upon two very small islands full of tortoises, as was the sea around them -- so many tortoises that they looked like little rocks.” Columbus marked the islands on his map with the name Las Tortugas -- the turtles. Las Tortugas has become The Cayman Islands, and now there are three of them: Grand Cayman... Cayman Brac... and Little Cayman. They lie about 180 miles west of Jamaica and 480 miles south of Miami.

The total population of the three islands is about 30,000 and the people come from a mixture of African and European backgrounds. The residents of the Cayman Islands have one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. The average household income is almost 70,000 U.S. dollars per year. The government is stable and the country’s banks, insurance companies and mutual fund operations have made it the fifth largest financial center in the world.

The nation’s banks are significant, but the nation’s beaches are even more important. The Cayman Islands are actually the limestone tops of three mountains that come up from the bottom of the sea. The limestone is so porous that none of the islands have any rivers or streams, and therefore no runoff from the land to the sea. The absence of runoff gives the water around the Cayman Islands a clarity and visibility that is over one hundred and twenty feet. The islands are also surrounded by coral reefs that protect the shores. The areas between the reefs and the beaches are perfect for snorkeling. And just on the far side of the reefs are drop-offs that go down for thousands of feet and create ideal conditions for diving.

DIVE INSTRUCTOR: First thing you want to do is make sure a mask fits to start. And the way you do that is you expose the seal...

BURT WOLF: The modern snorkel is a J-shaped tube with a mouthpiece that is attached to a face mask. It was introduced in the 1930’s and it allowed swimmers to cruise the surface of the sea, face down, while they looked at what was going on below. But the idea of using some kind of breathing tube while working underwater goes back for thousands of years.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Alexander the Great had a team of underwater divers who used reeds as breathing tubes. They would swim into an area underwater and clear it of any barriers that had been put in place to damage Alexander’s incoming ships. The ancient Greeks also had a team of snorkelers that became famous for sinking an enemy fleet. One night, they swam underwater to the fleet, cut the ropes that held the ships to their anchors. The ships floated away and crashed on the nearby reefs.

BURT WOLF: An ancient Roman writer described soldiers who held one end of a leather tube in their mouth while the other end floated on the surface. He compared the apparatus to an elephant lying on its back underwater with its trunk extended to the surface. Our modern word “snorkel” comes from an old German word that means “tube” or “scroll.” It’s a perfect description of the equipment being used.

The 1930’s also saw the introduction of fins or flippers that increased a swimmer's speed and weight belts that allowed divers to dive deeper. But the breathing equipment really didn’t permit the divers to stay down for very long and there wasn’t any clothing that would protect them against the cold. And those two problems limited the sport.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Which brings us to the story of SCUBA, five letters that stand for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Now, most of the technical problems of staying underwater for a long time and doing some useful work down there had already been solved by 1819 when the diving suit was introduced.

BURT WOLF: It consisted of the familiar round metal helmet with a glass window in the front, a metal shoulder plate and a waterproof leather jacket. A tube connected the helmet to an air pump on the surface. The pump supplied the diver with an unlimited amount of fresh air. Towards the end of the 1800s a vulcanized rubber suit lined with twill was substituted for the leather jacket. It kept the diver drier and warmer. Eventually modern conveniences like telephones and electronic air compressors made the system safer and more practical. These suits worked well for industrial divers and they set the standard for underwater-wear until the Second World War.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The naval technology needed during the Second World War led to the development of some new underwater gear. Basically, there were two systems. One was known as a rebreather. It consisted of a cylinder of fresh air and a canister of lime. The diver would take the fresh air in from the cylinder and exhale it into the canister. The lime in the canister would remove the carbon dioxide gas from his exhaled breath and then the clean air was recirculated. The system was wonderful because it was completely self-contained; no bubbles would rise to the surface and that made it very difficult to detect a diver working underneath. The rebreather systems were issued to crews on German U-boats in case they needed to escape. There was, however, one major disadvantage. The system didn’t work very well at depths below 30 feet. So if your submarine sank in a swimming pool you were all set; otherwise you were in deep trouble.

BURT WOLF: The second underwater breathing system had an open circuit that allowed the exhaled air to escape. There were tubes for inhaling and exhaling and valves that connected the tanks. This system was good down to a hundred and thirty feet and sometimes even deeper. In 1942, a young French naval commander named Jacques Cousteau took out a patent for a piece of equipment he called an Aqua Lung. It was based on the open system and featured a series of tanks that contained compressed air. They were strapped to the back of the diver. This was the first modern SCUBA setup.

Soon depth gauges, underwater watches, and wet suits were added. Divers were warm, comfortable and free to move about. When the war ended, SCUBA diving became a popular sport.

BOB SOTO ON CAMERA: Well, I was the first SCUBA diver on this island. I came here to start a SCUBA diving business because we had about a hundred and thirty rooms on the island and the people just laid around the beach or went fishing, and I thought this would be a wonderful pastime for them to spend the day SCUBA diving. Of course, everybody thought I was crazy and that these people was going to drown and I was going to drown myself. And I started with six tanks, it took an hour and twenty minutes to fill a tank, and I had six tanks, so I was up half the night filling tanks to go diving the next day. Once I introduced somebody to the water, it just blew their mind because it opened up a new world. You got people from all over the U.S. coming here, and they had such a great time because they had beautiful reefs, and caves, and shipwrecks, and turtles, and stingrays -- all sorts of marine life and it was very accessible from the beach because it’s only a couple hundred yards offshore and you’ve got any kind of reef and marine life you would ever dream of seeing.

BURT WOLF: Water filters the color out of sunlight and by the time you get down to a depth of fifty-two feet everything is green and blue. Cousteau pioneered a system of artificial underwater lights that allowed a diver to record the extraordinary colors that are found below the sea. Underwater photography began to develop, which made the sport even more popular. And one of the most popular places in the world to practice this sport is in the waters that surround the Cayman Islands.

The most recent innovation in underwater breathing equipment for the sports diver is a combination of SCUBA and snorkel -- called SNUBA.

SNUBA INSTRUCTOR: Very similar to SCUBA diving, the only main difference being that we’ve put the SCUBA tank in the raft, okay? The raft follows you on the surface, floats on the surface, follows you wherever you go. You can be connected to it with twenty foot long hoses. All you’ll be wearing is your fins, mask, small weight belt, and this regulator right here.


ELAINE EBANKS ON CAMERA: We make several different kinds of birdhouses... like this one is called Fences. And it’s called Fences because it has the gardens and the hand-painted fences that go all the way around. Each one is signed and dated on the bottom. 

BURT WOLF: Charlie Ebanks is famous for his birdhouses. He builds them and his wife Elaine explains them.

ELAINE EBANKS ON CAMERA: We primarily work with the colors of the Caribbean: pink is for the conch shell, green for the sea, blue for the sky, and yellow for the sun. This is a traditional Cayman roof. You know, we have no city water at all out here; we totally rely on the rainwater for our water supply. And this roof line makes it easier for collection. Each old-time house had a little gingerbread on the roof, a palm tree, and a hammock. So this is Charlie’s version of a Cayman house. He does try to do a different one every year for the people that collect his houses from year to year. Couple years ago, he started his version of the old Rum Point Bar. We put on it everything that we felt the old bar was famous for. Charlie numbers his larger houses, everyone signs for their number, and we know where each and every house went. This year’s house is the dive shop. And we’ve made it to mount on the wall, and the owner’s name is put on top of the dive sign to personalize. Of course, that’s numbered and accounted for also. All the houses are made of wood, they’re all nailed, countersunk and filled, nothing is glued on them, they’re all painted with exterior house paint, they are weather worthy. 

Burt, I’d love to show you my garden. Come on through. Let me show you what grows here. This tree here is a breadfruit tree. Breadfruit is round and green; it’s very much like a potato. You can bake it, mash it, boil it -- it’s a starch. The leaves... we wait ‘til the leaves -- the brown leaves -- fall to the ground, harvest them, wash them, and brew them for a tea. Everything in nature has a reason for being. God put everything here for us; it’s up to us to find what it’s for. The breadfruit leaves, they say, are very good for high blood pressure. And this is the breadfruit tea from the breadfruit tree that we spoke about. I hope you enjoy it.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Thank you. Thank you, Charlie.



BURT WOLF: The motto on the national emblem of the Cayman Islands reads: He Hath Founded It Upon The Seas, which is an excellent description of the place and its history. Three islands -- Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman -- make up the country, which is a crown colony of Great Britain. No point on any of the islands is more than a few minutes’ drive from the sea. The first people to take any interest in the area were sailors who stopped in during the 1500s for fresh water and turtle meat. Fishing and shipbuilding were the main businesses for hundreds of years, as well as sending young men off to join the navy and the Merchant Marine. Then a tourist business based on people who loved water sports, particularly underwater sports. And finally, the development of an off-shore banking industry. The Cayman Islands are definitely founded on the seas.

One of the leading authorities on the history of the Cayman Islands is Dr. Philip Pedley, who is the director of the Cayman Islands National Archive.

DR. PHILIP PEDLEY ON CAMERA: And this is a small, charming map from a French source. And it says here: Iles de Cayman. This is what I call the first European picture or image of any of the Cayman Islands. It’s almost certainly a picture of Cayman Brac, dated 1590. And you can see the turtles that Columbus himself saw. And you can see, eating up the turtle eggs, the caymanos after which Cayman is named. He was a large crocodile that lived, as the accounts say, both in the sea and on the land. So it was aquatic and terrestrial.

Now what we’ve got here is two of the images -- two of the pictures -- that go along with this picture of Cayman Brac. And Columbus, when he passed the sister islands in 1503 called this Las Tortugas, but that name gave way in the next thirty years or so to this creature. On this map you can also see, interesting enough -- and this is one of the things that confirms that it is Cayman Brac -- the bent trees...


DR. PHILIP PEDLEY ON CAMERA: ...bent over by the wind. Now, that’s sort of significant in the history of Cayman Brac because shipbuilding was a strong industry over there -- a strong tradition. And the shipbuilders would simply go up onto the bluff, which is a hundred and forty feet above -- rises to a hundred and forty feet above the sea level -- and select the exact curvature of the wood they were looking for.

And here we have a very interesting little booklet, which I call the first example of tourist literature in the Cayman Islands. It’s a letter written by the commissioner, Commissioner Cardinal, to the rest of the world: Dear Sir of Madam wherever. And it’s an invitation to come and enjoy an unspoiled paradise. And it’s signed by the whole of Cayman.


BURT WOLF: These days, Grand Cayman is divided into five districts. George Town is the smallest. It’s also the seat of the government, the center of the nation’s banking and business interests, and the most populated. It’s on the sheltered western side of the island with the best port. The duty free shops are here, so you can do your duty and shop in an almost guilt-free environment, justifying your expenditures on the basis of how much you saved.

ANITA EBANKS ON CAMERA: Well, I want to introduce you to George Town and the harbor. And at one time this was called the Hog Stys -- the whole area.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Because they kept pigs here?

ANITA EBANKS ON CAMERA: Yes. And supposedly all the people on the island had them penned in in a certain area. And on a bad day if you were downwind from it...it was very smelly. So it was called the Hog Stys... And then sometime during the early 18th century, Governor Bodden decided it would be good to name it George Town in honor of George the Third. And I guess if it hadn’t been changed, we would be sending post cards and letters from Hog Stys, Grand Cayman.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Doesn’t sound like a great place to go for a vacation. George Town is a great improvement.

ANITA EBANKS ON CAMERA: This is Fort George. This was the first of several batteries around the island -- the first line of defense against Spanish marauders from Cuba. You know, this was Hog Sty Bay, so they’d probably steal some of their hogs and maybe some of their turtles and poultry.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: You can actually see the outline of where the old fort was.

ANITA EBANKS ON CAMERA: Yes, it was about five feet high on the sea side. The land side was only about two feet high. And the walls were about three feet thick, and they had various embarcadiers for about maybe ten cannon. Most of the cannon were about four- or six-pounders. And the two that are there now are recreated there out of cement in fact, and they are replicas of six-pounders.

In the early days people would go down to the beach and go beachcombing to find whatever might be washed up so that they could use to just help with their way of life. I mean, we were very isolated, so it might be a favorite piece of wood might be washed up. And one morning back in about 1846, a Mary Webster from Frank Sound supposedly was doing some beachcombing early in the morning, and she saw this strange kernel on the beach. And she planted it and it grew into an almond tree. And supposedly that’s where all the almond trees that you find on the island today are descended from. I think they’re really lovely -- various shades of orange and red.

BURT WOLF: The most unusual house in George Town was built by Carroll Henderson. In 1935, he started buying conch shells. When his collection passed the 4,000 shell point, he used them to construct his dream house -- conch shells anchored in a twelve-inch thick concrete wall. He could only set thirty shells a day, so it took over two years to build the place. But when it was finished, it was so well made that during the Second World War the U.S. Navy used the house as a bomb storage depot. Today, it is the home of Mike Henderson, who is the son of the original builder. It’s a private residence, but Mike doesn’t mind if you come by to take a look.

Next to George Town is the northwest part of the island, which is known as West Bay. The old Bothwell residence is in West Bay and it stands as a typical example of traditional Cayman architecture... gingerbread trim.. and a sand garden.

The central part of Grand Cayman is called Bodden Town. Bodden Town is the home of the oldest building on the island. It was built in 1780; rock walls three feet thick, nice view up top, underground dungeons below. What else could you ask for? It’s called Pedro Castle.

The Cayman Island National Trust has an extensive program for preserving historical information about the islands, and making that information available to visitors. The Trust publishes a series of booklets that outline historical walking tours of both West Bay and Bodden Town.

In one of those bursts of creativity that often overcome early settlers, the eastern end of Grand Cayman is known as East End. It’s one of the least populated parts of the island and still has a very rural lifestyle. Tourists drive over to the district to take a look at the blowholes. Waves dive into the underground caves. Holes in the top of the caves allow part of the wave to escape in a plume of spray.

If you’re in the neighborhood on Friday, Saturday or Sunday and you’re thirsty, you can walk across the road and get some fresh coconut water.

LINDO PARSONS ON CAMERA: The coconut water is what you drink direct from the coconut. The milk is gathered by gratering the coconut into small pieces.


LINDO PARSONS ON CAMERA: Or today in modernized equipment, we put the small pieces in the blender, chop it up in smaller pieces, take it and wash it in water, and strain it through a strainer. What comes out of there is the milk. What remains is what is called trash locally. That is converted into candies and coconut tarts.

BURT WOLF: Just down the road from the blowholes is a stretch of beach from which you can see what’s left of a group of ten British ships that foundered on the reef in 1794.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The event became known as the Wreck of the Ten Sails. The lead ship that was doing the navigation sent back a signal to the rest of the fleet that read: “stay clear.” The sailor who interpreted the signal read it as: “all clear.” Talk about losing something in the translation.

BURT WOLF: The next district on the island is called North Side. It was the last part of Grand Cayman to be settled and it has the smallest population. North Side also has the most fertile land and the island’s best farms. For many years, the lack of roads kept it isolated from the rest of the island. These days, however, the roads have improved.

And there’s a public ferry from the busiest part of the island at Seven Mile Beach to the tip of North Side. The ferry goes up and back throughout the day and will deposit you on Rum Point, which is considered by many to be the most beautiful beach on the island.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Rum Point appears to have gotten its name as the result of a ship that wrecked on the reefs in front of it. The ship was carrying a cargo of barrels filled with rum that floated ashore. When they were discovered by the local residents, they also got wrecked. These days there are a number of bars and restaurants on Rum Point that will help you recreate the experience.

BURT WOLF: About two hundred yards to the west of Rum Point is one of the most interesting underwater attractions in the world. The area is called Stingray City, and it offers snorkelers and SCUBA divers an opportunity to hang out with a couple of hundred stingrays. I went out to the city on a sixty-five-foot catamaran named The Spirit of Paloo.

DIVE INSTRUCTOR ON CAMERA: One of the nicest places for you to touch a stingray is on the underside of his wing. You could also touch him on the top, but it’s not quite so smooth, it’s a little more leathery. You do not have to worry about the tail stinging you when it’s touching you -- they physically have to do this. Okay? So you can touch the tail if you’d like.

VANESSA BELLAMY: Their mouth is on the bottom, their eyes are on the top and we feed them squid, that’s how we get them up on the surface. You might have noticed as you’ve been watching me, they come close and their nose is at the front. Everybody says, “Oh, they seem to like you.” No. They swim forward, that way we can hold on to them better so everybody else can get a good look at them. The only thing that’s dangerous about a stingray is they do have a little bit of a barb on the end of their tail that they sting with. But the only way they do that is when they settle in the sand to rest and somebody comes along and steps on them. Then they come up and sting them. Here, the rays here, they’re very, very nice.

BURT WOLF: Going out on the Spirit of Paloo is a very modern experience -- but if you would like to slip into a recreation of the past, you might ship out on the Jolly Roger.

CREW: Okay, she was built back in 1986; it’s a replica of a seventeenth century Spanish galleon. She’s sixty-seven feet in length, she weighs sixty-two and a half tons, has fifty-seven fully working pieces of rigging, including eight sails. 

BURT WOLF: For Travels & Traditions, I’m Burt Wolf.

Travels & Traditions: Curaçao - #202

The island of Curaçao. It was formed ninety million years ago in the Pacific Ocean near Peru, got pushed into the Caribbean Sea to a point just off the coast of Venezuela and ended up as part of the Dutch Kingdom of the Netherlands. And I thought my life was confusing. The capital city of Willemstad is like a mini-Amsterdam transported to a tropical climate. The coral reefs that surround the island have made it an important destination for divers. The beaches have made it an important destination for vacationers. Only 150,000 people live on the island, but they came here from over fifty different nations -- an extraordinary ethnic mix with everyone making a contribution to the local traditions. It’s a fascinating place. So join me, Burt Wolf, for TRAVELS & TRADITIONS in Curaçao.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): The first Europeans to set foot on Curaçao were Spanish explorers who showed up in 1499.  When they realized that there was no gold on the island, they set up a few cattle farms as a future source of food, and shoved off.  Then in 1634 the Dutch arrived and took control of the island. The Spanish surrendered without much resistance, but the cattle put up an extraordinary fight, though they were eventually forced to surrender.

The Dutch influence is still very strong in Curaçao.  Besides the political relationship between Curaçao and Holland there is an ongoing cultural relationship and a shared history of more than 350 years. The historic center of Willemstad is called Punda, which means “the point,” and its architecture is classic Dutch Colonial from the 16 and 1700s. The Dutch colonists, like colonists all around the world, tried to recreate their homeland.

ANKO VAN DER WOUDE:  So we’re in the middle of Otrabanda.  Otrabanda was built since 1708, 18th Century...

Anko Van Der Woude is one of Curaçao’s leading architects and an authority on the island’s architectural history.

ANKO VAN DER WOUDE:  Okay, this is the Penha Building, built in 1708, and it represents the Rococo or Renaissance, the Renaissance style.

BURT WOLF:   All the 1700s was that Renaissance.

ANKO VAN DER WOUDE:  All the 1700s, yes, yes, the whole of the 18th Century.  You can tell by the curls.  And if you would go to Amsterdam in the same period, you would find the same kind of architecture.  The building used to stop here, and this was the addition of about two yards which was added --

BURT WOLF:  Yes, you can see where it ended --


BURT WOLF:   -- and then suddenly they built it out.

ANKO VAN DER WOUDE:  Yes.  And also, you can see the color.  The first houses were made with bricks.  They glued them together with mud, and the outside you had to plaster, thus making it a closed wall.  If you plaster, you paint it.  And they were mostly painted white.

BURT WOLF:   Whitewashed.

ANKO VAN DER WOUDE:  Whitewashed.  It was the cheapest color they could get. 

BURT WOLF:   And how did they get to be so colorful?

ANKO VAN DER WOUDE:  Well, there was a governor in 1816, and you can imagine most of the houses being white, when the sun reflects off the houses... he said, “Whenever I walk through town, I get a terrible headache because of the sun.  I want them to be painted another color within two weeks.”  And all the houses were painted other colors, except white.

BURT WOLF:   Did his headaches go away?

ANKO VAN DER WOUDE:  Uhhhh... that doesn’t say.  The history doesn’t tell.

BURT WOLF:   Well, they certainly are beautiful.

The districts of Punda and Otrobanda are connected by the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge. This is quite a piece of work.  The entire bridge is set on a series of floats. The Otrobanda end sits on wheels that are locked onto a circular track. The Punda end has a set of diesel engines attached to propellers. When they want to open the bridge, the engines are started and the bridge swings out from Punda allowing the harbor traffic to pass.

The Jewish community in Curaçao built the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, which opened for Passover services in 1732 and has been in use since then, which makes it the oldest synagogue in continuous operation in the New World. The floor of the synagogue is covered with sand as a reminder of the forty days and nights that the Jews wandered in the desert after escaping from bondage in Egypt. But the sand is also a reminder of the time of the Spanish Inquisition when Jews were forced to practice their religion in secret rooms. The sand muffled the sound of their movements and their voices. The synagogue also has a museum with objects drawn from its 350-year history.

Willemstad is a “walking city”…street front shops with friendly staff, and shaded places to relax and get something to eat and drink. It’s also the only place I know of that took their ancient forts and prisons and instead of turning them into monuments turned them into restaurants. The historic area of Willemstad, the inner city and the harbor, have been placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

The old buildings in Willemstad are grand structures... but like so many glorious things they contain the seeds of their own destruction. Coral and quarry stone were used for the walls and held together with a mortar that contained sand from the beaches and seawater. Eventually the salt in the coral, beach sand and seawater began leaching out and eating away at the buildings, which began to crumble.  Fortunately there is an aggressive rehabilitation program, and many of the most important buildings will be saved.

But sand and seawater are not always negative elements. As a matter of fact, great beaches and water sports are two of the main reasons people visit Curaçao.  The island has many public and private beaches. Some have snack bars, showers, and an assortment of seaside services. Others are secluded and offer visitors a private moment away from it all.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): The constant 13-knot trade winds that powered the Spanish treasure galleons, the Dutch, French and English pirate ships during the 1500s, are still around, and available to windsurfers. The water temperature is a constant 75 to 81 degrees all year round, and there is approximately one hundred feet of visibility underneath the surface, which allowed me to see this.

Curaçao has been rated as one of the best Caribbean islands for shore diving and snorkeling, with most dive sites easily accessible because the reefs are near the water’s edge. The lack of rain on Curaçao may be bad for farmers but it’s great for divers. It sets up the high salt content in the nearby waters, which is just the environment for the development of coral reefs.

If you’re not quite in the Cousteau class but interested in having an animal encounter of the nautical kind, you can stop into the Curaçao Sea Aquarium. A natural tidal pool near the edge of the Seaquarium is home to hundreds of tropical fish, including a group of sharks that live behind a wire fence fitted with a Plexiglas window. Visitors can take a short diving lesson, go below and feed the sharks and the other fish through small holes in the Plexiglas.

ERWIN CURIAL:  We have air in the tank for one and a half hour.  We’re gonna be underwater for forty minutes.  Before we go in, I’m gonna have you put the equipment on, inflate it for you, what you have to do, put your mask on your face, regulator in your mouth, and you walk slowly forward down the stairs.  Because your face is in the water, the added exhale comes out as bubbles.  And the bubbles always go up, yeah?  And they go alongside your ears.  Those bubbles, they make a lot of noise.  Yeah?  That noise is good.  That means you’re breathing.  Okay?

BURT WOLF:   I’ll remember that.

ERWIN CURIAL:  Just imagine if you have your mask on like this.  That looks very stupid to me.  Yeah?  And it’s gonna fall off.  So it doesn’t work like that.  Always on top of your head --

BURT WOLF:   -- above the ears --

ERWIN CURIAL:  -- like this, so it’s not going anywhere.  Okay?

BURT WOLF:   Yeah.

ERWIN CURIAL:  Maybe looking around you see a big stingray sit on my head.  That looks funny to you, and you start smiling.  No problem.  You’re mask’s gonna fill up with water.

BURT WOLF:   No smiling.

ERWIN CURIAL:  Yeah, you can smile.  But you’re gonna have water in your mask.  Okay?  When the water reaches your eye level, you will stop smiling.  And we got stingrays in here.  Don’t you worry, the stingrays, they don’t bite, they don’t sting.  But what they do --

BURT WOLF:   Why do they call them “stingrays...?”

ERWIN CURIAL:  Because they can sting.

BURT WOLF:   Oh.  But they know that I’m friendly.  They wouldn’t sting me on television.  Be the end of their career in television.  They’ll never be on television again.

ERWIN CURIAL:  Never.  Questions so far?

BURT WOLF:   Never Let The Regulator Out Of My Mouth.


BURT WOLF:   That’s it.

ERWIN CURIAL:  Let’s do it?

BURT WOLF:   Let’s do it.

I would like to point out, without animosity or envy, that my beloved producer Emily Aronson stayed dry and comfortable, observing the situation from a stationary submarine that sits next to the tidal pool. And to add insult to injury, she was eating M&Ms through the entire experience, including my portion.

By the middle of the 1600s, Curaçao had become the center of the Dutch trading empire in the New World. Unfortunately a major part of that trade was conducted in slaves. The Kura Hulanda Museum in Willemstad tells the story of this appalling business, a business that went on for over four hundred years -- from 1441 to 1863. There’s a reconstruction of the hold of a slave ship…visitors can get inside and see what the space felt like. A trader’s home with furniture made by the slaves.  A portrait of a Dutch trader by Frans Hals.  Reproductions of slave ships.  After they delivered the slaves to Curaçao they turned into pirate ships… stealing pre-Columbian gold from the Spanish who had just stolen it from the Aztecs. There’s a building filled with African art from the areas from which the slaves were taken. A collection of over two hundred historic prints and other artifacts relating to the history of slavery in the Caribbean. Africans were brought to Curaçao and then resold to plantations throughout the New World. The island became the largest transport center for slaves with over 500,000 Africans passing through the port.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): It’s hard to believe, but slavery still exists, and it exists all over the world. Sometimes the slaves are illegal aliens forced to work for the people who snuck them into the United States or Canada, or indentured workers in a clothing factory, or a child bride sold off by her family. It’s all slavery and it’s all about money.  And a visit to a museum like this will quickly remind you that the fight against slavery is far from over.

The entire museum was funded by Jacob Gelt Dekker, who is devoting his life and his wealth to the education of the children of this island. In addition to the material on the slave trade, Dekker has put together a collection of traditional arts and crafts in order to create a greater knowledge and pride in African ancestry. It’s a sign of Curaçao’s integrity that they present and honor this part of their past.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): Today, the descendents of the African slaves represent a majority of the population. They hold important positions in government and business, but beneath their sophisticated and modern lifestyle is a deep appreciation for the traditions that held their community together during the difficult times. One of the interesting aspects of their cultural history is in the area of healing. Now, doctors were very rarely available to African slaves. And so the responsibility for medicine fell to women who understood the healing properties of plants.

They were of great importance to the community, and practiced an art that was brought from Africa and adapted to the plant life of the island. Herbal medicine is still a significant form in Curaçao, and its leading practitioner is Dinah Veeris.

BURT WOLF:   Researchers in the United States tell me that there are three subjects that Americans are really interested in in terms of medicine.  They’re always looking for something that will help them lose weight, something that will prevent baldness, or something that will increase their sexual energies.  You, um, have anything in those areas?

DINAH VEERIS:  Yes, we have a lot of that in Curaçao!  Yes.  You know, to lose weight, people use garlic.  You take three pieces of this garlic and you put it in water overnight.  And then you will drink it for forty days, you will drink the water, you know, every day one glass of water.  It will help you reduce the weight.

BURT WOLF:   It’s not gonna do a lot for my sex life, but okay.

DINAH VEERIS:  (laughing)  No, you won’t.

BURT WOLF:   Now we’re gonna deal with my bald spot.

DINAH VEERIS:  One of the best things for hair loss is the calabash.  This is the calabash.  You take this out, you squeeze it, and then you get a black mash.  You cook it, you take off the seeds, otherwise your hair will stay with all the seeds.  And then you wash the hair with it.  Or you can make a shampoo out of it.

BURT WOLF:   Calabash shampoo.


BURT WOLF:   Is this a big enough portion for me?  Will that work there?

DINAH VEERIS:  Yes, it’s very good!  It will work very good.

BURT WOLF:   Okay.  We’re up to sexual energy?

DINAH VEERIS:  Yes, we are -- with the chuchuguasa.

BURT WOLF:   Chuchuguasa?

DINAH VEERIS:  Chuchuguasa, yes.

BURT WOLF:   And the bark of the chuchuguasa tree, and you make tea from it.

DINAH VEERIS:  No, you don’t make tea.

BURT WOLF:   Don’t make tea.

DINAH VEERIS:  No, you then take the cocuy -- cucuy they take from the agave -- and then you put the chuchuguasa in it.

BURT WOLF:   Okay.

DINAH VEERIS:  And then it becomes red.  So that’s what the people -- they drink it once a week, twice a week --

BURT WOLF:   How much?

DINAH VEERIS:  Just one shot.  Like this.  You can use it from the calabash.

BURT WOLF:   Little calabash shot?  Okay.  “Nature’s Viagra.” 


BURT WOLF:   This is a great day for me.  I’m gonna lose weight, my bald spot’s gonna fill in, and my sex life is gonna improve.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Let’s go walk in the garden.

Modern scientists are discovering the value of herbal medicine, but it’s important to remember that the operative word here is medicine. I suggest you check with your doctor before you use any herbal remedy.

Almost everyone on Curaçao speaks at least four languages... standard Dutch, English, Spanish and the local language, which is Papiamentu. It’s a Creole dialect spoken at all levels of society.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): If you listen carefully it’s pretty easy to pick up some of the key phrases.  Bon dia means “good day.”  Bon nochi  means “good night.” Danki means “thank you.”  Masha danki means “thanks a lot.” And the first phrase I learned to use when I arrived on the island… Ban Kome… which means, “let’s go eat!”

So what’s cooking on Curaçao? Almost everything eaten on the island has been caught in the surrounding ocean, or imported. The nearest sources are the Venezuelan farms on the coast of South America. Every morning boats from Venezuela tie up along the docks of Willemstad and offer fruit, vegetables and fish. This floating market has been a traditional shopping area for well over a hundred years.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): At the same time that the Dutch West Indies Company was doing business in the Caribbean, the Dutch East Indies Company was doing business in the Pacific. A major center of their activities was Indonesia, and the internal business between the West Indies Company and the East Indies Company led to a major Indonesian influence in Curaçao -- and to some great Indonesian cooking.

The Rysttafel Restaurant in Willemstad takes its name from the fact that at both lunch and dinner it serves a traditional Indonesian Rijst-Tafel -- which means “rice table.” It was the phrase used by Dutch colonists to describe a meal at which a bowl of rice was surrounded by twenty or more dishes.

AGNES ROEKINI:  It’s grilled chicken with garlic sauce... fried coconut...

BURT WOLF:   ...chicken with sweet-and-sour sauce... salad with peanut sauce and a little tofu...

AGNES ROEKINI:  ...fried eggplant...

BURT WOLF:   ...pork with soy sauce...

AGNES ROEKINI:  ...tomato in spicy sauce...

BURT WOLF:   I recognize that...

AGNES ROEKINI:  ... beef tender with coconut... and fried bean sprouts...

BURT WOLF:   ...bananas with honey sauce...

AGNES ROEKINI:  ...and meatballs.

BURT WOLF:   Meatballs!  All right -- I think we’re close enough to eat.

During the three hundred years of contact between the Dutch and the Indonesians, the Rijst-Tafel became an extravagant institution with servants carrying in one dish after another. In essence it’s an extension of the basic Indonesian family dinner, which always consisted of rice and five or six additional dishes.

When we were in the western part of the island, checking out the dive sites, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Jaanchie’s in the town of West Point. Locals love this place but it also has a big following among the tourists. Jaanchie is the third generation of his family to own the restaurant and he personally informs you of the day’s menu. 

JAANCHIE:  Well, for today -- a nice fresh fish!  And it’s the wahoo.  For sure.  After having this wahoo fish, after eating this wahoo fish, sir, you will say “Wa-hoooooooooo!”

We had the fish but we didn’t say “Wahoooooo” because it was snapper. Tender pieces of goat in a well-seasoned stew with salad, carrots and peas. Rice and beans and lots of picka, the local onion and vinegar sauce. This is just the kind of place I love. Down-home, easy, relaxed, friendly people and good food.

Curaçao also has a gastronomic form known as truk’i pan . Originally the phrase was truck di pan, which means “the truck of bread.” Eventually it shortened to truk’i pan.

BURT WOLF:   Well, there’s an enormous selection of really good food on Curaçao, but the one thing you are not going to find is a sushi bar, because in the local language of Papiamentu the word sushi means “garbage.”

In the interest of seeing the authentic and the traditional, we stayed at the Avila Beach Hotel. The original structure dates back to 1776, when it was the residence of the colonial governor. It was also the place where the great liberator of South America, Simon Bolivar, lived during his years of exile. For a while it was a private school. Then a private hospital. And finally, it was totally renovated into a beachfront hotel with two private cove beaches. The property has a quite, elegant and unpretentious style and many of the guests are families and businessmen from Holland. There’s a pier with a restaurant and live jazz -- the Dutch have been lovers of American jazz since the Twenties.

Over the years, the Avila has become a venue for local musicians, painters and sculptors for the presentation of their work. The hotel has such a respected position in the community that the government issued three Avila Beach Hotel stamps to help celebrate its 50th birthday.  I asked Tone Moller, the general manager and daughter of the owner, to introduce me to some of her favorite dishes.

TONE MOLLER:  Keshi yená dates back to the arrival of the Dutch and the Jews in Curaçao, and it’s an Edam cheese, hollowed out, filled with a stuffing.  The stuffing is made out of prunes, it’s made out of olives, it’s made out of either tuna or chicken, and capers and peppers.  People love to eat lobster in Curaçao; we’ve snazzied it up, made it a little Caribbean with a coconut sauce, and it’s very flavorful.  Bolo di kashu pette -- it’s a local cake, it’s made out of cashew nuts, it’s a layer cake covered with a coating of mashed cashew nuts -- and it’s calories, calories, calories.

BURT WOLF:   But taste, taste, taste.

TONE MOLLER:  It’s taste, taste, taste.

Another aspect of Curaçao’s culture that has been strongly influenced by the African community is its music and dance. Curaçao’s music is a blend of European, Latin American, Caribbean and U.S. influences, but for me the most interesting part of its heritage is African… particularly in a form called tambu. It was born in the slave communities as a release from the debilitating oppression.

The basic instrument is the drum known as the tambu. The other instrument is the chapi, a type of field hoe. Each is played against the other in a complicated rhythmic pattern.  The singing is a series of set calls and responses. Both the music and the dance are clearly part of an ancient African tradition.

The social comment inherent in the lyrics -- and the erotic tension of the dance -- were more than the government and the Catholic church could stand, and for years they mounted an aggressive campaign to surpress tambu. Even today, a government ordinance limits public tambu parties to a few weeks at the end and the beginning of each year.

Which also brings us to the end of this show. I hope you have enjoyed this visit to Curaçao and I hope you will join me next time on TRAVELS & TRADITIONS.  I’m Burt Wolf.