"It is very easy to grow a garden - my yard was covered with rocks and boulders so my friends used to joke that it must be cabritus living here as only they could maneuver through those rocks. Gardening is not an expensive hobby but you have to dedicate yourself and put in the required work. It’s a great way for you to exercise and a good form of relaxation. It also gives self satisfaction but most importantly it is the joy of sharing its produce."
When I met Norma Cole somehow we started talking about a fruit tree called 'June Plum' or locally 'Oba'. I asked if she could bring me one, and weeks later out of the blue she remembered! I said to her, "don't worry I'll bring you a plant" and she replied, "no need, whenever I give seedlings or fruits I get more crop from my trees. The more I give, the more I get." I found that really struck me - sharing nature’s abundance.
Norma is a wonderful character, vibrant, humorous, classy and down to earth. She has been on Bonaire for 23 years but grew up in Saint Mary, Jamaica on a farm with a river running through the property where they exported bananas, coffee, cacao and created their fence with pineapple trees. There she learnt the way of the land - they were encouraged as children to replace whatever was taken from the land so they were always re-planting the heads of pineapple, sugarcane, yam, etc. "You take but you give back " she said. They would watch these plants grow with such excitement and curiosity as children. We laughed as Norma acted out the playful curiosity they had - checking every hour to see if the plant had grown.
So with this Norma was always connected with nature. It's visible in her garden. On entrance it's a beautifully well maintained lawn (Buffalo grass) with rocks and pockets of colour (Bougainvillea, Tuturutu, Plumeria). She has a fantastic variety of plants which she hasn't paid a cent for! She was honest with this " I beg, take cuttings, seedlings and steal if need be!" But she also rescues them and earned the title 'the plant rescuer'. People bring her plants they want to throw away or that are sick. So she nurtures them back to health and beyond. For example she saved some ferns that now reside on her porch and look like they might keep on growing to Rincon.
That may be because she really looks after her plants. She tends them but also talks to them. "Hey what's wrong with you?" or when she's frustrated "YOU'RE A BIG WASTE OF SPACE!" and praises them when they are looking fantastic.
Then she has many fruits trees hidden in the shelter of her house: sugar cane, ackee, bananas, papaya, sweetsop, soursop, guava, mispel, june plum, mango, etc. She is constantly giving away fruits and plants. I asked her what her favourite is and she pragmatically replied "Ackee because I can get a meal from it and it’s absolutely delicious". Not everyone may be familiar with Ackee but it's the national fruit of Jamaica and the traditional dish is "Ackee and Saltfish". It is a very underrated tree on Bonaire because it grows well here and provides much food as well as attracting bees. But beware as it is poisonous if picked at the wrong time, the fruits need to open naturally on the tree! Following closely for her is pomegranate because "it is suited to this climate, easy to grow and rich in vitamins and antioxidants". She even threw out seeds for the birds and they grew in the garden by themselves!
So enjoy and don't forget to share.
By Clark Heijbroek
Ackee & Saltfish Recipe
1 dozen ackees
1/2 lb salt-fish (salted cod/bacaloa)
3 table spoon vegetable oil
1 medium tomato, chopped
½ cup sweet pepper (bell pepper) chopped (red, green & yellow mix)
1 small onion, chopped or in rings
2 cloves garlic, minced 1 hot scotch bonnet pepper - diced or jerk seasoning (optional) or black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 tsp ground pimento (allspice) or a few whole pimento grains
Chopped fresh basil
Soak salt-fish (bacaloa) in cold water preferably overnight to remove as much salt as possible.
Place in a pot with enough cold water to cover salt-fish and boil to remove remaining salt. Save some of the salted water for cooking the ackee. If fish is still too salty, wash it again.
Flake cooked saltfish.
Remove ackees from the pods. Remove the seeds and pink interior, wash and place cleaned ackees in a pan of boiling salted water.
Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until tender, do not overcook. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté tomato, sweet pepper, onion, hot pepper, garlic and pimento over medium heat.
Add cooked, flaked salt-fish, butter, chopped basil and sauté for an additional minute.
Add cooked, drained ackee to the sautéed ingredients, and stir lightly.
Cover the pan and simmer for 5 minutes.
It’s normally served with roasted breadfruit (unavailable here), boiled green bananas, Johnny cakes, yucca as a breakfast item but can accompany any of your favourite starches including yam and potatoes as any meal of the day.
Variation: Add crispy bite sized pieces of bacon in addition to salt-fish.
KOOL KAT (June plum drink)
This is a very refreshing summer drink. Some people like to peel off the skin, but I leave the skin on for added nutrients.
1 dozen green June Plums, washed and diced, discard seeds
2 Cups of water
Fresh ginger, washed and grated
Sugar or honey according to your taste
Sprig of mint
Place June plums, water and ginger in a blender and blend until smooth. Strain and mix in sugar to sweeten. Serve over crushed ice and garnish with mint.
Recipes by Norma Cole