Gungo Soup Lesson

In Jamaica, Saturdays are referred to as soup day in regards to dinner. My favorite Saturday Soup  is Gungo Peas (Pigeon Peas) Soup with Pig’s Tail, Sweet potato, Yellow Yam and  Cornmeal Dumpling.


Gungo Peas Soup with Pig’s Tail
Twelve (12) cups water
Three (3) cups Gungo peas, washed and soaked overnight (helps tenderize if dried) no need to saok green ones.
1 lb. Pig’s Tail
1/2 lb. yam, peeled and cubed
One medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
Ten spinners (tiny dumplings about 1 ½ inch long by ¼ inch wide in the middle)
1 cup coconut milk (grated and squeezed)
Three stalks scallion
Two sprigs fresh thyme
One medium onion chopped
One head of garlic chopped
One whole green Scotch Bonnet pepper

Boil pig’s tail in fresh water until tender. Water may have to be changed 2 or 3 times to pull out excess salt.

In a separate pot, bring water for the soup to a boil.
Add the soft, cooked pig’s tail and gungo peas and reduce to a simmer.
Immediately after add scallion, thyme, scotch bonnet pepper, garlic, onion and coconut milk.
When gungo peas become tender (mashed) add yams, sweet potato, and spinners (using ½ water ½ coconut milk with pulp to make dough) and simmer for another 20 minutes or until all the ingredients are cooked, and the soup just starts to get thick.
Remove scallion and thyme before serving. The lucky person gets the whole (unbroken) scotch bonnet pepper in their dish.

I have known this dish as far back as I can remember, and it was a sure hit for my Grandmother on Saturdays, especially at the end to early part of the year. Once you saw the gungo, Christmas was near. It was more than just a tasty meal that brought the family together but a dish with lessons for life. It taught me to grow what I eat and eat what I grow, and I learned the important value and strength of independence and self-sufficiency.

My grandparents would divide the daily tasks amongst themselves and as for the siblings of the household; duties were assigned according to physical, academic and gender ability.
As siblings whether child, grand or great grand we would assist these two super managers where ever we were placed. Every day had something new and exciting to learn, and the seasons and weather condition on a given day dictated the task. Tasks were widely affected by many elements, but we always got it done with unity and ingenuity. The elder male siblings also had younger male siblings assisting in tasks such as gathering wood and water on a Saturday, enough for a week’s supply and the females assisted with household duties to include washing, ironing for the week ahead as Sunday morning was Church followed by Sunday dinner which was the prime meal of the week after which we would have social time with family and friends. It was necessary to do things that would last a week as during the week we had school. The wood fire was the primary source of cooking and ironing, coal was produced when wood covered by ash was burnt, and kerosene was used for light in lamps

We had a “fireside” which was still more sophisticated than cooking on stones on the ground (which was always popular) but not as high-end as kerosene oil stove. A fireside is as 2ft x 6ft approximately, a rectangular concrete structure with horizontal steel bars running across that hold the pots with the made up fire below. Potatoes, yams and leftover dumplings were warmed or baked under the hot ash, Monday morning to be eaten with a cup of coffee.

Above the fireside were wires used to hang meats that were dredged (corned) with salt or pickled with herbs and spices. During random cooking meat hanging above the fireside would get smoked for further preservation. Chunks of these meats were hacked off as needed for cooking “to flavour the pot.” As a youngster, I learned many other gastronomical history and tradition for example” bammy” made from cassava has been a staple for Arawak Indians before the time of Columbus, was taught to me the way it was made by the Arawak’s. It is traditionally eaten with fish which is a vibrant and lucrative culinary offering today. I felt responsible when I assisted my Grandmother in picking ripe coffee berries (cranberry look-alike) which was pulped by hand and allowed to dry in the sun after which they were placed in a sack which was beaten with a stick to extract the beans. Coffee beans were then parched black on a wood fire using a dutch pot. Parched beans were then placed in a mortar (I large piece of log with a hole) and then pounded with a mortar stick until they were powder fine. The ground coffee was then put in a cloth bag that had a point at the bottom (shaped like a boat with the bow pointing down and the stern upwards). This bag was hung over a pan, and hot water poured in the bag to draw (percolate) the coffee. We did everything ourselves from making toys with just about anything to medicinal home remedies. I grew up healthy and smart with religious and moral values clutching a solid foundation going into the future.

History / Tradition

My mother now makes this soup for the family, and she usually does it when family members who live away from home returns on holiday visits or reunions. The soup brings back memories of my youth when all the members of my generation were together. Even though modernization was present on the island “to a degree” in my community of Southfield, we were a bit behind. Growing up with my grandparents was the most comfortable feeling, I felt happiness, loved, safe and as if everything in my world was right.  One thing I admired was how my grandparents and other community members appreciated each other; they were also self-sufficient. My grandfather would do the fieldwork handling agricultural produce that was required to feed the household and the excess bartered amongst neighbors for other needed items, grandpa also butchered, barbered made shoes for the family and community members, so he could earn money to buy the necessary commodity like kerosene oil. My grandmother handled the household (wash cook clean) and took care of the family. She also sewed clothing and managed smaller animals like chickens while grandpa dealt with the cows, goats, and sheep which required more physical strength.

Modernization / Globalization 
The memories of the past over thirty ( 30) years returns very often as I have watched my independent country become hugely dependent on labor, goods, and services from other countries. I believe being self- sufficient doesn’t mean we would be stuck in ancient practices but we could have modernized our methods and patronize our neighbor’s developments and grow. This simple soup has priceless value and power; it reminds me of where I am coming from and the importance of love, comfort, unity, and self-sufficiency. It reminds me that life is not lost when my electric or gas stove breaks down, if I don’t have a washing machine, car, TV, computer or cell phone amongst many other things including money.

No Body Want to Plant the Corn
As the years go by in Jamaica and we increase the dependency on imported food to feed ourselves. This dish is still made by my mother and me, but it has lost the pride and joy of independence and some nutritional value. We import cheaper gungo peas from Belize and the United States,  countries which both engage in mechanized farming (Fleming B. 2014) that is inorganic. Garlic is imported from China (Sreju C. 2011), pigs tail cured in brine is imported from USA and Canada (Serju C. 2013), coconut milk in liquid or powder form is imported from Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Malaysia. Annual flour imports are roughly 150,000 tons (Henry M. 2013), and 93 percent of Onions consumed in 2009 were imported (Jamaican Till I Die 2012) not to mention the cornmeal. Sweet potato, yam, scallion, and thyme are still grown locally (for now) but are sprayed with chemicals and boosted with synthetic fertilizers that are both imported. We now use electric, or gas stove for cooking and liquid smoke is used to give it that taste of tradition if so desires.
With modernization and global demand for food, many food products became fast foods which found its way into many cultures altering their traditions. The way food was produced and livestock were reared generations ago has changed as a result of increasing global demand. We have lost ground on some traditional practices, however I am forced to not rule out the significant benefit of producing in higher volumes rapidly to feed the world as I have to decide between tradition and starvation. With further advanced technologies in food production, the diets and eating habits have changed, but this loss have also affected our behavior and health. In today’s society, it is more convenient to buy a frozen novelty or a can of soup and heat it up in a microwave than to shop at the farmers market and cook a meal from scratch. As a result, fewer people are cooking which means restaurants have become lucrative to the hungry diner. It is not only the accessible way but the convenient way to have processed food and beverage with added vitamins lost along the way.

With modernization and globalization, there have been slight changes in the products and preparation of our traditional dishes. It allows me to believe however, that history and tradition are essential to our future and modern lifestyle but survival have altered much of that. We learn from the past how to move forward, hence we should never forget where we are coming from as we at times need to go back to basics when future challenges arise. If today my stove broke and I had to cook dinner I would surly be able to make a wood fire thanks to the lessons Grandma and Grandpa taught meand still be a satisfied and happy camper.
This is just the power of one of many traditional Jamaican dishes…

Randie Anderson Executive Chef, CEC, CCA,WCEC, MSc Gastronomic Tourism.
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