Bermuda is a long, long way from most everywhere. In fact, this hook-shaped cluster of 360 small islands was thrust into being over a million years ago, as another volcanic whim. She’s been no stranger to shipwrecks, blockades, smuggling and frantic whaling sagas. She has also known the franticness of plenty of rum running, privateering and blockade-busting. She was made to be an obedient bastion for more than one strong nation when they fought wars. One other disruption in a paradise island’s reverie: Bermuda is also hurricane prone.
Her current population of 63,000 people lives on 20 of her islands, over a 20-square mile area. Sixty-one percent of her residents are black; 30 percent are white, including many Portuguese, long-time trade partners. British culture is dominant, while the African influence is subtler. All delight in island music, and everyone takes to the streets for dancing on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
Bermuda was named after Juan deBermudez, a Spanish sea captain who sighted the empty islands around 1503. In 1609 an Admiral Sir Geo. Somers was enroute from England with supplies for the new British settlement in North America. His ship wrecked off Bermuda, and the Brits claimed Bermuda for herself. Slaves were forcibly taken from Africa and introduced in 1616. By 1834, slavery was abolished, and Bermuda became a crown colony in 1684 and received independence in 1968.
The foods of Bermuda could be a mirror of the UK all over again, but this little country has managed to put her own spin on her eats. In addition to an abundance of fish and seafood, she is an idyllic place for fruit trees to flourish. However, thin topsoil and lack of water make it necessary for islanders to import 80 percent of their food needs. Early settlers set up trade deals with the American colonies and the UK. They paid for these imports with sea salt secured from the Turks Islands.
The island’s most active and colorful food entrepreneur is Yeaton Outerbridge. A fixture in the ocean sailing races, he’s credited with enhancing Bermuda’s signature dish, Bermuda Fish Chowder. He took his idea from 19th century royal navy sailors who mixed sherry with hot peppers to make a seasoning sauce to spruce up the taste of untasty shipboard rations. Outerbridge began his “home basement food laboratory” in 1964. He made his sauce by steeping hot chili peppers and spices in casks of dry sherry for several months. Early he discovered people tolerate more and more heat in their food over time. So, he kicked up the heat in his sauce a little every year. The kick is thanks little peppers and 17 herbs and spices, including Dalmation sage from Yugoslavia. He ships 25,000 bottles out of Bermuda per year. Outerbridge now markets other condiments including his Bloody Mary Fix and his Mild Hot Starboard Jelly, a Bermuda onion jelly.
Hence, a proper Bermudian Fish Chowder must be made with Outerbridge’s Sherry Peppers Sauce, fresh fish, bacon, diced Paw paw, some black rum, vegetables, spices, tomatoes and potatoes.
Locally-grown fruit is delight in the Bermudian diet. Native Cedar Berries, Bay Grapes, Loquats, Papayas and Surinam Cherries become desserts, chutneys, ice cream toppings and serve as bastings for various savory dishes. Banana leaves hold delicious food combinations in bundles for outdoor roasting. Shrub is a drink made from Bermuda sour oranges, lemons and rum.
· Coconut Mashed Potatoes: potatoes, coconut milk, coconut flakes, butter and coconut cream.
Anchovy Stuffed Eggs, butter, lemon juice, cayene and anchovies mixed into mashed, hard-boiled yokes.
· Dark ‘n’ Stormy: popular drink made from Goslings Black Seal Rum and Ginger beer poured over ice with a dash of bitters
· Farine Pie: Chicken with farine in a very rich, sweet custard
· Hoppin-John: black-eyed peas, ground round, tomatoes and paw paw over rice
· Johnny-cakes, cornmeal griddle cakes with peas and rice
· Mussel Pie: served with curry flavoring, thickened in pastry.
· Portuguese Hot Red Bean Soup: Dried kidney beans, ham bone, chorizo sausage and vegetables
· Shark Hash: shark meat and parsley with hot peppers
· Spiny Bermuda Lobster, called “guinea chick”
· Syllabub: monster dessert made with layers of jelly, guavas, thick cream and sherry.
· Tea, afternoons: Scones and Cornish Clotted Cream