One of the best things about Christmas in St Lucia is celebrating by making delicious Pastelles. This West Indian tradition is treated as a family day and as Christmas approaches I remember just how much I love it.
As festivities are drawing in closer and a few of you from the UK were asking about Christmas in St Lucia, I wanted to share a video of us making them.
Two years have passed since this the below was posted. So much has happened in that time as I’m sure it has in your lives too. Good and ‘bad’, side by side. Kind of like a fruit salad where both the sweet and soft fruits are needed, alongside the tart and citrus-y ones to give a whole experience in the mouth. The recipe is included below from the original post.
I wish you joy my friends, and peace at this special time of year..
[23rd Dec 2014]
Happy Christmas my lovely Sun Templers!! My family and I wish you joy and prosperity, a full tummy and love in your heart.
This is my 100th recipe for Sun Temple and would you believe I didn’t plan for it to coincide with Christmas? How cool and serendipitous is that? So we decided to shoot a small behind the scenes video of us preparing our delicious pastelles – which you can view by clicking here.
Christmas has always been special to me. Although the real meaning of Christmas moves me most now, I never stopped feeling that childhood excitement about Santa coming and so I have continued many of the traditions. In fact Kirsty asked me a few days ago when we would be making the huge mince pie for Santa, and did we have a carrot for the reindeer. This is always left out with some ceremony on Christmas eve, near the tree, with a Piton beer for the quenching of thirst and the satisfying of hunger for the weary Father Christmas and his team. When we moved back to St. Lucia, the drink changed from a glass of milk to the locally brewed Piton beer. Mark and I would leave “evidence” that Santa had been and the girls would discuss it eagerly on Christmas morning.
My mother is from Trinidad and comes from a huge family, hence some of my trinidad recipes. I have 48 first cousins!! Happily I have met them all and we see each other whenever possible. A Trinidadian tradition, which had its roots in Venezuela, which is only a few miles away, is making Pastelles at Christmas time.
Pastelles are patties made from heavily seasoned meat wrapped in a corn pancake and steamed in banana leaves. The many hundreds usually made, are frozen, and carefully meted out by the matriarch through the year.
What is so lovely about them, is that they are created as part of a family day. A production line is set up and the little parcels are assembled, from the youngest to the oldest family member having a “job.” I have to say that the process is a whole lot easier now than it used to be. When we were children, from the cutting of the onions and garlic to the steaming of the actual pastelles was performed all in 1 day. Now, I prepare the meat and cook it the day before and we use aluminium foil to wrap the last layer where before we used a second layer of banana leaf, tied with string, like a parcel.
The assembly line pictured above consists of: the corn cookers (who had to be in the kitchen), followed by the corn ball makers, followed by the corn squishers, then the meat fillers and the folders in foil.
The Pastelles Recipe : Makes approx 200 pastelles
4.5 kg (10lbs) ground beef
3.2 kg (7lbs) ground pork
Lots of chopped onion (approx 10)
Lots of minced garlic (2 full heads)
Sweet peppers (2 green, 2 red)
Seasoning peppers (approx 12)
Ti l’Onion (salad onions) approx 12 large stalks
Parsley (2 lg bunches)
Thyme (approx 1 cup chopped)
Tomato paste (4, 170g/6oz cans)
Capers (1.5, 454g/16oz jars)
Olives (1 lg jar 450g)
Local Celery (approx 2 cups chopped)
salt to taste
Chop all the ingredients for the pastelles recipe except the raisins, olives and capers. Then add everything now to the meat and allow the flavours to develop for 3 to 4 hours or even overnight. I have a huge saucepan which I use for this purpose. Many years ago there was a sale of cookware at one of my favourite shops in London and my mother was with me. I selected this huge pot which my mother said I would never use because it was so big. She was basically right, but at least it comes into its own once a year.
The next day, cook the meat, covered, in a 180ºC (350ºF) oven for 3 hours stirring from time to time to make sure nothing is sticking and that all the flavours are mixing well.
On the day of assembly, the first job is to prepare the corn. Before you do this however, the production line should be established as once the corn is ready, it cannot wait.
320g (2 c) Promasa corn meal
750 ml boiling water
1 veg stock cube
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
corn oil for greasing the banana leaves
Mix the Promasa slowly into 2.5 cups boiling water which has had ½ stock cube and the fat dissolved into it. Shape immediately into 60g balls and keep covered with a wet towel until used. I have tried using other brands of cornmeal and simply cannot achieve the correct consistency. Trouble is I don’t experiment on a non pastelle day, so I believe there must be an equally suitable cornmeal out there with pastelle making status built in.
A very important feature of this pastelles recipe is the flavour derived from their steaming in banana leaves. In Trinidad you can buy these leaves ready prepared. In St. Lucia you cannot and what this entails is, after harvesting the leaves, they must be passed over a flame or a heat source to “quail” or wilt them so that they are pliable in the process of assembly. A small piece is all that is really required to impart the flavour but because bananas are plentiful here, in fact a significant contributor to the GDP, that’s not an issue. The leaves must be oiled before squishing the corn or there will be mayhem. The tool below is something easily obtainable in Trinidad but we had to construct our own. Basically its 2 flat plates on a hinge which are pressed together with the attached lever.
So, the process after all that is: the ball of corn is squished between 2 banana leaves. The bottom leaf holding the now “pancake” of corn is placed on a piece of foil, a large spoonful of meat added and then it is folded to protect the pattie, which will be steamed later. When you are ready to eat a pastelle or two, all that is required (because the corn and the meat are both already cooked) is to steam them for about 20 minutes so that they are heated right through and to impart the flavour of the banana.
A careful count is kept of the number made which are then divided up between the various families attending. We always eat the freshly steamed pastelles for lunch that day with homemade mango chutney. Some people like a bit of pepper sauce as well. The photo below only shows glasses of water, but through the day we drink sorrel and ponche crema (a milky rum punch from Trinidad) both very traditional Christmas beverages.
Pastelles are the perfect food to have in the freezer. Many people eat them for breakfast, but we tend to have them after a day at the beach when everyone is hungry but no one wants to cook. The flavour is full and goes well with a salad.
Here’s the behind the scenes video of us preparing the delicious Pastelles – we hope you enjoy it!