Let your mind drift southwards, past the tip of Florida and across the sea, south past Cuba, to the third largest island in the Caribbean Sea: Jamaica, land of high, misty mountains and sunny beaches, home to some 2.5 million people.
Now drift back in time, through the centuries, to a time when 60,000 Taino natives lived in this fertile land they called Xaymaca, land of wood and water.
You might see a group of people on the shore practicing the ancient culinary craft of charqui as they lay strips of meat over a latticework made from the fragrant green branches of an allspice tree. A smoky fire dries and seasons the meat, over which they’ve laid green allspice leaves. The meat itself has been rubbed with a potent mixture of ground allspice berry, sea salt, and fiery chili peppers.
Today you know the descendent of this process as “jerky.” That’s right: every convenience store with a point-of-purchase Jack Link rack owes a debt of gratitude to Taino ingenuity.
But charqui has a another descendant: Jerk, the dry-rubbed, slow-cooked, succulent morsels of pork, or chicken, or goat sold along the beaches and roadsides of Jamaica, from jerk joints and street vendor stands.
Here at How to Cook With Vesna, we’ll explore keeping this noble tradition alive in our own kitchens and backyards, wherever we may be, with whatever modern twists we find to be workable and delicious.
For instance, learn how to cook jerk pork and pineapple skewers, dry rubbed days in advance with the ancient elements of allspice, salt and pepper (Scotch bonnet is the preferred chile in Jamaica, but habanero is more available in these parts) as well as the newer traditions of garlic, ginger, thyme, scallion and more. It’s tender and tasty, smoky with a hint of sweetness. Accompany with more delicious Jamaican treats, and you can’t ask for a better menu for an outdoor party.