The Island of St. Lucia

No politics today.

In the eastern Caribbean — on a line approximately due east of Nicaragua and in the Lesser Antilles portion of the West Indies — lies an island called St. Lucia. It’s about midway between Martinique and St. Vincent & The Grenadines, and is one of the more mountainous islands in the Caribbean. Europeans (French pirates) first arrived there in the 1550’s. The Dutch set up a camp on the island circa 1600. An off-course English vessel stopped by in 1605, but thanks to conflict with the native population only stayed for five weeks. In 1643 the French established a permanent colony, named the Island St. Lucia, and then, in 1660, signed a treaty with the native Carib People and began to develop land for production of sugar cane. In 1664 The British claimed the island, and over the next 150 years, colonial “leadership” changed hands a total of fourteen times (France 7, England 7). In 1814, Britain took charge for the duration until 1979 when St. Lucia finally became an independent state, a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. During the period of European colonization, most of the native people died from either disease or conflict, and were replaced by slaves from Africa. Today, the population of St. Lucia is predominantly of African descent; the official language is English, but most of the locals are equally if not more proficient in a French-based Patois, a language derived mainly via the combination of French and various West African languages.

Modern day St. Lucia is a peaceful place with a population of less than 200,000. It’s a lush tropical paradise whose main ‘industry’ is tourism. In 1983, I spent a week on St. Lucia as one of a party of four Arizonans who had decided to fly as far from ‘home’ in a single day as could be managed. Suffice to say that that particular week became one of the most delightful interludes spent in my nearly 71 years of occupancy on this here planet. The accommodations at Hotel Anse Chastanet just outside of the small town of Soufriere (pronounced soo-FRAY) were comfortable and reasonably priced, and the scenery — well, the scenery was spectacular and stunning. In every way and from every vantage point. But all of that paled when compared with the people, the locals who worked the hotel, the restaurants, lounge, and beach, and the people of Soufriere. They were positively delightful. In fact, on our last night at the hotel, we were joined in the lounge for a farewell sip or two by nearly the entire hotel staff, one of whom was ‘different’ from the others in much the same way we were ‘different’ — he (the dive shop manager) was, like the four of us, a pale-skinned, light-haired . . . well, you know. Everyone else was of African descent. And amongst the entire crowd of all of us, no one . . . not a single one . . . even noticed, much less cared. The entire visit became, for us ‘white’ Americans, a genuine eye-opening and enlightening experience, one which will never be forgotten.

Anyway: below are some ‘recollections’ from 1983 in the form of old photographs, recently digitized, plus a recipe that the woman in charge of the restaurants at the Anse Chastanet Hotel — Georgianna — graciously mailed to me (pursuant to my request!) after my return to the deserts of Arizona. It’s a fabulous recipe — “local food” in Georgianna’s words. Delicious!

So, enjoy!

The Pitons; St. Lucia, Lesser Antilles, 1983

The Pitons and the Caribbean; St. Lucia, Lesser Antilles, 1983

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Corals, Soufriere Bay, St. LuciaCorals in Soufriere Bay, St. Lucia

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The Pitons from Soufriere BayThe Pitons, from Soufriere Bay

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Corals in Soufriere BayCorals in Soufriere Bay

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The Pitons from Hotel Anse ChastanetThe Pitons from Hotel Anse Chastanet

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Corals in Soufriere Bay, St. LuciaCorals, Soufriere Bay

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Rainbow over Soufriere Bay and Night Scene at Anse ChastanetFrom Hotel Anse Chastanet, St. Lucia — Rainbow, and Night Scene

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Recipe for Chicken St. Lucia
(aka “Local Food,” courtesy of Georgianna, Soufriere, St. Lucia)

This is derivative of a recipe which was graciously shared with me by the kitchen staff of the Hotel Anse Chastanet, a West Indies tropical hideaway near the small city of Soufriere, St. Lucia, within easy view of The Pitons and about halfway up the island’s Caribbean coast.  The dish is quite delicious, actually, and with its slightly sweet and spicy flavor is more than a little ‘different’ from most other chicken-in-sauce recipes; it’s also a genuine reflection of the tastes and aromas of a beautiful tropical Caribbean island.

To begin, assemble the following ingredients:

1 good-sized chicken (or equivalent in pieces*), cut up, skinless, bones ok
¼ lb (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter
2 cups chopped sweet onion
2-3 cups diced tomatoes (or 28 oz can)
1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 large green Bell pepper, cut into ¼ by 1 inch slices
1 Tbsp curry seasoning
2 tsp sweet Basil
1 or 2 garlic cloves, chopped and crushed
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Marinade:
•    1 cup fresh orange juice
•    2 Tbsp fresh orange zest
•    1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
•    liquor from the tomatoes (canned is fine)
•    ½ cup cream sherry (optional)

*Boneless, skinless breast meat, cut into smaller chunks, can suffice – dark meat not strictly required for this dish; I do avoid using the wings, and when using leg quarters,  prefer thighs be boned and cut as is the breast meat — a service preference.  OK to leave the drums as drums.

To Prepare:
Marinate the chicken pieces in the refrigerator for at least an hour, turning once. Next, in a large pot, melt half of the butter and sprinkle in the curry seasoning.  Bring to a sizzle, stirring, then add the garlic plus 1 cup of onion and stir till everything is uniform. Next add, in order: the chicken and marinade, tomatoes, cucumbers, salt, black pepper, and sweet Basil (withhold the green pepper and 1 cup of onion). Bring to a slow boil, then stir the entire contents of the pot; cover, reduce heat a bit, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Next, add half of the green pepper strips, cover again, and return to simmer for another 15-30 minutes, or until the chicken easily yields to a fork.

Finally, with a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and as much of the vegetable chunks as possible and set aside.  Bring the remaining broth to a full rolling boil and add the rest of the butter.  Reduce the broth by about half, or until the bubbles begin to look as though they have a glassy surface, then add the rest of the onions and peppers; continue to boil until peppers and onions are softened (about five minutes), then turn off the heat and return the chicken and vegetables to the pot.  Stir well, and serve in individual portions alongside and over freshly steamed white or brown rice.

You will be surprised, and delighted, guaranteed!

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About frugalchariot

How Frugal is the Chariot That bears the Human soul. (Emily Dickinson)
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