Caribbean Black Cake

While some people will be dreaming of a white Christmas, complete with stockings hanging by the fire, mistletoe and snow, here in the Caribbean we dream of a bright sunny Christmas with clear skies and swaying palm trees. It is the time of year that everyone no matter where you are in the world comes together with family and friends. Usually food plays a central role during the festivities, old Christmas traditions like eggnog, oven roasted turkey and ham, Christmas cake, fruitcake and more, tend to bring out the holiday spirit in us all.

I grew up on Tortola, but spent almost ten years in Canada, so I have experienced both types of Christmas – the northern and Caribbean versions. In the Caribbean, as in much of the world, food is a key ingredient in making the festivities extra special. My grandmother always had an impressive spread complete with turkey, ham, stuffing, saltfish, cornbread, sorrel drink, and guavaberry liqueur to name a few. The food plays an important role but the Christmas holiday desserts are the icing on the celebrations. Sweet treats like tarts in all different assortments such as guava, coconut, pineapple and guavaberry; black cakes, rum cakes, sweet bread and sweet potato pudding surely had me coming back for seconds.

No Christmas dessert platter would be complete without the traditional Caribbean black cake also known as the rum cake. It is a type of fruitcake traditionally associated with Christmas and weddings. Throughout the Caribbean it is typically made with raisins and cherries soaked in rum, brown sugar and a bittersweet caramel called browning which often times adds to the coloring of the cake. Black cakes are heavily soaked in rum and because of this can be kept for many years and still be consumed.

Guavaberry, which is a personal favorite of mine, is used in a variety of desserts and is a Caribbean Christmas staple. The guavaberry, which should not be confused with the guava, is a fruit tree, which grows in the Caribbean. The guavaberries (roughly half the size of cherries) are yellow-orange or dark-red and contain a small amount of translucent flesh surrounding a seed. The fruit is used to make jams, drinks and tart filling. Stewing the fruit into a jam like consistency makes the filling for guavaberry tart, which is then baked into a doughy piecrust. Guavaberry liqueur is made from rum, and is a favorite Christmas drink here in the BVI and many of the islands.

There is a famous fungi song in the BVI that goes:
Mama bake de Johnny cake Christmas coming;
Mama bake de Johnny cake Christmas coming,
Christmas coming, Christmas coming;
Then New Year's morning,
If you want to be merry, drink guavaberry.

So, next time you want to have a very Merry Christmas come to the BVI for a taste of our delicious Caribbean holiday desserts.