Kevin Hume, a Jamaican living in Truro, will be making a simple stewed chicken with rice and beans on Christmas Day.
“I would not go out of my way to make something special,” he says — about dinner. But, he adds, his holiday drinks will dazzle.
He’ll start the sorrel — a gingery cranberry-colored drink made from hibiscus blossoms — the day before. Hume finds the dark pink flowers at specialty Jamaican markets in Hyannis or at Atlantic Spice in Truro. He boils them with ginger, then leaves them overnight or even longer to steep.
Sorrel is commonly served with white rum. But there are many variations, depending on the region and the family in which you were raised. Hume is from Jamaica’s Portland Parish. When in Portland, you drink Port, namely Red Label, in your sorrel, Hume said.
Not everyone living here on the Outer Cape can muster the inspiration to make the foods and drinks of their homelands.
“I’m gonna tell you, right off the bat, I’m truly a horrible, really bad immigrant,” says Radu Luca, the executive director of the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t really follow customs, as far as Romanian tradition goes.”
The stuffed cabbage and grape leaves that are the mainstay holiday dishes of his cultural heritage have been ousted by a modest plate of chicken thighs, paired perhaps with mashed potatoes. Luca’s Christmas dinner will resemble what he serves up on any random weeknight. But, he admits, if his landlady, who lives upstairs from him in North Truro, were to invite him up for a more traditional Christmas meal — a ham, he’s thinking — Luca would be there in a heartbeat.
Long gone are Luca’s days of feasting on piftie, which he described as a “silly-looking cold gelatinous dish Eastern Europeans have for Christmas.” The recipe’s linchpin: pigs’ feet, which generate loads of gelatin when boiled. The ears and tail go in, too, skin and all. “In Eastern Europe, we don’t waste anything,” Luca says. “We use every little part of the pig.
“I’ll go out on a limb here,” says Luca. Romania’s Christmas pièce de résistance “would look really gross to Americans.” But its flavor is divine.
Luca left those flavors behind when he was in his twenties — a period that had him criss-crossing borders and, eventually, continents. He first left Romania to attend college in Bulgaria. During summers, he flitted between the U.S. and Europe, regularly juggling seasonal jobs on a J-1 visa. After finishing a master’s degree in strategic tourism management in France, Luca moved to Provincetown in 2009.
It’s true that when you’re living that kind of marathon, he says, you look forward to “really good drinks and dinners when you’re back home.”
But you won’t see him making piftie for Christmas. The stuff is not easy to make. And, he says, “I want to simplify my life.”
Christmas means chores for Derek Reyes Millan, a 13-year-old Provincetown Schools student from Eastham. He says the morning of Dec. 24 starts with sweeping and vacuuming duties, done while his “grumpy” parents scramble to get the house shipshape for Mexican friends and family.
Lunch is a brief pit stop — a simple soup or pasta — before Millan picks up where he left off.
Luckily, he’s got time: guests don’t filter in until nightfall, and dinner is served around 10 p.m.
That’s when the rewards hit the table. Millan gets to feast on turkey, tomato pasta, and a pork and hominy stew called pozole. He also gets to sip on ponche, a traditional fruit punch made from apples, pears, and cane sugar.
The music revs up soon after, followed by hours of grooving. “Mexican families really like to dance,” Millan says. “Sometimes, the party doesn’t end until 4 or 5 a.m.”
The next day, the floor will be messy and sticky. But this time, it’s not the grown-ups’ fault. “I’m blaming the kids,” says Millan.
Chef Cliff Harvey, owner of the Brickhouse Restaurant in Eastham, and his wife, Amelia Kisna, will be making curried goat for Christmas dinner with their families. Dessert will be Jamaican rum cake, of course.
This year, the generations will gather and celebrate the island flavors they crave in Myrtle Beach, S.C. But goat, he says, can be found at the Stop & Shop in Hyannis. Calaloo would be nice on the side, he says, but it cannot be found reliably through his usual distributors.
And he would love it if he could find soursop here — a drink made from the flowering evergreen soursop tree, native to the Caribbean. There will be no soursop, he says, “but definitely sorrel — my mother will take care of that,” Harvey says.
To meet this demand of home-based cooks for the flavors of their homelands, the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, the gardening, food, and nutrition arm of county government, started a partnership with banks and local community gardens to grow vegetables for the Cape’s largest immigrant populations — Haitian, Jamaican, and Brazilian, said Andrea Marczely, the food access coordinator for the county.
Last summer, the program’s Everyone Eats Cultural Community Gardens were planted up Cape at the Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod in Mashpee, the Faith Assembly of God Church in Hyannis, the Hyannis Public Library, and the Canaan 7th Day Adventist Church in West Yarmouth.
The 7th Day Adventist Church’s largely Haitian congregation also runs a food pantry offering Caribbean staples — they will deliver to people in need, even on the Outer Cape, Marczely said. The shelves are stocked with coconut milk, beans, and rice.
“Big bags of rice,” said Marczely. “Haitians eat rice the way we eat bread, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Marczely said her Jamaican friends will be sitting down to chicken, beans, and rice, with lettuce and tomato salad and macaroni au gratin for the holidays.