Water more than flour

rhondathompson, rhondathompson@nationnews.com

Added 31 December 2011

saturdayschild

I first heard the expression “Water more than flour” when I was a teenager and my cricket captain “Rabby” faced a difficult choice and we had to abandon a match we had virtually won.   One of our players attacked an umpire and instead of standing our ground we had to flee the village in which we were playing. One of the opposing players had gone to fetch his shotgun and a few other incensed villagers had already armed themselves with cutlasses and gun-talk. Later, as we gathered under the streetlight at the side of the road and recounted the event, one or two of the guys felt we should have stood our ground. I had to remind them that it was not our ground and we had given the villagers grounds for retaliation.   It was then Rabby said, “Listen, when water more than flour, you do what you have to do.”   There was a time in Trinidad when, because of the inefficiency of the state-owned utility which still manages the country’s water resources, flour was more than water.  In fact, there is a story about that time which I still like to share, and which I savour to the last drop.   It was 1979 and Dr Eric Williams was still alive. In nearby St Ann’s, there was the usual long line of people, buckets in hand, trying to get water from one standpipe. As usual, everybody was complaining, cussing, muttering about the situation. Finally, an old man exploded.   He threw his bucket on the ground, jumped on it repeatedly, shouting, “I can’t take it!  I can’t take it!  I going to complain to Dr Williams.”  The man stomped off on his way to Whitehall, the prime minister’s office.   The next day, to everyone’s surprise, the old man was back in line, waiting sheepishly for his turn. Someone asked, “What happen?  Ah thought you was going to the prime minister to complain?” The old man paused and then said, “You think this line long?”   On Christmas Eve I was faced with the flip side of that old man’s plight. There I was, water more than flour, with no bucket to batter and only some aluminum foil to butter.   Dr Richard Allsopp’s invaluable Dictionary Of Caribbean English Usage explains that “water more than flour” is a bread-making term meaning that if too much water has been added to too little flour, the result is a waste that cannot be rescued.   In other words, “The situation has become impossible; things are getting/have got out of hand; there is more strain/trouble/shame, etcetera than you can bear.” I embarked on what initially was a “pastelle”-making voyage until the superfluity of water compared to the scarcity of flour sunk the expedition and were it not for the prompt action of my wife I would have floundered and my long-held and prized reputation as a chef drowned in despond.   A pastelle is essentially a meat-filled pie or patty made from corn-flour. It is a popular delicacy at Christmas time in Trinidad. I bought a copy of the famous Naparima Girls’ High School Cookbook and used it as a guide whenever I assayed a Trinidadian dish. Unfortunately, it was last seen with my daughter Jasmine and was nowhere to be found when I needed it most.   So I went on the Internet, found a recipe and put the ingredients together for the dough. Earlier in the day, I had already seasoned my minced chicken, cooked it and received high praise for its perfection. I must confess at this point that flour is not my thing. I do crèmes, custards and cheesecake. I do rice dishes and pasta. But no flour. I love bread, bake, roti, pizza and pies but do not cook them unless I use the bread machine. I hate dipping my hands in flour. I told my wife that the dough was her responsibility but she was busy and left the entire pastelle process up to me.   I measured out the corn-flour, threw in the water, put in the butter and the oil, forgot the salt and then found that the cornflour had disappeared. The recipe explicitly stated, “Two cups of flour; three cups of water etcetera.”  I should have known that the proportions were wrong but I was in a hurry.  The flour disappeared without a trace in a yellow pool and I called for help. My wife kept throwing more cornflour and then when we ran out wheat flour, but the mass remained sodden.  Eventually we arrived at a consistency that was workable and, with the help of the children cutting foil, helping with the ingredients, and sampling the product, a pastelle that was delicious. If there was one thing that we were able to prove, and the moral in this story, is that even when water is more than flour the situation is still salvageable. All it takes is for people to combine their skills and energies and work together to solve the problem or save the situation. • Tony Deyal was last seen saying no more recipes for him – the next time he wants to cook a pastelle he will use a pie chart.  

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