BAJAN TO DE BONE: It’s not real pudding without belly
PUDDING AND SOUSE is as much a part of Barbados as “these fields and hills beyond recall”, and for more than 70 years Shirley Forde has been playing her part to ensure the Bajan dish continues to maintain its place in this country’s traditions.
Weekend after weekend the 85-year-old Richmond Gap, St Michael resident can be found near Carmeta’s on Trevor’s Way, selling pig’s belly and blood from the back of her small Suzuki van.
No longer does she engage in the “hard, hard work” of making and selling the pudding and souse as she did when she stepped into her mother’s shoes as a young woman. Instead, she now meets the demand from others, ensuring the two ingredients favoured by pudding and souse makers of yesterday remain available to the people who still consider it the only true version of the traditional dish.
As she pointed out last week: “A lot of people doan particular use blood anymore; most people make white pudding. But I still get the belly sell.”
Forde and her six siblings were raised on the money their mother made from selling pudding and souse when she was going to school, first at Goodland Infants School and later at Westbury School.
She recalled that as a child she was assigned the chore of grating sweet potato on the large tin grater characteristic of kitchen implements of the day made by tinsmiths. She also shredded the thyme and marjoram and assisted with other aspects of the preparation, taking some of the work off her mother’s hands.
“Sometimes customers from the village would come home here and sometimes she would go out and sell by a shop in Baxters Road,” Forde recalled on a day last week when she was about to begin her weekly routine of preparing merchandise for sale this weekend.
Wearing the trademark cap, which she said she always dons at home to “protect my head from the cold when I am going into the freezer”, she sat long enough to share her story about the occupation in which she has been engaged for almost all her life.
“I start making pudding and souse when I was 25, after my mother died,” she said. “I had a lot of customers, mostly white people and they say that here [Barbados] get too hard and ain’t got nothing so they gone overseas – some gone New Zealand and other places.”
Losing the bulk of customers, she turned to supplying the pig’s belly and blood as another means of supporting herself and the nephew she “raised from the time he was six months old”.
Now a grown man, he is the one on whom she depends to chauffeur her around – to the Cheapside Market or to the abattoir at Balls, Christ Church, on Mondays and Tuesdays to purchase the pig’s belly and blood she later sells to customers on Friday and Saturday.
Like everything else, inflation has seen a rise in the costs and whereas in the early days the butchers with whom she did business would have allowed her to have both “for next to nothing”, now she has to pull her pocket. Each pet bottle of blood costs her five dollars.
Belly is now sold by the portion, and throwing back her head, with a hearty laugh that exposed one tooth, she explained: “Years gone by it used to sell by the length. People does come and ask me ‘what a yard you selling the belly?’”
Extending both arms to demonstrate the length of a yard, she added, “You don’t get dem yards now – dem days gone. I tell dem we doan sell by the yard now like one time; we sell a portion.”
Her customers now pay $5 or $10 per portion, far more than the early days when belly was sold at three or four cents per yard.
For the octogenarian, the task of cleaning yards and yards of belly week after week “is really a hard job”.
She explained: “When you got to go out and get the stuff and when you come in you have to clean it and all that. If you doing it for a one person, that is all right, but when you doing it for selling, it is harder. When you done, you does feel so tired.”
She said many of the people, “especially the young people” who make pudding and souse today, have shied away from using belly, choosing the “mock pudding” route instead. In this method the grated potato mixture is either steamed, cooked in the oven or in a slow process over an open flame.
But she is making sure she does not take her knowledge and expertise in the traditional methods to her grave without passing it on. When she was asked by one large abattoir to teach a member of staff how to prepare the belly for sale, she readily obliged.
She still believes in good old-time Bajan pudding made by stuffing the belly with sweet potato – so different from the Guyanese version of the dish, which is made with rice and pig’s blood or the Vincentian method using farine stuffing.
Though slowed by bad circulation in her feet, and bending with age, Forde persists with taking up her position on Trevor’s Way from around 8.30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays and again on Saturdays.
“I don’t know how long I will be able to do it,” she said.