The Bone is the Best Part
My mom sucks the bone much like she sucks her teeth. Putting as much pressure on her back molars as possible and drawing inward. As a child, whenever she caught me looking at her with distain dripping from my lips, she’d simply say, “The bone is the best part,” and return to her marrow. Over the years as I continued to share meals with my mom and family, I came to realize something: all Jamaicans eat to the bone. They eat the eye of the fish and the feet of the chicken, until nothing is left, but everything is experienced.
By the time I left home, I too was eating to the bone. I sucked the strings from mango seeds and
gnawed off leftover spices from oxtail until I was full. So full that it felt as though I was sitting at my grandmother’s dining room table in Kingston, belly raised in familiar satisfaction. Things change though, when you leave home. The good meals become less frequent and the bone doesn’t taste quite the same. All those hours I had spent with my mom in the kitchen, my eyes were focused on screens when they should have been focused on the way she boils ackee and seasons meat. Most nights, I come home to my quiet apartment craving her food and end up staring into my fridge, wondering where to start.
On my 20th birthday, my mom gifted me with Wenton O. Spence’s cookbook, Jamaican Cookery: Recipes from Old Jamaican Grandmothers. On the inside cover she wrote: “Happy 20th Birthday. Now that you’re a woman, here’s a JA cookbook for you to try your hand at.” This cookbook has moved with me from Syracuse to Brooklyn to Chapel Hill; from apartment to apartment, always finding its resting place in the corner of my kitchen counter, where it remains unopened. After nearly five years and many unsatisfactory meals, I think it’s time I try to cook what’s inside.
Bone & Marrow will document my journey through Jamaican Cookery. It will follow me as I stumble — and occasionally cry — around my kitchen in an attempt to learn how to cook like my mom, and her mom, and her mom. Until I reach the bone and marrow of my roots.