From Pamplemousse To Tap Taps in Haïti

My parents have a funny little tree that produces funny little citrus fruits that we’ve never formally identified. One day I decided to investigate further and I found myself in Haiti.

Not really, of course. But those squat, round fruit with the pithy yellow skin and tart flesh reminded me of images I found online of Haitian chadeques or pamplemousse. Pamplemousse! A marvellous word (pronounced pomp- le- moose), it’s simply French for grapefruit, which is used in the Caribbean nation to make a distinctive gloopy jam.

Since the fruit on my folks’ tree is not great for eating, I decided to try a version of the jam using this traditional recipe as inspiration. I am a huge fan of marmalade but the addition of almond essence and anise seemed so outside my experience; I was very curious to try this tropicana-style spread.

I chose to add lemons and limes for a very zingy brew, and I made two batches of jam. I left one batch with all the solids remaining in the jam (as per the traditional method), while I strained the second lot. 

This second, syrupy concoction spent a few months in a jar until today, when I was inspired to drizzle it over a cake. Using the most basic cake recipe possible, I simply used quantities as they appeared in my cupboards (about 2 cups self raising flour, 2 cups sugar, 200g butter and 3 eggs), all mixed together and then baked in a moderate oven. For in-depth analysis and tips for the best possible drizzle cake, see here; you can probably do much better than mine.

My cake is slightly over cooked and here is why: while it was in the oven I did some reading about Haiti. This small country is a fascinating place and even its location was thought-provoking to me.

Did you know that Haiti is the only nation in the world to have been founded by slaves after a revolution? Its culture is made up of French, Spanish and African influences (I have looked at some culture and baking from this region before). Christopher Columbus wrecked his ship on rocks there on Christmas Day, 1492, thinking it was India. Haiti is mountainous and populous, and hasn’t recovered from the history-making earthquake of 2010 that killed many and left many more vulnerable to cholera. Its politicians are amongst the most corrupt in the world, its citizens amongst the most poor (only about 12.5% have regular access to electricity). Yet Haiti is also nestled in the clutch of islands known to be the preferred holiday destination for the world’s rich and famous, see: Mustique, Saint Barths and Barbados.

It also has one of the most vivacious transport services I have come across: converted trucks and decorated buses called Tap Taps (because that’s how you let the driver know you want to get off). Check out the website of photographer, Jan Sochor, for a sensational series of Tap Tap photos.

Meanwhile, my children wouldn’t let me drizzle the Pamplemousse Syrup onto the cake because “I only like sauce on sausages” so I had plenty of citrus drizzle to spare. I was pleased with those unusual Caribbean flavours and I can imagine that sweet grapefruit jam would be a welcome treat in Haiti. 

Most of all I was thrilled that my parents’ funny little fruit tree could take me on an imaginary journey and help me learn some new things about a place so far away.


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