Food and family traditions

When  you have relatives who live all over the world, social media has its benefits. Recently one of my cousins posted a link on Facebook to a story in the Gleaner, Jamaica’s leading newspaper. It was about a campaign to have a house that was built by my great grandfather, designated as a historical site. It’s the same house that my grandmother grew up in and where she went back to, from Kingston, to give birth to each of her six children, including my father. It is also the house where my dad spent his summers as a child romping through the hills and getting in and out of trouble with his siblings and cousins.

My late Aunt Jonie and Aunt Maude’s homes at Pullet Hall are a stone’s through away from the house they grew up in (above)

Pullet Hall in St. Elizabeth is a place of great significance in my family. My great grandparents helped establish the community, and my late great aunts, who I’d always visit at Pullet Hall when I was on the island, lived there into their nineties. Aunt Vanie, my great uncle Cyrus Heron’s widow, was the last of that generation to live at Pullet Hall and passed away recently.

When I was nine years old I went to Jamaica for the first time. It was Christmastime, which meant that Heron relatives from all over the island, and whoever was visiting from abroad, would be making their way to Pullet Hall to celebrate on New Year’s Day, an annual family tradition. There would be lots of food, laughter, a May pole dance and fun for the kids.

It was at Pullet Hall that I was first introduced to something called Mannish Water. There was a huge pot of it cooking over an outdoor fire and when my mother explained what it was (goat head soup) I thought yuck! And one sniff of the barnyard-scented soup, as I remember it (also reputed to be an aphrodisiac and cure for infertility, hence the name), made me certain that I wasn’t going to have any that day.

Today, whenever I think of Pullet Hall, I think of three things: my great aunt Maude (who lived to 100), my great aunt Jonie (who lived to 95) and Mannish Water. To this day, I have not had the pleasure of tasting Mannish Water. However, if and when I do, you’ll be the first to know.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the Gleaner story about Pullet Hall, the inspiration and location of the 1998 Jamaican TV series of the same name created by my father’s cousin, and my favourite storytelling “uncle”, Hall Anthony Ellis.


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  • Carway

    I think this is such a great project and such a honor to your mom…many Jamaicans who have kids aboard does not pass on the legacy of fine, healthy, hearty cooking to our children[disservice to them] because we ourselves have forsaken it, and embrace a lot of the unhealthier fast food way of life…but as i get older i am reverting to my traditional Jamaican way of cooking and eating and finding that i am rediscovering my passion for cooking delicious healthy and hearty food again…Thanks for sharing this legacy with us…Thanks, Carway

  • Jhonny

    Can you get hold of the series pullet hall if you can ill pay for it I personally met Anthony Ellis years ago, my father Also act in this play and ill love to add it to my collection .

  • chloe

    Manish water is ewww.
    I was at a wedding in j.a whwn i first tasted it. I was told by someone it was goat soup. I think they were having a giggle on my expence.
    i started to eat the soup,wasn’t bad. Untill… my spoon scooped up some funny lookin pale bobbly lookin meat.
    I then noticed the strong oder.
    I couldnt eat it and was aware of allot of people watching me.
    I basicly used finding my son an exuse to NOT eat it.
    Soup base was nice but tripe not nice lol.
    Lovin this site

  • melvin

    I enjoy your site very much thanks

  • Laura

    This is such a great story! My grandfather on my father’s side of the family is from St. Elizabeth…my maternal great grandmother is from Trelawney. The house in the picture looks so much like the houses looked when I was a kid in my country, Costa Rica. The story about the kids hiding and roasting birds is something we did as kids also. The entire story was so familiar, I could cry from excitement. I hope this house gets designated as an historical site… Thanks for sharing!

  • pamela

    Thank you your site is great. I’m learning to cook like a Jamaican for my husband who is from Jamaica.