I was settling down for another one of our chats as Bea said to me, “See Son in our days there was many water holes, where big fish them just was ready to be fished out. So we would plan and make a game out of everything.Going and fishing was like goin an’ wash clothes, an’ we had lot’ a clothes to wash all the time.
“So, depending on where we was that was the wata hole we use, and if there was big fish there enough to fill the bill, instead o’ washing we fish. While some of us stay an’ got the pots good an’ready. They would be ready with the ground food pealing and the coconut grei’ta and have all the calabash plates and bowls clean and ready. ”
Bea was reminding me with that short story of how the landscape that I had become used to had changed. That the heavy equipment like those machines that to me looked like gigantic slow crawling dredging cranes, were able to move tons and tons of dirt with their enormous buckets, which I had seen everywhere on the many plantations that I had occasion to work on had changed the topography of those parts. That they could have dried up streams and watering holes that migrating birds and men used was completely possible, I reminded myself.
Bea continued with her story now more animated than ever. “Wha you think, we was some fools or something? We also know where to go fetch riva crabs, shrimp and sometimes clams and things out of them steams an’ rivers. Don’t you remind me boy, don’t you just sit there an’ remind me, for one of these days me an’ you goin make some Rundon. You just wait,” she promised.Then suddenly, she remembered she had been cooking something and jumped up like a young woman and raced off leaving me sitting there thinking about what she had been telling me. After a while of sitting there wondering what had occurred to her, I got up and turned around to see her piddling around the kitchen.
“Now its lunch time, my boy, so go outside back there an’ wash up,” she said. This was an order from a seasoned general, a veteran of many wars. So, I stepped outside to the steel drum that once contained some petroleum product. That was how all the people in these parts collected rain water for use year round. It was covered with a piece of metal mesh used for mosquito netting. I opened it knowing very well that it had been there to keep what water was in it clean. I dipped the big dried half of a calabash gourd and had enough water to wash my hands and face.
Feeling refreshed I again entered the house and what greeted me was a special dinner for lunch. It looked like Bea had taken out one of her special china plates and heaped it up with rice mixed with my favorite big red kidney beans.The sauce that accompanied it had the flavor of Culantro, which grew wild all around her place. Then I thought, “And you was just whacking them down as pesky weeds.” I started to wait for her to come to the back table with her plate, but I heard Bea say from the other part of the house, “Boy you betta eat before that food get cold! ” Another order from the lady general and I put the fork to the plate before me.
I savored every grain of rice and could taste the hint of coconut milk on every mouthful of rice and beans. It was a welcomed sensation, long lost since the last time I ate at the tables of Chela the Costa Rican Indian cook on Baseline.”I never bargained on this,” I thought as I ate the most splendid of meals for lunch and reminded myself that I had married a girl that was too spoiled and who could not learn to cook. “Hey, Bea, are you goin’ to eat too? You are not going to make me eat alone are you?” I said. She shot back at me like a mother who had found her prodigal son, “You don’t you worry about me you just you eat your food, fo’ you is a workingman!”
Bea’s Old Fashioned ‘Rundon’ Recipe
4 cups grated fresh coconut
1 large bell pepper chopped
1 large onion chopped5 tbsp culantro chopped
2 stalks celery chopped fine2 tbspparsley
2 pieces garlic minced¼ tspn black or white pepper
Soup stock or cubes salt to taste(fish or chicken flavor thyme, bay leaf to taste
1 pound each of the following ground food pealed and washed:
2 poundswhite firm fishlike Snapper in chunks
2 lbs shell fish, crab meat, etc.
In a large soup pot bring 4 or 5 quarts of water to boil.In a bowl mix the grated coconut with about ½ quart of warm water and, with hands if necessary, keep mixing until you have a milky liquid.Strain out coconut grinds and add coconut milk to boiling water.Add all the ingredients except the vegetables and seafood.Boil this broth for about ½ hour. Then, add vegetables.Continue to cook for about 20 minutes. Then, last but not least, add seafood.Continue cooking for 10-15 minutes.This delicious Rundon may be garnished with chopped onion, parsley sprigs and soup crackers and served with a side dish of white or coconut flavored rice.
This story continues.