What’s the USP? The front cover of Melissa Thompson’s Motherland describes it as ‘A Jamaican Cookbook’, which is something of an understatement, all things considered. Motherland is a cookbook, yes, and it shares with its reader the food and recipes that feed and fuel Jamaicans each day. But it also shares something more than that: a history, both political and cultural, and an addressing of the many factors that create a modern cuisine.
Who wrote it? Thompson is a food writer who regularly pops up in weekend papers and glossy food magazines. Born in Dorset to a Jamaican father and a Maltese mother, this is her first cookbook. There will be no complaints if she chooses to publish a dozen more.
Is it good bedtime reading? Motherland is excellent, if not happy, bedtime reading. In Thompson’s introduction to the book she describes it as ‘a history of the people, influences and ingredients that uniquely united to create the wonderful patchwork cuisine that is Jamaican food today’. This history is scattered throughout the book – partly through the short introductions to each recipe, but mostly through powerful essays that are not afraid to cover the ground our school educations often ignore. These sections do not make for light reading, emotionally, but are fascinating and rich with a love and respect for the native people of Jamaica and its fellow Caribbean islands.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Thompson is descriptive without being prescriptive – the perfect balance. Here we have a book that accounts for the way real ingredients might vary, and offers crisp and clear instruction on turning the food you have at hand into something that is more than the sum of its parts.
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? The eternal question of where to find great cuts of meat remains for many, so you may stumble in your quest for oxtail, mutton or goat. And while many supermarkets still lack the likes of breadfruit and yams, they’re still easy enough to find if you look for a good international market. Otherwise, the majority of dishes here are well within reach.
What’s the faff factor? Thompson is serving up some real comfort foods here, and comfort foods usually go one of two directions. You’ve got your slow and steady options – stews and roasts that you can more or less leave to themselves. From the Red Peas Soup to Roast Chicken with Thyme & Grapefruit, there’s plenty of those on offer. And then you’ve got the fried goodness. These dishes, be they Ginger Beer Prawns, Sticky Rum & Tamarind Wings or Curry Fried Chicken are definitely a faff, but might also be the most delicious things in here.
How often will I cook from the book? This could easily be in regular rotation in your kitchen. Thompson’s ideas are fun, flavoursome and – importantly – varied. There are all the dishes you that may first leap to mind when you think of Jamaican cooking (jerk, curry goat, and even a recipe for homemade ginger beer), but also a wealth of discoveries to be made.
Killer recipes: Peanut & Sweet Potato Stew, Oxtail Nuggets with Pepper Sauce Mayo, Crispy Ginger Beer Pork Belly, Guinness Punch Pie, Tamarind & Bay Caramel Brownies
Should I buy it? If you’re looking for a book that delivers real gastronomical insight as well as deeply flavoursome dishes to bring real cosiness to your kitchen, this is a great way into Jamaican cuisine. If you aren’t looking for that, there’s no helping you.
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars
Buy the book: Motherland by Melissa Thompson
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas
Motherland has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2022