My Relationship With The Jamaican Patty Is The Greatest Love Story Of All

·4-min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

There’s always a certain type of food or cuisine that instantly transports you back to your childhood. And for me, it’s the smell, sight and bite of a Jamaican patty.

My everlasting love affair with the humble patty started at a young age when every other teenager my age would get taken through the golden arches of a drive-thru McDonald's for a Big Mac meal and a McFlurry. But for me, what would really quench my taste buds and satisfy my soul would be a trip to my local West Indian fast-food equivalent, Cornfield Bakery, to grab a beloved patty or two.

Jamaican patties are a savoury street food snack shaped into a distinctive “D” shape. The inside of the pastry is made up of a flavoursome filling of beef, lamb, fish, or vegetables that’s spicy-but-not-too spicy-in-all-the-right-places. This filling is perfectly encased in gleaming golden pastry, that’s been crimped shut with the teeth of a fork and baked until crispy.

Jamaican patties are crunchy yet deliciously flaky, and super soft once you reach the steaming filled centre. And while there might not be one single definitive recipe to whip up these delicacies, you can confidently bet a jerk chicken dinner on the fact it’d have been seasoned with a hot tang of scotch bonnet chilli, and the pasty will always be a golden, gleaming colour.

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

However, like many great love stories, this one didn’t start out so simple.

These bites of golden goodness are said to date back to the 17th century when ships leaving Cornwall were involved in the triangular route between England, East Africa and the Caribbean for the trade of spices, sugar and slaves.

Legend has it that the renowned Cornish pasty travelled with the Cornish sailors to Jamaica, and it was here where the delicacy was modified and adapted over time to incorporate local ingredients before becoming the Jamaican patty I love today.

Growing up I was lucky when it came to food. Being from a multi-racial household, with a proud Jamaican dad and a naturally-gifted English cook-of-a-mum, every dinner was a mash-up of cuisines. Whether it was a made-from-scratch Caribbean stew that had an injection of dumplings or a typically British Sunday roast that was served up with a side of lightly fried plantain, dinner in my home, was always an explosion of flavour.

But before the start of my teens, I had a tricky relationship with the Jamaican patty. I remember feeling that this type of ‘fast food’ was so different to any other meals I would grab on the go with my friends, and at that age, ‘different’ didn’t always seem appealing.

So, unless it was covered in salt, fried in vegetable oil or classified as ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’, I didn’t want it. But in hindsight, perhaps a patty was just too accomplished for my unripe and still-developing tastebuds.

But that all changed the spring I turned 14. In 2007, Jamaican cuisine finally had its well-earned moment outside of Caribbean homes. It was the year that marked 45 years of Jamaican independence, and also the year Levi Roots launched his Reggae Reggae Sauce. And for me, it was the year I no longer craved that fake, fast and once-familiar type of food.

I remember visiting Cornfield Barkery in Thornton Health with my dad and older brother to queue up for their usual order of Hard Do Bread and enough patties to last until dinner. All I could smell was that glorious aroma of freshly baked pastry, mixed with spices sourced from tropical places far away. It was like a veil had been lifted and my stomach rumbled for a taste of my culinary heritage. And once I got my hit, it felt like home.

Between us, we ordered a mixture of beef, lamb and vegetable patties. And the rest, they say, is history.

Today, a patty brings the best of both my world’s together with my English and Jamaican descent. It’s both my past and my present all wrapped up into one piece of pastry-wrapped patty. Yes, the actual bakery where I get my patties from has had a glow up (or two). But thankfully the gloriously tried and tested recipe has remained suspended in time. Just like my love for it.

Nowadays my adoration for these patties is enduring, authentic and real. And for me, a love story doesn’t get any greater than that.

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