By Anthony Deyal
The British and other cultures make a big deal about not having your cake and eating it too. Unlike we Caribbean people, they see the possession and demolition of a cake belonging to you as two mutually exclusive options. The Germans say, “You can’t dance at two weddings”, a situation that poses no real problem or challenge for us in the region. The Russian equivalent is that you can’t sit on two chairs, especially if one is electric and you are in the Gulag where the only bread you can get does not have an “a” in it. The Yiddish version is like the Russian except in English it translates into, “You cannot sit on two chairs with the same butt or backside.” That is definitely not a problem for us since many (or most) Caribbean people, especially in an attempt either to hold a seat for a friend or discourage unwanted company, put their butts on one chair and their other possessions including their elbows or even feet on the other.
For any Caribbean person paranoid enough to lose sleep or worry about whether to leave a cake on the shelf or in the fridge without cutting off even a sliver, the simple solution is a piece of cake. Buy at least two cakes, eat one and leave the other one on the shelf to torment you or to prove that you are beyond temptation or gluttony. In which case it is better, as some of my friends believe and practice, to have your Kate and Edith, or if either one tells you to go and fish yourself, better have your bait and feed it.
Whether they have one or two cakes, the Brits have an expression “cakes and ale” to describe something that does not cause trouble, problems or worries. In other words, cakes accompanied by a sweet-tasting beer are a great way to deal with whatever ails you. On the other hand, English people left out of an event they really wanted to be part of, say they feel “like piffy on a rock cake”. While we all know what a rock cake is, it is a pity that nobody knows who “piffy” is, or was. In a way, using a word or name that you don’t know the origin or meaning of, truly takes the cake. In fact, given the many libraries and experts in their language that the British have, finding out who or what “piffy” was should be a cakewalk.
While in Guyana they pronounce “khaki” as “cakey” they all pronounce cake as delicious. My favourite is the “Tennis Roll” (Metemgee) which is a combination of milk, flour, melted butter, lemon zest, vanilla and eggs. While Guyanese, including my wife Indranie, consider it a “sweet bread” my view is that if you eat it with cheese you’re right, but because I eat mine without any frills and usually have it with considerable zest and my black coffee, as far as I am concerned it is a cake.
The other cakes in the Caribbean don’t have dual citizenship. However, some have colour complexes and complexions but co-exist in absolute harmony and much demand. Where else but here you will find white cake, black cake, yellow cake and brownies together? Or devil’s food cakes coexisting with angel food cakes and all selling like hot cakes? As someone who has spent time in every English-speaking Caribbean country, and lived in a few, I believe this is the true icing on the cake. Actually, I dare anyone, regardless of colour, creed, race, attitude, altitude or latitude, to tell me to shut my cake hole. Whoever tries this has to be as nutty as a fruitcake.
While most of our countries have the basic rum, black, and fruit cakes, Jamaicans have a very popular “Humming Bird” or “Doctor Bird” cake which, it is believed, was so named because of the yellow streaks of bananas in the mix. They also have a “Grater” cake which one “expert” says is not a cake but a candy because it is made with coconut, sugar and flavouring. There is no lesser cake but the usual insular differences in language usage cause some minor misunderstandings. For example, Jamaicans have a “Bulla” cake made with molasses and spiced with ginger and nutmeg. Unfortunately, in most of the rest of the region, a “Bulla” is a homosexual and the presence of molasses in the mix does not help.
Also, Jamaicans have a “Toto-Caribbean Coconut Cake”. At night, slaves hungry from working all day and not getting enough to eat, used to mix coconut molasses with flour to make “Toto”. They then cooked the mixture by placing it on top of hot coals, and also placing coals on the top. Unfortunately, in Trinidad, the word “toto” means “penis” and so the cake does not go down too well there. Worse, discussions about hunger for a meal of that commodity can be hotter than the coals and their placement.
Barbados has roughly the same mix of cakes like the rest of the region. However, it is the country that led me to wondering about the political leaders of the Caribbean and what cake names would best suit them, apart from what the cynics believe should be “Prison” cake also known as “vomit” or “punishment” loaf. There is no way that anyone (unless it is her political opponents) would consider this as befitting the Barbadian Prime Minister, Mia Mottley. Some people suggested “Chiffon”, others argued “Funfetti”, several suggested “Kiss” but the majority went for “Angel Food.” The suggestion of a “Matrimonial” or “Wedding Cake” did not enter the frame.
The Jamaican prime minister, Andrew Holness, did not fare as well. In fact, some Jamaicans are already wishing him farewell. A Jamaican resident in the US suggested a “Depression Cake”. However, given the prime minister’s initial victory and subsequent management of a difficult economy, we should first go for a “Peanut Butter Landslide Cake” but not completely rule out an “Oreo”, “Kahlua”, “Chocolate” or even “Blue Mountain Coffee Mudslide” as a possibility.
Heading down the Caribbean chain, I got a suggestion for another prime minister as either a “Fat Rascal” or a “Jelly Roll.” However, it is when I got to Trinidad and Tobago I was overwhelmed by opinions. One came up with “Ladyfingers” or a “Kiss” cake with two added words, one was “my” and the other a “rear” instead of a “rare” end. Another insisted that the state of the country was perfect for an “Upside Down” cake. Others went far afield with names like “Cremeschinitte” (essentially puff pastry), “Kladkaka” (a sticky cake with a soft center), and even “Croquembouche” which consists of pastry balls. My friend, Johnson made the point that the way the government is hitting on poor people it should be a “Pound” cake. A Facebook colleague claimed the country is falling apart and now that the government has lost its hold on the prime minister’s birthplace, Tobago, it should be a “Crum Cake” or “crumble”.
Even the government ministers came under fire with people talking about “Bun” cake and “Bon” them. A minister of unsubstantial height was described as a “Shortcake” and another, a lawyer, was thought to be a “Torte”, most likely wasted. The one that got to me was a lady who recommended I should name my column in recognition of the trio and call it “Tres Leches”.
*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that given the number of rackets we have in the Caribbean, every politician has to be addicted to Tennis Rolls.