Green paw paw balls and paradise plum.

I wonder why they don’t give up on Carnival or Brushing, dat hard? …That’s an old time tradition learned from generations far back.

At the steps of the Central Market in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, a sweet vendor laments about her future of her home-made sweets. Her face says it, in doubt and uncertainty. Are my confectioneries going to sell-out? ..Meh Cassava Pone, my Coconut Fudge which ah bun up meh hand over a pot, and the Guava Cheese…all dat sifting.

Is me and me alone slaving over a hot fire. Young people are just not interested with these old time traditions, it’s too hard for dem,I don’t need people to tell me that, meh Pone stale, meh Salt Nuts stiff, or Channa soft.-

It used to be a common phenomenon, the village, church or school bazaar with stalls selling all manner of handicraft, second hand books, plants, games of chance and food. Everyone went to them, it was a chance to socialize, meet that special “someone”, grab up a bargain or just “gape”. It’s something that we’ll talk about later, first things first. One of the acknowledged treats was the sweet stall with things like bazaar cake – a dense sponge cake, so rich that it clung to the inevitable brown bag coating it with grease and crumbs. Lovely homemade fudge, creamy, dreamy, so sweet that your teeth hurt but so good that you had to have some more. Sugar cakes made from grated coconut and sugar, floridly coloured Pepto Bismol pink or more restrained white. Nut cakes, dark molasses filled toolum, brown sugared tamarind balls, jade green paw paw balls, and paradise plum. All labour intensive to make but every child’s dream causing many a parent to lose their patience demanding a choice of one. she says. Tanti stands behind her product, if there are occasions her baked cakes stay longer than a day, she takes it home or gives to away.

For many years, you could go into neighbourhood parlours, shops that catered to the needs of the community, and see the ubiquitous glass jars filled to the brim with those sweets. Those see through jars tantalized and enticed you with their visions of goodness, you could see the merchandise, and even more the smell of sugar or fresh coconut filling the shop every time they were opened. All your good intentions went by the wayside and as a child; you hoped that there would be enough change left from whatever you were sent to buy so you could get a little sweet. The shopkeeper’s wife or a “neighbour lady”, usually called Auntie Something by all and sundry was often responsible for the manufacture of these confectioneries. Then there was the sweet lady who would pass around with her basket filled with treats. These sweet ladies could also be found at the roadside with stalls with their wares proudly displayed in attractive colourful heaps covered by a length of clear plastic or sometimes just the round brown baskets surrounded by many happy customers.

Over the years the population, bombarded with advertisements for foreign sweets, M&M’s, Cracker Jacks, sweeties etc, started bypassing local sweets in favour of the mass market items. Many of the “ladies” got older and the skill slowly started to die out, there were easier ways to make money and it became quite hard to find young people who wanted to learn the trade. Yet ironically, with the tourist trade, there came a demand from people wanting to taste our “Trinidadianess” and local sweets made a small comeback with handmade versions which can be found at quite high prices at up-market kiosks in the mall, sold as “heritage” sweets. While you can still see them sometimes at small shops or from sweetie ladies who come around gone are the days when you could find the homemade version everywhere.

Several manufacturers realizing that there were whole generations nostalgic for things that reminded them of their youth to share with children and grandchildren started to make and package local sweets for sale in supermarkets and shops. But really, it’s not the same as walking up to the shopkeeper with your money gripped in your hand, picking out that piece of fudge from the glass jar and having it wrapped in a piece of brown paper.

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