In tandem, we are learning about the appalling conditions that have existed in Haiti for centuries. For an excellent account of Haiti’s history and the reasons for its poverty, read this important article, “The Land Where Children Eat Mud,” by Alex von Tunzelmann.) That said, my personal experience of Haiti and Haitians are quite wonderful.
I grew up in Nyack, NY, where there is a large Haitian community. Throughout my childhood I heard harrowing stories from friends about their parents and relatives who had been political prisoners and how they forged their way to the United States. The church I attended used to hold a Haitian Mass that was said in French and Creole. Musicians crowded the church with guitars, horns, and drums while everyone, impeccably dressed in suits, dresses and fancy hats, sang along with their full voices and made the English services seem painfully dull.
My high school’s Haitian Culture Club hosted a vigorous student debate to discuss the reinstatement of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as well as a presentation by film director and neighbor Jonathan Demme on his collection of Haitian art and his travels in Haiti. I also attended birthday parties where we drank Cola Lacaye, danced to Haitian music, and ate sweet potato bread.
While sitting here watching the news coverage, I somehow keep thinking about that bread. President Obama said in his Wednesday statement that “this is a time when we are reminded of the common humanity that we all share.” I believe food is one of the best ways we gain access to the experiences of each others’ lives and cultures.
Here’s a recipe for Haitian Sweet Potato Bread, courtesy of a Taste of Haiti:
Haitian Sweet Potato Bread
Prep time:15 minutes
Cook time:90 minutes
Makes 1 9×13-inch pan
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled
- 1 large banana, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon reserved
- 1 1/2 cups (12 fluid ounces) coconut milk
- 1 1/2 cups (12 fluid ounces) 12 oz. evaporated milk
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup raisins
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grate the sweet potatoes into a large bowl and mash the banana into the sweet potatoes.
Add the rest of the ingredients (except the 1 tablespoon brown sugar) and mix until the batter is fully incorporated with a puddinglike consistency.
Spread evenly into a 9×13-inch baking pan and evenly sprinkle the remaining brown sugar over the top.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before serving.