Paama, the female protagonist of Redemption in Indigo, is not an author-insert. Case in point, I can't cook like her. I'm not bad at it, but I don't have that artist's touch. I'm more focused on the joy of eating than the joy of cooking. As a result, I went the easy route and invented some of the things Paama makes, like the lime-mint-and-ginger drink, the sugar spirals and the honey almond cake. Other dishes were based on actual recipes, like the hunter's stew with meats, spices and pepper, which I named after the real-life pepperpot.
There's one important thing that I didn't invent. Black cake is real. It's almost too good to be true, but it is real.
And forgive my tears, but I have just this moment recalled a certain jar that sits in her kitchen, filled with dried fruit steeping in spice spirit, red wine, cinnamon and nutmeg, patiently awaiting that day months or even years hence when it will be baked into a festival cake that will turn the head of the most seasoned toper.
That jar is real. That is the jar of my childhood, sitting on the kitchen counter throughout the year. It's the jar I packed into a suitcase and carried with me to various foreign lands when I felt unsure that I could find the precise ingredients that I needed or the food processor/blender/mincer to do the fruit just so. It's the jar I now buy from the supermarket (God bless the entrepreneur who filled that niche!) whenever I feel like. No more need to prepare months in advance!
There's a great irony in this. cou-cou when okras are scarce. And yet the one dish I can claim as my 'signature' is the one which requires the most advance thought. Of course, there's another way of looking at it. I can bake black cake and know that it will not spoil before I'm ready to eat it, for two reasons: one, it can last for years, preserved in sugar and alcohol; two, it tastes so good it won't last for a week.Much of my lack of cooking skill comes from a failure to foretell my whims and prepare accordingly. I will crave vinaigrette when there is no olive oil in the house, falafel in the absence of chick peas,
The North American Christmas Fruitcake... I don't think I've ever had it, but I've heard about it via some sitcom or humorist's column, depicted as an inedible artefact of tradition, doomed to a neverending round of regifting. Regift black cake? I have used this cake (and even mere promises of this cake) to bribe, to repay debts, to win friends, and to influence people. It has indeed caused tears of joy, nostalgia, tipsiness, and pure sugar rush.
This is not a fantasy cake. This is real cake. Go find someone to bake it for you.
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Karen Lord was born in Barbados in 1968. She holds a science degree from the University of Toronto and a PhD in the sociology of religion from the University of Wales. She has taught physics, trained soldiers, and worked in the Foreign Service. Redemption in Indigo is her first novel.
Books mentioned in this post
Karen Lord is the author of Redemption in Indigo