I recall spending summers with my cousins in Trelawny, a town in the Jamaican countryside.
The drive to my cousins’ house was long and winding and we’d have to travel up narrow roads that cut into the mountains. As a kid, I loved these rides. My uncle, like every Jamaican driver, drove fast, which meant the journey was like an amusement park ride.
Since it was impossible to see around the corners on the mountain, my uncle would beep his horn every time we suspected a car was coming from the other direction. In between laughing whenever I heard the horn beep, I’d peer out of the window and gaze down at the amazing scenery that lay before my eyes.
When the outdoors consists of crystal clear beaches, lush greenery, and picturesque mountains, it makes sense that nature is a destination by itself!
But my favorite part of the trip was when we stopped to enjoy some food outside. There’d be vendors with fresh fruit along the side of the street; I’m talking about everything from naseberries to guavas, jackfruit, star apples, and guineps (most of my non-Caribbean folks don’t even know half of these fruits!).
And of course, there’d also be open air jerk pits, with fresh jerk chicken and pork sizzling on the grill. Taking time to sit outside and enjoy a meal with family felt oh so good! And though we never used the word “picnic”, that’s exactly what it was.
Jerk chicken is almost as old as Jamaica itself and is believed to have been developed by enslaved Africans who escaped to Jamaica and combined their cooking techniques with the seasonings and spices of the country’s native Arawak people. Jerk chicken is, at its core, a dish that symbolizes rebellion against oppression and the uniting of different cultures through food. What could be better than that?
The term “jerk” refers to both the marinade used to flavor the meat and the method of cooking the chicken. Jerk marinade can be wet or dry, and usually has pimento (all spice), scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, and a mixture of different herbs and spices. Once marinaded, it’s typically grilled on pimento wood placed over a charcoal fire and is simply perfect for a picnic meal!
I hope that by making my baked version of jerk chicken for the inaugural BLACK FOODIE Picnic Day summer series, you and yours can enjoy the same amazing memories of outdoor eating that I had growing up in the Caribbean. Make this jerk chicken at home, then pack it up and enjoy it with friends outside —you’ll be glad you did!