Tristan da Cunha cooking

Albert J. Beintema

The main ingredient in the Tristan kitchen is the potato, which is grown on the island. Potatoes are being used for hot meals, with meat (most often mutton), fish, or rocklobster, which abound in the kelp zone around the island. But potatoes are also used for pastry. Some of the baking recipes are more than 100 years old, and date back to harsh times, when things like flour and sugar were scarce commodities, only to be obtained by bartering froms passing ships.

Tristan women like baking cakes, because there is always a birthday to celebrate, and even in stormy and rainy weather it is a common sight to see women hurrying through The Settlement, scarf tightly around the head, with a plate in their hands, covered with a clean cloth.

Tristan's most renowned cakes are the Potato Cakes, of which I give the recipe below (quoted from Tristan da Cunha Recipe Book by Pam Lavarello, Mothers' Union St. Mary Church, Tristan da Cunha).

First you have to make potato mixture, which can also be used to build apple pies and all sorts of other cakes or pies: take 1 lb cooked mashed potato, 5 oz flour, and a pinch of salt (do not add fluid). Mix together until smooth.

Step two: roll potato mixture out until half an inch thick. Cut potato cakes with suitable cutter (a wine glass will do nicely). Gather leftover, mix and re-roll. Fry in a deep fat until golden brown. Ingredients make about 15 potato cakes. Serve with of without sweeteneed cream or jam.

Cakes are said to be best when fried in petrel fat (from young Greater Shearwaters Puffinus gravis, which are annualle taking from the huge colony at nearby Nightingale Island).

Copyright A.J. Beintema, February 1997