I have no recollection of when and how I learned to make chow. I could not tell you who showed me how to make it either. So, I guess I could take some creative license and romanticize the acquiring of that knowledge and skill to make a totally baseless claim. It is rumoured that every Trinbagonian is born with chow making skills. These skills lay dormant until they are activated sometime during childhood, usually around Plum or Mango season which coincides with the July/August vacation.
As a youthman me and my partners used to go on mango picking expeditions. Truth be told we just wanted a reason to knock about because almost every other home had a mango tree in the yard. Our yard had three mango trees, a Vere, a Starch, and a Julie but that had no bearing on the decision to knock about. It was all about the adventure.
What Makes A Chow A Bess Chow?
There are four integral factors in achieving a proper chow.
Choosing the right fruits
Choosing The Right Fruit
Unlike most Trinbagonians I do not believe all fruits should be “chowed”. As a matter of fact, the only fruits I would ever put in a chow are mango, plum and pommecythere. Every other fruit for me should be consumed as is.
There is one rule of thumb when choosing the fruits to make chow. The fruits being added to the chow should be at least 95% half ripe. You can go with 100% half ripe but never less than 95%. One does not simply fill their chow with ripe fruit. A chow should not be overly sweet. It should be tart, spicy, bursting with freshness and a hint of sweetness that MUST be achieved by adding ripe fruit.
Under no circumstances are you allowed to add sugar to a chow, this constitutes a crime against humanity. Recently I discovered that some people put ketchup in chow. These people should be identified and reported to the relevant authorities.
The ingredients for green seasoning are very straightforward. While there are no set measurements in terms of quantities of each item used and it is all subject to personal preference, there is a threshold that one should not fall under when using these ingredients.
For a three-ingredient green seasoning you should use Chadon Beni, garlic and pepper. The type of pepper you use depends on your tolerance for heat. Whether its scotch bonnet, habanero, scorpion or wri wri there should be some level of heat in your chow. A chow using pimento peppers or no peppers at all would not be something I would enjoy. You should also go heavy on the garlic, nothing less than one head of garlic is acceptable when making a chow.
This green seasoning is universal in its application. It doesn’t matter what fruit you are “chowing” this will add the requisite, quintessential flavor to any chow.
You can also add chives as a secondary herb in addition to the chadon beni to make it a four-ingredient green seasoning.
One should always blend or puree the ingredients of the green seasoning to bring them together. Whether you use a blender, food processor or mortar and pestle, the act of “bruising” the ingredients which breaks them down, extracts all the juices from them then allows them to meld is what creates the magical flavor of our green seasoning.
One does not simply chop up chadon beni, garlic and pepper, toss them together and call it green seasoning. Bruising must occur.
Using acid in chow is not only there for flavor but also acts as a preservative and stops the fruit from oxidizing. Citric acid works well to achieve this so many people use lime juice in their chows. However, I prefer to use something with a neutral taste like vinegar, so it does not obscure the flavor of the fruits or the green seasoning.
Salt is an extremely important ingredient when making chow. The addition of salt accentuates all the flavors in the chow and ties them together. It is also the magic ingredient that makes you salivate when eating a bess chow. Of course, the amount of salt you use is subject to taste so add to your discretion but keep in mind that a little can go a long way once you picked the right type of fruit and blended a perfect green seasoning.
A perfect chow is easy to accomplish with these four components working in unison. Back in the day no August vacation was complete without a couple chows being made. These days children are less exposed to fresh local fruit. So take this opportunity to make a bess chow with the yutes to ensure that chow making remains embedded in their DNA.