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Black cake: British Christmas pudding goes Jamaican … in Charlotte!

Tom Hanchett, December 2010blackcake

I’d passed the strip shopping center where Central Avenue meets Albemarle Road hundreds of times before I noticed the small sign “Island Grocery.”

Inside, you’re in Jamaica. Shelves overflow with Caribbean soft drinks, canned pigeon peas and ackee fruit, coconut milk, Pickapeppa hot sauce. Freezers hold ox tail, plantain snacks and dozens of ingredients for Caribbean cooking. I’m not much of a cook myself, but the possibilities sent me to the internet seeking Jamaican recipes.

No sense in Googling on an empty stomach, though. The grocery offers take-out portions of hot codfish fritters and meat pies, plus curry dishes accompanied by thin roti bread. I was craving something sweet. That’s when I saw the black cake.

Black cake is Jamaica’s version of British plum pudding. In Britain, plums and raisins and other fruits are marinated in brandy and brown sugar, then combined into a cake-like loaf.

Jamaica, a British colony until 1958, put its own twist on the tradition, adding island-made rum and molasses, and also finely chopping the fruit.

The result looks deceptively like chocolate cake. But taste is way different – imagine a rich, dense ginger-spice cake with lots of fruity raisin bits.

“Come Christmas time, this is what everyone in the islands loves. It’s tradition,” says Velma Baker behind the counter. Black cake is a favorite in the New York City area, as well. That’s where the grocery’s Jamaican-born owners Williford and Caroline Coke lived before coming to Charlotte.

I still haven’t cooked up any Caribbean recipes. But I keep going back to Island Grocery for more of that Google-friendly black cake.

Island Grocery and Caribbean Restaurant
5861 Albemarle Road
Charlotte, NC 28212
(704) 532 – 0322

Monday – Friday: 10am – 8pm
Saturday: 9am – 8pm
Sunday: closed

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