Sep 052016
 

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Today, the first Monday in September, is Labor Day in the United States and Canada. Ostensibly it honors the North American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their countries. Nowadays, however, the trade union and labor movement ties are relatively week, but the day makes a three-day weekend which people use as a last hurrah of summer.

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Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists in the US (where I will focus) proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor. “Labor Day” was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, which organized the first parade in New York City. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty U.S. states officially celebrated Labor Day.

In 1882, Matthew Maguire, a machinist, first proposed a Labor Day holiday while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York. Some maintain that Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor put forward the first proposal in May 1882, after witnessing the annual labour festival held in Toronto in Canada. In 1887 Oregon became the first state of the United States to make Labor Day an official public holiday.

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Following the deaths of workers at the hands of United States Army and United States Marshals Service during the Pullman Strike of 1894, the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve legislation to make Labor Day a national holiday and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law six days after the end of the strike. Cleveland supported the creation of the national holiday in an attempt to shore up support among trade unions following the Pullman Strike. The date of May 1 was an alternative date, celebrated then (and now) as International Workers Day, but President Cleveland was concerned that observance of Labor Day on May 1 would encourage Haymarket-style protests and would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that, though distinct from one another, had rallied to commemorate the Haymarket Affair on International Workers’ Day.

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The form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday: A street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” followed by a festival for the workers and their friends and families. This became the pattern for Labor Day celebrations. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the civil significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the Labor movement.

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Nowadays most of the overtly labor and union activities are muted in the US, and the day is seen primarily as a time for family gatherings. When I began working as a professor in New York in 1980 I was expected to work on Labor Day because students moved into the dormitories over the weekend and needed advising before commencing classes after Labor Day. This practice did not sit well with the faculty, especially in the Social Sciences – many of whom simply refused to work that day. The problem was solved about 10 years later when the university moved the start of term to the end of August, which allowed Labor Day to be a proper holiday for everyone.

Family barbecues and picnics are the order of the day. I always got a bit tired of big gatherings that tended to feature the same cast of characters year after year – hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, and beans. People in the US have a bad habit of looking down their noses at UK cuisine whilst overlooking the numbingly bland and repetitive aspects of their own cooking. For me, Labor Day was an opportunity to build a big blaze in my fire pit and grill or roast whatever I felt like.

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Roasted corn on the cob was always a big family favorite to complement meats and other vegetables. If you want to be dead simple and lazy, leave the cobs unshucked, remove as much tassel as you can without breaking the husk, and whack the cobs on a grill over your fire until the husks are charred and the insides are steaming. It’s best to place the cobs over medium heat for this. When cooked just shuck and enjoy.

If you want to have a bit more finesse, and less mess, shuck the corn cobs and wrap them in heavy aluminum foil along with a knob of butter. Then grill them in the same manner. Either way, the cobs will char a little, adding to the flavor. Cooking times vary, but usually 25 minutes are sufficient if you have a steady fire going.  With a foil wrapping you can check regularly before serving by opening the foil just a crack. Make sure you rotate all the cobs periodically so that cooking is even.

Either way, serve the cobs with extra butter, and a salt shaker for those who want it.

Jun 032016
 

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Today is Labour Day in the Bahamas, a national holiday celebrated on the first Friday in June. The original date of Labour Day in the Bahamas was 7 June, in commemoration of a significant workers’ strike/riot that began on that day in 1942, but was moved to a Friday in order to create a long weekend for workers. Labour Day is meant to honor and celebrate workers and the importance of their contributions to the nation and society. In the capital city, Nassau, thousands of people come to watch a parade through the streets, which begins at mid-morning. Bands in colorful uniforms, traditional junkanoo performers, and members of various labour unions and political parties are all part of the procession, which ends up at the Southern Recreation Grounds, where government officials make speeches for the occasion.

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The Bahamas, officially the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, is an island country of the Lucayan Archipelago consisting of more than 700 islands, cays, and islets in the Atlantic Ocean; north of Cuba and Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic); northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands; southeast of the US state of Florida and east of the Florida Keys. Its capital is Nassau on the island of New Providence. The designation of “Bahamas” can refer to either the country or the larger island chain that it shares with the Turks and Caicos Islands. As stated in the mandate/manifesto of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the Bahamas territory encompasses 470,000 km2 (180,000 sq mi) of ocean space.

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The Bahamas were the site of Columbus’ first landfall in the New World in 1492. At that time, the islands were inhabited by the Lucayan, a branch of the Arawakan-speaking Taino people. Although the Spanish never colonized the Bahamas, they shipped the native Lucayans to slavery in Hispaniola. The islands were mostly deserted from 1513 until 1648, when English colonists from Bermuda settled on the island of Eleuthera.

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The Bahamas became a British Crown colony in 1718, when the British clamped down on piracy. After the American War of Independence, the Crown resettled thousands of American Loyalists in the Bahamas; they brought their slaves with them and established plantations on land grants. Africans constituted the majority of the population from this period. The Bahamas became a haven for freed African slaves: the Royal Navy resettled Africans here liberated from illegal slave ships; American slaves and Seminoles escaped here from Florida; and the government freed American slaves carried on United States domestic ships that had reached the Bahamas due to weather. Slavery in the Bahamas was abolished in 1834. Today the descendants of slaves and free Africans make up nearly 90% of the population.

In August 1940, 4 years after his abdication of the British throne, the Duke of Windsor was installed as Governor of the Bahamas, arriving with his wife, the Duchess. Although disheartened at the condition of Government House, they “tried to make the best of a bad situation.” He did not enjoy the position, and referred to the islands as “a third-class British colony.” He opened the small local parliament on 29 October 1940. The couple visited the “Out Islands” that November, on Axel Wenner-Gren’s yacht, which caused controversy; the British Foreign Office strenuously objected because they had been advised (mistakenly) by United States intelligence that Wenner-Gren was a close friend of the Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring of Nazi Germany.

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The Duke was praised at the time for his efforts to combat poverty on the islands. A 1991 biography by Philip Ziegler, however, described him as contemptuous of the Bahamians and other non-white peoples of the Empire. I imagine that some of these feelings stem from being demoted from monarch of the British Empire to crown servant for a predominantly black commonwealth nation. Nonetheless, he was praised for his resolution of civil unrest over low wages in Nassau in June 1942, when there was the full-scale riot by workers that led to the commemoration on Labour Day. The history is rather mixed. The Duke blamed the trouble on “mischief makers – communists” and “men of Central European Jewish descent, who had secured jobs as a pretext for obtaining a deferment of draft,” which, in turn, marks his position as a Nazi sympathizer. The Duke resigned the post on 16 March 1945.

Bahamian cuisine includes seafood such as fish, shellfish, lobster, crab, and conch, as well as tropical fruits, rice, peas, pigeon peas, potatoes, and pork. Popular seasonings commonly used in dishes include chiles, lime, cilantro, tomatoes, onions, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, rum, and coconut. Since the Bahamas consist of a multitude of islands, notable culinary variations exist.

Bahamian cuisine is showcased at many large festivals, including Labour Day. Guava duff is a popular favorite. Duff is a British slang term for a boiled suet pudding adopted into Bahamian vocabulary for dessert dishes made with fruit (especially guava) in a dough. Fruit is folded into the dough and boiled, then served with a sauce. Ingredients include fruit, butter, sugar, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, flour, rum, pepper, and baking powder.

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This recipe is party sized for 12 people, but it can easily be cut in half for smaller groups. Even though it’s hot in June in the Bahamas, this is served warm.

Guava Duff

Ingredients

For the duff

12 -15 large guavas
3 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup sugar (plus extra)
¼ cup butter
¼ cup shortening
2 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla

For the sauce

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter
2 egg whites
1 tbsp rum

Instructions

Peel and core guavas. Cut the guavas into small dice and add sugar to taste in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Beat the butter and shortening with the sugar, then beat in the egg yolks. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt together and fold into the butter/egg mixture. Add the vanilla and mix until you have a firm dough.

Divide the dough into 3 balls, wrap, and refrigerate for an hour.

Roll out each ball on a piece of foil to form a fat rectangle. Divide the guava between the three and spread it evenly over each surface. Starting at one end, fold the dough with the guava into roll.

Wrap each roll with foil, place in a large, heavy zip top bag, and seal.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Gently place the bag in the boiling water, and boil for one hour. Keep an eye on the water level and top up with hot water from a kettle if necessary.

Remove the bag from the water, open up the duff packages, slice the duff and serve it warm with sauce spooned over the slices.

For the sauce:

Beat the egg whites in a mixing bowl until foamy but not stiff. Cream the butter and sugar in a separate bowl until they are well combined. Gradually add the egg whites and rum and continue beating until smooth.