Friday, 20 March 2009

Provisioning Tips So Far!

Stocking up on canned tomatoes, corn, etc. is the easy part of provisioning for the Bahamas.
It takes imagination to come up with creative ideas for meals when fresh produce is in short supply or very expensive.  We love to see what other cruisers come up with when we get together.

Pothole farming.  Naturally formed and man-made holes in the limestone help to direct and retain water.  This hole is about ten feet deep and about as wide.  There's a healthy bunch of bananas on that plant and a papaya tree.  

Sapadilla.  The trees are scattered all over and produce lots of fruit.

It is now 4 months since we started cruising on Bristol Rose. We have learned some lessons along  the way about provisioning for the Bahamas.
Not bad for his first lobster.  How do you like Robert's "stash"?

Hunters and Collectors: An important part of our Bahamas experience is hunting down fresh food - fishing, and collecting provisioning tips and recipes from other cruisers. We have had some success with catches of Dolphinfish (Mahi Mahi), Mutton Snapper, Spanish Mackerel and Spiny Lobster. We like to skin all our fish as soon as possible to remove any strong flavors. As well as barbcuing the meaty lobster tail, we also boil the remaining bits (head and legs) which we pick clean.   It's not difficult but most people discard the head and legs of the spiney Bahamas lobster when they could harvest perhaps enough for a lobster salad.  

Barbecue Lobster with garlic butter.  Thanks to Diana, the cat Whiskers, for this perfect recipe.

So far we have not been tempted to collect Barracuda or Conch (pronounced konk). Large Barracuda carry the potential for ciguatera poisoning although fellow cruisers will eat the smaller ones around 2 feet in size. Conch is abundant but only those with a “fully-formed lip” may be harvested. They are messy to clean. We are more than happy to support the local Bahamians by purchasing conch dishes, expertly prepared and readily available, than to take and prepare the conch ourselves. Our favorite Bahamian dishes are conch salad (diced raw conch, tomato, onion, green peppers, cucumber, juice of key limes and sour orange, and some bird peppers), and cracked conch (lightly battered and fried).

Various cruising books include long lists for provisioning for circumnavigation. Supermarkets in the larger population centers in the Bahamas are well stocked so you’re not likely to empty your food stores or risk starvation. You might also be surprised by prices, high and low. For example, snack foods like corn chips will be double in price while frozen meats from the US are sometimes cheaper per pound in larger towns of the Bahamas! Even so, although the Bahamas is very close to the United States, it could be a world away when you have a hankering for your favorite chocolate, salad dressing or beer. Stock up on your own personal comfort foods!

You can expect to find the bare essentials, milk, crackers, canned vegetables and juices, etc. but choice is limited and remember that on the less populated cays, (pronounced keys) pickings will be slim indeed. Plus, you won’t have the convenience of a car or bus when cruising so purchase bulk quantities of heavy necessities like laundry detergent, vinegar, etc. before you leave to minimize the need to lug heavy items over long walks. (Thanks, Pat of Homeward Bound for that tip before we left!).

Tracking down fresh produce is more of a challenge. We stocked up on fresh produce that keeps well; potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, cabbage, salami, camembert cheese, prior to leaving the USA.  The "green bags" for storing fruit and vegetables unrefridgerated really work to keep food fresher, longer.  Thanks Betsy, of Feelin' Lucky for the tips and the bags!

Smart cruisers get to know the mail boat schedule on each cay. Fresh produce arriving on a weekly basis is quickly bought up and days before a delivery, the shelves may be bare. Local produce is hard to find but well worth the hunt. The islands are dry and soil almost non-existent.  Look for homes or roadside stands selling small quantities of home grown produce. Tomatoes, Green Peppers, Bird Peppers, Pineapple, Papaya and Star Fruit have been great finds for us.

Some of our provisioning favourites, shared for Bahamas-bound cruisers:

Canned butter - not merely an essential; it’s sheer luxury! We purchased by mail order before leaving the States but found it is easily available in the Bahamas and it keeps very well. As much as we hate to admit it, we have to say the New Zealand butter is the best in the world (our Kiwi friends will understand the reluctant compliment given the competitive, friendly rivalry that exists between the two nations)!  We also stocked up on cans of Greek, Zorba brand dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) and found the plastic lid that comes with the can perfectly fits the canned butter.  Our dolmades are the first thing to disappear at cruisers' gatherings.  

The Aussie canned processed cheese, on the other hand, is no substitute for cheddar which is readily available, but could be a good substitute for Velveeta. This brings to mind the dreaded, boxed “mac and cheese” eaten by kids in the US. It came as a surprise to us that macaroni and cheese is a common dish served in the Bahamas although it bears little resemblance to the boxed version. Mac and cheese aside, the USA is great for provisioning prior to leaving for the Bahamas.  

Pick up a Ham whenever you can – not the spiral cut. A shoulder or leg of ham, bone in, will keep well in a ham bag and create many options at meal time.

Flour and Yeast for baking bread and making pizza base. We find the local Bahamas bread too sweet for our taste plus nothing beats the smell of fresh bread cooking in the galley.  We included dried fruits, nuts and seeds in our stores and experiment with different kinds of breads.

Nestle Canned Table Cream (look in the international section of the USA supermarket, Asian stores, also available in larger supermarkets in the Bahamas) and Canned Fruit (best bought prior to arriving in the Bahamas), a must for dessert while anchored in the lee of a deserted Cay. This cream may be an Aussie thing but give it a try when you need a sweet fix.

Chocolates and snacks! Stock up before the Bahamas. Also Brownie Mix is a great substitute for the much needed chocolate fix.

If you like Coffee in the morning then stock up well prior to the Bahamas. We must have our morning coffee and also enjoy a cup of Tea during the day. With such a vast range to choose from in the USA, it’s worth stocking up.

Rubs and Spices are a must to spice up fresh seafood and meats. Chef Paul Prudhommes are among our favorites.

Pick up a supply of Curry Pastes and Chutneys to create quick and easy meals. Look for Kitchens of India Fish Curry and Butter Chicken Curry.   Of course curry must be served with a choice of pickles or chutneys.

Package Rice Mixes, many to choose from in the USA, easy to store and prepare.

Canned Chicken, we found this great from making a delicious chicken salad.  Aussies may not know it but Chicken Salad is standard fare in the USA and we have grown to like it on sandwiches or as a croissant filling.

Finally, a couple of books we are glad to have aboard Bristol Rose, interestingly, both written by Kiwis:
The Essential Galley Companion by Amanda Swan-Neal (thanks Linda and Patrick for the gift), and Sip to Shore, Caribbean Cocktails & Hors d'oeuvres by Capt. Jan Robinson.

We bought the latter at the Annapolis Boatshow, where we met the author.  There are many, many books out there with all kinds of provisioning information.  After 4 months, from Maryland through the islands of the Bahamas, we are looking forward to getting to the Dominican Republic to re-provision there.  The tip is that the local produce is plentiful and good.

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