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Conkies are an integral part of Barbadian cuisine and are usually served during the month of November to celebrate Independence. They are made with corn, pumpkin, coconut and sweet potato and are cooked wrapped in green banana leaves. They are fairly labor-intensive to make and are therefore a prized addition to any meal.
It is thought that originally, conkies were served during the 18th century, when Barbados was still under British rule, to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day on 5 November. After independence was gained from the British Colonies, on 30 November 1966, conkies became a delicacy associated with Independence celebrations. They are served almost exclusively during Independence celebrations in November each year.
The process of making conkies takes time, as all the ingredients need to be finely grated to attain the desired consistency. The pumpkin, sweet potato and coconut are all grated finely and mixed together with corn flour, sugar and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Raisins or cherries may be added to the mixture.
When the ingredients are all mixed together smoothly, individual parcels are made in green banana leaves. The leaves are first singed by holding them above a flame for a couple of seconds. This makes them soft enough to fold easily. The conkies are usually served still wrapped in the banana leaves.
Once wrapped, the conkies are then steamed until they are firm to the touch, and served. The result is a beautifully yellow-orange cookie which is sweet and fragrant. A similar delicacy is made in Jamaica, which is called a duckanoo, or blue drawers. These are usually boiled rather than steamed.
Independence in Barbados is not only celebrated with the eating of delicious desserts such as conkies but is a month-long celebration of national pride. Important buildings such as the Parliament Buildings, businesses and traffic circles are lit up with the national colors, gold and blue, for the whole month of November. An arts festival to celebrate the country’s talents and various fairs and community events are run throughout the month.
Family tradition and togetherness play a major role in Barbadian culture and the making of conkies is included in this. The recipes are passed down from generation to generation and the whole family get involved in the making of the conkies – from the grating to the singeing of the banana leaves to the wrapping. Everybody is included in this celebration of independence.