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Be healthier, save money with Shirley Hall’s complete garden guide

Sunday, May 13, 2012
Author Shirley Hall, right, with Lystra Tang, director, Peake Trading Ltd, at the book signing.


Healthy eating and anti-obesity campaigns are commonplace the world over as we try to combat a global epidemic surrounding unhealthy eating. Shirley Hall’s latest book, The New Caribbean Home Garden Handbook, is filled with instructions on growing and cooking over 160 fruits and vegetables available in the Caribbean, promising better health and the opportunity to cure illness with a proper diet. Hall offers a complete guide to herbal and food therapy by providing in-depth definitions of the many fruits, vegetables and herbs that are grown in the region. These definitions look into the history and origins of each item while providing recipes for readers to explore their cooking skills by utilising local produce. The first section in the book looks at the garden itself and Hall walks readers through all that is needed to start successful home growing. From water, transplants and fertilisers to compost, gardening with the moon and disease prevention, no detail is spared in assisting readers to get up and running. 
She offers handy tips on how to make your own tools, further extending the cost-effective benefits of gardening at home. Hall describes the ease of having a productive, self-satisfying garden, while still able to own eye-catching back garden landscape with attractive vegetables. She calls it “low budget elegance” and says that its success is solely dependent on effort and continual maintenance. Hall identifies the best garden innovation as the motorised string trimmer or the weed wacker. These can be used for land clearing, weeding between rows as well as keeping drains open and flowing. The second section, which represents the bulk of the book, takes the reader on a journey through the various spices, herbs, fruits and vegetables that populate the islands of the Caribbean. She provides definitions and origins of each, while adding recipes, holistic remedies and the calorie intake. The usual suspects are in there including paprika, thyme, aloe vera and nutmeg, while not the not so popular include mace, dill and tonka beans. 
The nutmeg tree is the only tree that grows two spices, namely nutmeg and mace. The book describes mace as “similar to nutmeg with a slightly better aroma.” It is the bright red skin that is removed by hand after the nutmeg is harvested. It is then left to dry in the sun. Mace is used to add flavour to baked goods, meat and fish dishes, sauces and vegetables. A whole dried mace is called blade. Five grams of mace has roughly 25 calories. Interestingly, one productive acre will produce 500 pounds of nutmeg but only 75 pounds of mace, making mace more valuable than nutmeg. According to Hall, records show that in 14th century England, one pound of mace was worth three sheep. She concludes the note on mace citing chocolate cherry pieces, coconut muffins. All day yam bread and spice cabinet mix are recipes that use mace. 
Local remedies
The fruit section of Hall’s book is populated with our favourites but again, she includes those that are less known including fat pork, hog plum, pomelo, tangelo and dunks. Fat pork is described as a specialty fruit formally known as the icacos plum. It is also known by other names including the coco-plum, cotton plum, icaco, icaque ponne, pork fat-apple or zicate. Hall describes this fruit as a “small, pinkish fruit about the size of a big plum” and its fruit is “usually flushed pink colour but they can be white or purple.” Native to Mexico, central America, South America and throughout the Caribbean, tea made from its leaves is reported to help control diabetes type II while a tea from its bark may help kidney ailments. Another interesting fruit is the pomelo, which is the largest of citrus fruits and is ancestor of the grapefruit. The name pomelo is Dutch but the fruit is usually called shaddock in Trinidad. One cup of pomelo has only 70 calories and is high in potassium. Hall says the Chinese believed that a bath with water from the boiling of pomelo husks will cleanse a person and repel evil. Hall goes on to cover roots, vegetables, nuts, grasses and trees before moving on to the book’s last section which is a nutrition guide for those calorie counters out there as well as an extensive list of remedies using locally grown produce. Thyme is listed as an antiseptic with deodorant properties. Young sapodilla fruits can be boiled and eaten as a bush remedy for diarrhoea. Mint for indigestion, headache and rheumatism. Pineapple aids digestion due to its juices being very similar to the juices of the stomach. Cumin and ginger are listed as cures for bloating while aloe vera and carrots are down as blood cleansers. All in all, Hall’s latest book looks at the pros of starting your own home garden not only from a nutrition and cost-effective point of view but also a great way for the family to spend time together. 
How HALL’s book germinated
The New Caribbean Home Garden Handbook is the culmination of six years of research and experience in gardening. Hall’s grandparents were farmers growing rice and sugar cane in Felicity, Trinidad. As a child, her family had a stall in the Chaguanas market, where her mother, aunts and uncles worked. Her father drove a tractor in the Caroni cane fields. Everyone worked, lived and ate by the garden. Farming was a way of life and was a way of bettering the children’s lives. It was through the garden, the farming effort and the market that the children and grand children got educated. Hall’s grandparents and parents, like so many others, worked hard to ensure their children would not endure the sugar cane and rice fields. All of Hall’s siblings retained the love of the garden.
Hall’s education began at Freeport Presbyterian School, then to Holy Faith Convent before tertiary school. Education provided employment at management jobs. Hall found that the best stress relief from a hectic day was by utilising her hands to grow vegetables and flowers in her home garden. She even had window and patio boxes for fresh kitchen spices like chives and chadon beni.  After some years Hall was able to grow all of T&T’s vegetables, cook them into delicious, healthy dishes and finally make gardening her full-time employment. Hall said her love of gardening expanded as she used the Internet to research every vegetable and fruit that could be grown in the Caribbean. This research led to writing short articles on various vegetables. Eventually Hall was permitted national exposure through a local newspaper column —Shirley’s Garden—From Seeds to Serving, which began in 2004. That is how her book, The New Caribbean Home Garden Handbook, germinated.
This book is an expansion of the articles coupled with her personal knowledge of gardening. Hall loves to plant and watch the positive energy of growth, and never having to buy any vegetables for our table. She expressed a sincere hope that this book will guide others to find enjoyment, relaxation with healthy exercise in a home garden. Growing your own food can positively benefit your health.


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