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Windrush descendants celebrate how Caribbean cuisine changed British food

todayAugust 12, 2023 8

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Windrush descendants celebrate how Caribbean cuisine changed British food

A chef, a grocer and Britain’s only black farmer have spoken of the profound impact the Windrush generation has had on the nation’s culinary habits.

Thursday marks the 75th anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush arriving in Britain on 22 June 1948, carrying 500 of the first wave of post-war Caribbean immigrants.

When the Windrush generation first started to arrive on British shores, there would have been a lot for them to get used to.

The cold, the fog and almost certainly the food.

Colin Mitchell runs one of the first Caribbean supermarkets to be established in Nottingham, founded by his father, Clifton in 1955

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Colin Mitchell runs one of the first Caribbean supermarkets to be established in Nottingham, founded by his father, Clifton, in 1955

“All that was available was short grain rice, and that wasn’t very nice,” says Collin Mitchell, who runs one of the first Caribbean supermarkets to be established in Nottingham, founded by his dad, Clifton, in 1955.

“People wanted their own food, they wanted their plantain, sweet potato, yam that kind of thing; their Dahseen and cassava.”

But in order to provide these tropical goods, his father would first have to work down the mines – facing challenges and discrimination on the way.

“There was a cultural barrier, trying to get through with the bank to get financing and so on was not easy,” Colin told Sky News.

Neither was getting hands on the produce.

“He would have to get up very early in the morning and travel to Liverpool docks, just to get the produce and bring it back. So he spent many hours on the road.”

Now, 70 years after Clifton set up his shop, it is still a staple of the community in Alfreton Road, Nottingham.

But as the demographic of the community has changed, so has his customers.

Colin says it’s still a place, a community hub of sorts, where people compare recipes from all over the Caribbean.

But now the shop also gets visitors from all different backgrounds.

“It’s probably one of the fastest-growing trends. They taste the food, that decides [if] they want to try and cook it”, he said.

Chef Kiesha Sakrah says the contributions made by Windrush descendants

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Chef Kiesha Sakrah says food keeps people connected to their culture and traditions

Kiesha Sakrah is a chef currently working on a book about the history of Caribbean food and its influence on British culture.

She says that without the Windrush pioneers who introduced these foods to Britain, “we wouldn’t be able to stay connected to our culture”.

“It’s those foods that kept us connected to those traditions and just everything that my grandparents refer to as a ‘back home’,” she told Sky News.

She says the contributions that generation made “sometimes go unnoticed”.

“The contributions that generation has made to the UK as a whole today is massive. They really have contributed to the fabric of the UK.”

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE is the first black farmer in the country, providing produce to major supermarkets.

Britain's first black farmer, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE, joined his parents after they settled in Birmingham

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Britain’s first black farmer, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE, joined his parents after they settled in Birmingham

Food has always played a huge part in his life.

In fact, because he joined his parents a few years after they had settled in Birmingham, his mum’s cooking was one of the few things he recognised.

“Things that were familiar were quite important,” says Wilfred.

“And the only thing that was familiar was the type of foods that I would be having back in Jamaica”.

Traditional Caribbean food allows people to stay connected to their culture as well as influencing British cuisine

Image:
Traditional Caribbean food allows people to stay connected to their culture as well as influencing British cuisine

Later, he says “as a way of supplementing the family income” he would help his dad out on the allotment.

“This allotment really became my oasis, away from the misery of living in inner city Birmingham at the time.

“And I remember making a promise to myself that one day I’d like to my own farm.”

It would take decades to achieve, but now that Caribbean boy who travelled here decades ago sells the most typically British product.

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Alford Gardner told Sky News there was ‘lots’ of discrimination upon his arrival in the UK

“The Black Farmer really got our reputation from our sausages,” says Wilfred.

“I decided I wanted to be very mainstream, and I thought: ‘Well, what is it that everybody in this country loves?’ Everybody loves the sausage.”

And now, thanks to him, it’s also available jerked – a true fusion of British and Jamaican cuisine.

The Caribbean-inspired drink and food industry is now estimated to be worth around £115m.

But Wilfred thinks it should be even bigger.

Read more:
The descendants of the Windrush generation who changed Britain
New 50p coin to mark 75th anniversary of Windrush arrivals
How Windrush scandal changed the course of landmark game

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Windrush victims compensation battle

He hopes his story, as well as those who came before him, will inspire younger generations to follow in their entrepreneurial footsteps.

“It takes a lot of courage to leave everything you are familiar with, everything that you know, to come to another country, to better your life.

“So being an entrepreneur is very much a part of our DNA. Because for everyone that came, there’s a lot more that didn’t have the courage to do that,” he added.

“I think it’s very, very important, especially on something like the 75th anniversary of Windrush Day to remind people that it was a very brave entrepreneurial thing to do.”

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