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Sowing Roots: Eloise Reed

I was born in North London to parents from Jamaica. I studied at primary schools and a secondary school in South London before spending a year in Jamaica. Whilst in Jamaica, at the age of 15, I attended High School. By coincidence, my British school uniform had the same pattern as the Jamaican school (in green).

This was the early 1970s. I studied a secretarial course but also found time for reading books about food, plants and nutrition in the school library. I wanted an education about our food supplies, God’s bountiful creation. We plant seeds but at the end of the day it is God’s nature which produces the final results.

‘I wanted to see how things are grown … what food has vitamins, which vitamin, K, D, C and riboflavin and zinc, and all the minerals, I wanted to know all of them……. So I read books about the yams, cocoa, plantain, how they’re grown and what vitamins you get from each thing. I went to the library and studied up on them.’ (quote from oral history interview)

I have photographs of breadfruit, banana and mango trees planted in Jamaica whilst I was there, which I still keep track of. The mango tree took 10 years to fruit.

The plant I associate most with my Caribbean heritage is ackee. Ackee and saltfish is the national dish of Jamaica. It’s delicate. Remove the ackee from the seed, par boil and fry with seasonings of one’s choice. When in your mouth, it melts. Ackee has to be prepared properly because parts of it are poisonous (the red parts).

Eloise (right)

I wish that plantain could be grown in the UK. I like to grow callaloo although I find spinach easier to cook with, as the leaves don’t need stripping. I also like to cook with okra. At Loughborough Farm where I have been gardening since 2012, my favourite plants are thyme and mint as they give flavour to savoury dishes (and mint for a cup of tea).

Growing up in London, I’d often be given Cerasee tea to drink as a child at home. This was a tradition brought over from the Caribbean. It’s a very bitter drink and can be bought in the UK as teabags which are not as strong as the leaves used in Jamaica.

My local park is Ruskin Park which I have been visiting since I was a child. Ruskin Park was popular in the 1960s and still is. There are park benches for the older generation and colourful flowers which delight all ages.

‘Well it’s a place I’ve been to all my life. I’ve been going there when I was little, when I was going to primary school.  It’s a place I’ve been going to from the ‘60s.’ Quote from oral history interview.