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Solomon Gundy
"Solomon Gundy” is high on my list of words that are just fun to say. It rolls from the back of the mouth, twists the tongue around shifting vowels and then spits over the teeth in an exhalant last syllable.

Solomon Gundy, the Jamaican condiment, packs a similar kind of wrap-around-the-taste-buds punch. It is a mixture of mashed pickled herring, scallions, and hot peppers. It has a long, almost smoky flavour that works wonderfully well in cheese balls, sour cream and yogurt dips, pasta sauces, or dabbed onto a cheese and tomato pizza. But calling Solomon Gundy simply a fish paste, is akin to saying that Dijon and French’s are both mustards and giving no further explanation.

This is a condiment with baggage. It is not a coincidence that it comes from Jamaica, an island country with a more diverse population, and a cuisine with a broader range of ethnic influences, than either of its larger neighbours: Cuba and Hispaniola. At its best, Jamaican cooking is a wonderful international pastiche. The Spanish planted oranges and sugar cane, Africans introduced ackee and yams, East Indians brought in curry, the British gave it custard, etc. One of the oldest waves of immigrants were Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition. They arrived in the Caribbean with Columbus. Among their recipes, were several ways of preserving food with salt. One popular method of preserving fish became known as Solomon Gundy.

Would you believe that Solomon Gundy was the Jewish immigrant who first mixed Jamaica’s hot peppers with Northern European pickled herring? That’s a good story, but it’s wrong. The real etymology is less certain but there is strong speculation that the phrase comes from salame conditi, which is Italian for pickled meat. This was a common way of preserving food in medieval Europe. By the time the words and the process reached Britain, the phrase was garbled into Solomon Gundy. It later became famous in the children’s nonsense rhyme that begins “Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday....”

At that time, a Solomon Gundy was likely to be a plate of pickled meats or fish with onions and condiments. In fact, this is the way it is still served in some restaurants in Atlantic Canada: a piece of pickled herring and cocktail sauce. Real Jamaican Solomon Gundy, such as the Walker’s Wood brand, comes in a jar. It is common in grocery stores that feature Caribbean foods. There are several on the stretch of Victoria Avenue between Jean Talon and Van Horne as well as on Sherbrooke Street West between Decarie and Cavendish.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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