We’ve accumulated a sleigh full of wonderful holiday recipes through the years, courtesy of our ever-voyaging readers who, in the spirit of giving, have shared some their favorites with us along the way. Each of these recipes are 100 percent galley-friendly and guaranteed to elevate your crew’s Christmas spirit on board. We think you’ll agree that the only thing better than the dishes themselves are the stories behind how they came to be. Here are four festive galley-borne delights submitted from around the globe to try out this season, wherever you may roam.
Caribbean Christmas Pudding
It was our first Christmas as cruisers, and it arrived rather unexpectedly. We’d been anchored for a couple of weeks on Picaroon, our Hardin Sea Wolf, at Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands. Without the traditional holiday cues—decorations, holiday parties and snow—we’d hardly noticed it was Christmas Eve when we were invited to join local cruisers for a potluck dinner the next day.
“Make figgy pudding!” insisted Philip, my British husband. Figgy pudding is a fond nickname for what we Americans call plum pudding, and I know of it only from English Christmas carols and holiday stories. I’d obliged and made it for several holidays running, but now lacked key ingredients on the boat. Then it struck me: Plum pudding is pretty much a denser, richer version of Caribbean black cake, also traditionally served at Christmas. With a recipe for neither, and no Internet access, I decided to improvise. And use lots of rum, just in case. The final result was still warm when we dinghied over to Willie T’s bar for the cruisers’ Christmas potluck. It was such a hit, even the bar’s local staff asked for the recipe! —Heather Hamilton
Jamaican Christmas Cocktail
All I was really after were some limes, but sometimes a simple errand can turn into an extended encounter—and a glimpse into local customs. I was in Port Antonio, a small city with a protected harbor at the foot of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains. One of the draws of the place—other than the excellent marina and the incredible natural beauty—was the opportunity to provision before my husband, Markus, and I set off for Panama’s San Blas islands on Namani, our Dufour 35. I was a woman on a mission, just breezing through—until friendly locals slowed me down.
At a tiny fruit stand I met Sophia, who made her living selling just a smattering of goods: a little citrus, a few spices; enough to fill a large basket, no more. Squeezed in with quiet Sophia were two friends, outgoing Evette and kindly Andrea, 20-something girlfriends chatting away. To my delight, they immediately pulled me into their conversation. When my eye fell on the ginger—lovely fresh ginger, so different from the wizened old knobs found at the supermarket back home—the young women mentioned “sorrel drink,” Jamaica’s traditional Christmas brew. Seeing that I had no concept whatsoever of this fabulous concoction, the three launched into the recipe, each repeating it in her own words so it might penetrate my thick head. It took me about ten iterations to understand the word “sorrel,” the way it rolled off their Jamaican tongues and traveled into my uncomprehending American ear. Cereal? Sonnel? Sorrel! Finally, I understood!
In Jamaica, sorrel is a type of hibiscus (hibiscus sabdariffa), and it’s distinctly different from the green similar to spinach called by the same name elsewhere. I asked where I might find it. Sophia glanced sideways at Evette, who looked suggestively at Andrea, who smiled widely. “I’ll get some!” she cried and disappeared into the market. Andrea eventually found some through a friend, and that afternoon, just as promised, Sophia presented me with a gallon-sized bag of wine-red Jamaican sorrel, at the bargain price of the equivalent of $1.
That evening, I brewed up my first batch of Christmas drink, my ears ringing with instructions in melodic Jamaican voices while the scent of ginger and sorrel filled the galley. My husband sipped and heartily approved. In the end, we made several different batches until we had a recipe that worked as both a refreshing ice tea and as a cocktail. With Christmas right around the corner, I’d gained—thanks to my new friends in Port Antonio—not only a lovely memory of Jamaica but also a recipe for a drink perfect for a tropical holiday celebration. —Nadine Slavinski
Christmas Chocolate Cake
I always remind my mother that cruisers have intentions, not plans. So, when our lack of intentions found us plying the exotic rivers and villages of Panama’s remote Darién province longer than we’d intended, I knew Christmas dinner wasn’t going to be “traditional.” Instead of eggnog, fruitcake, roast turkey, and pumpkin pie, it would be rum, fresh tropical fruit, grilled fish, and-what for dessert? No matter how far from home our more than seven years of cruising has taken us, my husband, Jim, and I have always managed to include a few traditional family favorites in our distant holiday meals.
Christmas morning dawned silent and gray over our idyllic anchorage on the winding Río Sabana. I was sleeping in—giving Santa a little more time to find us—and Jim was reading in the cockpit of our Tayana 42 cutter, Asylum. He didn’t hear the approaching dugout until the old guy in the leaky little canoe held up a bucket and called out, “Camarones!” A bag of rice, some cooking oil, a couple of onions and a few stale trading cigarettes cinched the deal. Not exactly the same as cookies and milk disappearing from under the Christmas tree, but when I awoke to the news of several pounds of fresh shrimp on board, it was enough to make me believe in Santa Claus again. Christmas dinner was taking shape.
The day before, we’d meandered up the river for about six miles in Nut Case, our well-worn dinghy, until the river forked and headed left to the village of Santa Fé, which we’d been told was about ten minutes away. Our excursion was part exploration and part foraging: to see what items on our modest Christmas-dinner shopping list the little tiendas might have, and to see if there might be for sale any of the hand-woven palm baskets for which Darién is famous. The narrowing river wound along for much more than ten minutes, and when we finally reached a landing, it wasn’t Santa Fé. Without enough water in the tidal creek to keep going, we left the dinghy on the gooey mud bank and hitched a ride in a car that epitomized the term rattletrap for the 15-minute, bone-jarring trip to the village.
Santa Fé turned out to be a tropical Dodge City: Saddled horses waited patiently at hitching posts; shops and bars lined the wide, dusty main street; and tall fruit trees provided shade for men in spurs to swap their news. We spotted a small melo, where you can buy anything from Tang to baby chickens, and it didn’t disappoint. The tiny refrigerator yielded two huge surprises: eggnog and turkey hams. Stacked at the counter were little fruitcakes. After those amazing discoveries, I even checked the shelves for pumpkin-pie filling. But it didn’t matter that there was none. I had the recipe for another family favorite, one that always thrilled us as children when mom made it: a sinfully delicious chocolate cake that forms its own pudding-like frosting as it cooks. It was the perfect cap to a perfect Christmas for cruisers.
Christmas Star Cookies
As active seasonal cruisers seeking winter warmth, usually in the Bahamas, my husband, Radd, and I have spent many winter holidays aboard our Island Packet 40, Sasha, far away from family and friends back home. We do miss the gatherings and traditions, but no matter where we are, we try to embrace new ways of celebrating—joining local celebrations or attending local services—while preserving a few tried-and-true traditions from our land life.
Nassau, on New Providence Island in the Bahamas, was the backdrop for one of our most memorable holidays. We arrived a few days before Christmas, got settled, and then set out to explore. That day’s mission was to visit the Bacardi distillery. In all our cruising destinations, when venturing beyond walking distance of our harbor, we always use whatever public transportation is available (if any). Yes, we’re frugal cruisers, but public transport is a great way to interact with local people and absorb the culture. It’s always far more interesting than taking a taxi.
In Nassau, we were lucky: There’s an extensive bus system. New Providence is a fairly large island; if you want to head away from Nassau harbor and the downtown area to the island’s south side (“over the hill,” as the locals say), you must hail a taxi, get a ride or take the bus. After ensuring that we were going in the right direction, we asked our friendly bus driver if the Bacardi distillery was on the route.
“No,” he replied, with a sorrowful head shake. Then, his face lit up with a wide smile. “But I’ll take you there.”
And away we went, the only two riders on the bus. Once we got “over the hill,” we discovered a whole different world: homes with yards, small shopping centers, and no tourists. Eventually, we were out in the country. The driver took us right to the distillery’s entrance. We expressed our heartfelt thanks, and then he asked, “What time do you want me to pick you up?”
The friendliness and courtesy of the Bahamian people are astounding. After a pleasant tour and, of course, a rum tasting, we emerged with several bottles of Bacardi to restock our near-empty liquor locker on board. Sure enough, our new friend retrieved us at the appointed hour, and back “over the hill” we went.
Back on the boat, feeling festive, I formulated a plan. For as long as I can remember, my mom made special cookies for Christmas Eve. They were moist and creamy, with a hint of peanut butter perfectly complemented by chocolate centers. She always used packaged Brach’s Chocolate Stars, so we called them Star Cookies.
Of course, she passed down the recipe, one she’d modified through trial and error. I began to gather ingredients on the boat and realized that I had everything but the chocolate stars. It didn’t matter: The cookies are delicious with any small, solid-chocolate candy pieces for the centers. You can use dark chocolate, milk chocolate, even white chocolate.
When Christmas Eve arrived, we rode the city bus again, this time to attend a holiday service at the magnificent 300-year-old Christ Church Cathedral, a Nassau landmark. In yet another demonstration of Bahamian courtesy, a different driver apologized profusely for not being able to take us directly there but promised he’d get us within a short walk. We both wore wide smiles as easy-listening Christmas carols blared out of the bus speakers.
Late that night, back aboard Sasha, we feasted on the cookies, along with eggnog spiced with fresh nutmeg and a healthy shot of our recently acquired rum. Turns out it’s possible to be home for the holidays after all. —Lorelei Johnson
Do you have a favorite boat recipe? Send it to us for possible inclusion in Sailor & Galley. Tell us why it’s a favorite, and add a short description of your boat and where you cruise. Send it, along with high-resolution digital photos of you aboard your boat, to [email protected].