Years ago I used to go out with a guy whose dad was from Barbados and he used to regale me with tales of warm Caribbean beaches and amazing food while we were sitting in my freezing cold kitchen in London. He often talked about conkies and I thought he was winding me up. What kind of name was that? My only access to the internet then was sneaking into the uni computer room without being noticed on while on my year out so it was hard to check.
I forgot all about these strangely named items until I went to the fantastic In a Pikkle last year for one of their legendary bottomless rum punch brunches and Barbadian hospitality. They came up in conversation somewhere around the second slice of rum cake and this time I did go home and Google them to see if they were real.
And not only were they, but they sounded delicious to boot. Made with grated pumpkin, coconut, cornmeal and spices before being wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, they are traditionally eaten in Barbados to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. As I’ve never celebrated Bonfire Night or been to Barbados in my life, I thought I’d give them a go in the slow cooker and see what all the fuss is about.
A little bit time consuming with the grating and steaming, they can be made a couple of days in advance and reheated or frozen til needed, they were so delicious the effort was well worth it. Ironically for a Caribbean treat, they’d be excellent served warm at a bonfire party in a cold British garden.
Bajan Slow Cooker Conkies (makes 20)
- 500g of a mix of pumpkin, sweet potato or carrot
- 150g desiccated coconut
- 75g plain flour
- 150g cornmeal or polenta
- 150g sugar
- 150g raisins
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 nutmeg, freshly ground
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond essence
- 120g melted butter
- 900ml milk
These are easy to adapt so everyone can eat them. Just use pumpkin and carrot if fodmapping. You could sub in spelt or gluten free flour if required and use non dairy versions of the milk and butter. I find desserts the hardest thing to make for people with dietary requirements so these could be very handy if dealing with a multitude of needs.
Start by grating your peeled vegetables. If you have a food processor, then note the distinct gleam of green in my eyes. You need to make a fine batter for the conkies so you’re going to grate those veg on the finest gauge of dimples and that is hard work. I found singing tunelessly helped distract me from my aching arm.
Put the grated vegetables in a large mixing bowl. The pumpkin smells amazing at this point like a sweeter version of cucumber that was a nice farewell to summer as the clocks went back. Add the desiccated coconut. If you have a random Halloween coconut in the house, by all means crack it open and grate the flesh of it too. Clearly you have better arm muscles than me.
Add all the dry ingredients including the fruit and stir them through well. I prefer things less sweet, but you could use up 200g of sugar if you like. Melt the butter and stir that in along with the vanilla and almond essences. Start adding the milk a cup at a time. You want a consistency to your conkies that is just turning into a batter but not liquid, so you might need more or less milk depending how moist your vegetables are.
When the batter is mixed, set aside and cut 20 squares of greaseproof paper about 20cm by 20cm. Measure out 20 lengths of string about 15cm long. You could do this first, but I actually found the way the paper rolls up took up more space when I was trying to mix stuff. If you have banana leaves handy, then you’re in luck. Tell me where you got them because even in Brixton, they are hard to find outside Christmas time for pastelles.
I used a 6.5 litre slow cooker for these and put seven small ramekins in the base. Six went in upside down and the seventh on its side to make a base on which to rest the conkies so they steam without touching the water which should come as far up up the ramekins as possible to allow this.
Lay out a piece of string, setting a square of greaseproof paper on top and put two spoonfuls of batter in the centre, neatening it up a bit with the back of the spoon if needed. Fold the paper like a parcel so the batter is completely enclosed and the ends are tucked in. Tie the string in a parcel bow too and snip any really long ends.
Set your conkie on top of the ramekins in the slow cooker crock as you wrap and tie each one. I got 16 into mine in about three layers, but all 20 will fit. I just wanted to steam some traditionally to test them for people who don’t have a slow cooker so kept some aside. (They took 50 minutes in my electric steamer FYI.)
Put the lid on the slow cooker and steam the conkies on high for 7-8 hours. The conkies should be firm to the touch when cooked. They are best served cooled for about 15 minutes before unwrapping if straight from the slow cooker. You can make in advance and give them about a minute or so in the microwave from frozen or 30-40 seconds from chilled.
They are excellent just as they are, eaten from the paper with your fingers or served with some ice cream as a dessert. They will be firm and glossy when cooked with a sweet, spiced buttery flavour that will convert anyone to pumpkin desserts even if they fear the traditional pie. They also made an excellent breakfast even if they did make me yearn for Bridgetown.