Special Programs

  • Look here for upcoming Special Events, Special Tours to join, and Special Pricing





  • A great month for gardens, celebrations, and all of our tours

November 2013

  • Bi-annual International Choral Festival. Calling all choristers and music lovers – international choirs invited. Non-competitive festival.

For the Love of Food

I was going over the menus we have used in the last couple of months, and realized how much we have come to rely on a new Indian Cookbook we were given. Victoria Sidhu – Rani to her friends and readers, has presented more than another cookbook of Indian food. The book includes her romantic story of falling in love and going to India. The food is from the Punjab, redolent with fragrant spices, full of veggies, our clients have loved every mouthful. For those not accustomed to Indian food, Rani has prepared suggested menus, so if you just want something different as a starter, browse the menus and get tempted into several.

Living in Santiago de Cuba, you get used to wonderful fruits and vegetables that encourage you to experiment. Yesterday for the vegan staying with us – crispy fried potatoes (yes there were actual potatoes in the market) and fresh okra crispy fried, and onions the same, then baked to get rid of the oil and tossed in spices – what a feast of tastes!

One of the great benefits of the Special Period, is that it forced Cuba to start along the road to food self-sufficiency. As a result we have organic vegetables as the norm, not an expensive option. And most of our vegetables grow very near the city, with just a few kilometers between the farm gate and the market.

And every year there is more variety, more flavour, better conditions, and longer seasons. One of the difficulties has been seeds. All seeds and plants react to daylight hours, which is why Italian and southern French grapes grow wonderfully in California, or in Niagara, and not at all in more northern climes, no matter the temperature. You can travel your seeds east and west, not north and south! At the start of the Special Period, Cuba was importing its seeds. Beetroot came from Holland and Japan, carrots from Europe. The yields were low and the vegetables strange tasting. Even tropical vegetables had low yields, and without fertilizer and pest control the losses were high.

The organoponico gardens which now ring the cities were started with the army in the late 1980’s. By the time I started coming here regularly every barrio had some kind of vegetable garden, run by older men who had the country knowledge. Most were on “waste ground” and were slowly built up by compost, aged animal dung, and whatever else came to hand. The shortage of building materials meant that raised beds were usually edged by materials scrounged from fallen down houses, construction sites, etc.

In the posh suburb of Miramar in Habana, the director told me it really takes 11 years for a garden to become established. The last time I was able to visit with him, just before his retirement, the garden had tripled in size, was stuffed with a huge variety of greens, roots, salads, even broccoli! And at 7.00 a.m the line up was long; many cooks from the nearby embassies, and the houses of senior officials, and lots of retired people resigned to eating healthily!

Just recently a dedicated bunch of people determined to save traditional fruits, had a major conference. These are the folks who will keep the maranon, the guanabana the ceresas, and star-fruit from disappearing. Actually if you have never had guanabana, you should make it your goal to come and drink some icy cold from my fridge; it’s amazing!

Until recently if it wasn’t guava, orange, or mango, there was almost nothing to buy, even worse we went months between huge batches of fruit. Guava is very nice, but not as a daily diet of juice, oranges became small, less juicy, and more expensive. The trees had faced two challenges, lack of attention and a killer fungus. With no fertilizers, insect control or replacement trees, the old trees got older, produced less, and in the end were infected by a fungus which is doing the rounds world wide. The only solution is to cut down the trees, burn them or turn them into charcoal (remember the golden lining!), and then plant something else, or make a new orchard on new ground (when you’ve chopped down the marabu!).

Mangos just seem to go on forever. The biscotuellas which are famous around Santiago used to come in May (May brings rain, and mangos), but I bought lovely ones the other week to make a clafouti! This week we’ll make the first batch of Mango chutney – with ginger grown on our roof. And also some pickled ginger with real rice vinegar brought from Tokyo by our friend Makoto. I should say our famous friend; he has been coming to Santiago for 17 years now for the Festival of the Trova; bringing his accompanist, or singing with various groups. He has a salsa band in Japan and tours with it. Many of his friends come to stay with us for the Trova Festival in March, or during the year to enjoy the music here in Oriente. (For those of you in Japan and planning a visit to Cuba, connect with Makoto through his website…….

Come and visit with us here in Santiago for the music and food. Enjoy some of our garden tours; whether your interest is culinary or as a fellow gardener. If you who love to feel the soil, we can arrange a day of farming!

Oh yes, if you want to buy Rani’s book here’s the title. Menus and Memories from Punjab Veronica “Rani” Sidhu Hippocrene Cookbook Library It’s available on Amazon!

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