Festival's a taste of home

Heritage: The Caribbean-American Carnival reminds visitors of traditions they've passed down or left behind.

July 18, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

Sandra Gangadeen of Baltimore covered her signature doubles - two fried, eggy pancakes filled with chickpeas, mango chutney and masala - in wax paper, grabbed the two ends and swung them around like a jump rope.

She handed the only-from-Trinidad doubles (pronounced do-blays) to sisters Susan and Suzette Patterson of Baltimore, who have sought out Gangadeen's food stand at the city's Caribbean-American Carnival in Druid Hill Park every year for five years. The three-day festival ended yesterday.

To Trinidadian families such as the Gangadeens and Pattersons, the food symbolized more than a popular snack from their childhood, as each family spoke about the struggle to pass down their culinary traditions to the next generation.

Sandra Gangadeen and her husband, Andy, once ran two 7-Eleven franchises, but gave them up five years ago to open the Caribbean Food Store on Windsor Mill Road in Baltimore County - a business that, unlike a convenience store, they can close one day a week to spend with their two children, Chelsea, 9, and Darryl, 17.

They also bring their children with them to weekend festivals. Chelsea ran the cash register yesterday, tallying the bill for the seven doubles Suzette Patterson ordered - one for now, six to take home to relatives.

Her brother started on the register at age 12. Yesterday he and his girlfriend helped haul dozens of coolers and covered aluminum catering tins filled with food to the wooden stand in 90-degree heat.

The food is as diverse as Trinidad itself - nearly 40 percent of the island's population is East Indian, while others are descendants of Africans, Spaniards and the French.

Sandra Gangadeen said that the most difficult part of preparing for a festival is training cooks to use her methods, her ingredients and her recipe.

"I only use Turban brand curry, and Turban brand gheera," she said. "Every person who helps me prepare has their own way and their own ingredients, but I want it done my way. I want it done to my standards."

Susan Patterson, 37, who moved to the United States 17 years ago, said she drags her reluctant daughter - now age 13 - every year to the event, which features steel-drum bands and vendors selling brilliantly colored clothing and flags.

She said that she sometimes wishes that she was more involved in Baltimore's Caribbean community, so that her daughter would appreciate it more. As it is, the Pattersons aren't able to make doubles, which is the reason for the annual visit to the Gangadeens.

"It's hard enough to find the ingredients," Susan Patterson said. "But you really have to grow up learning how to make it, the way you have to knead the dough and fry it."

As for her daughter: "She's an all-American girl. She likes the event. She just doesn't want to admit it."

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