Dear Ms. Fleurimond,

I’m betting that not many high schoolers write to you about your cookbook.  After all, cookbooks aren’t the normal subjects of teenage fan mail.  However, though it isn’t a typical novel, it affected me just as much as any other book or poem could.  It made me feel excited, happy, and even sad.  It brought out emotions that most people would not associate with a cookbook, because yours is not an ordinary cookbook.

I come from a mixed family.  My mom is Haitian and my dad is Italian, and we live in the middle of Pennsylvania.  I always regret that I didn’t grow up trying lots of ethnic Haitian and Italian cuisine.  My parents usually make their specialty dishes for special occasions.  My dad makes his clam sauce for Easter, and cans tomato sauce in the summer so we can have it on linguine or spaghetti for the rest of the year.  My mom makes her fried banane occasionally, squash soup for New Years, and diri pwa cole whenever my sister comes home from college.  (We always fight about who gets the gratin left on the bottom of the pan from the rice.)  Most days, we eat typical American foods like pizza, chicken, and hot dogs.  The other times that I am exposed to Haitian food and culture are when I go to visit my mom’s side of the family in New York.  There, we like to stop at a little Haitian bakery and get beef patties, and sweet dous kokoye if I’m lucky.  In addition, my aunt makes delicious griot, using all of the spices that my mom can’t find in our small suburban town.  I had no other way to experience authentic Haitian dishes until I read your book.

I yearn to cook more of my mom’s food with her and in the process discover more of her culture.  But with school, homework, track, along with my mom’s hectic schedule we could never find the time to cook together.  She was going to take me to Haiti in the summer of 2010, but then the earthquake struck in January of that year.  It was a scary time not only for Haiti but for my family here as well as for me.  The devastating pictures on the news were horrific.  Was my family there okay?  Would I ever be able to see the country that I had imagined for so long?  What if the beautiful places that my mom described had been ruined?  Thankfully, our family in Haiti was unharmed.  However, it was decided that our trip, and my dream to see my mom’s beloved country be postponed.

When my sister got me your book, Haiti Uncovered:  A Regional Adventure into the Art of Haitian Cuisine, I was elated.  Just perusing all of the recipes, my mouth started to water.  As I flipped the pages, I smelled the spices in the ingredients.  I felt the textures of the foods on my taste buds.  I could even hear the colorful taptaps going by in the streets.  I was especially fascinated with the section on Port-Au-Prince because that is where my mom is from, thus, I had heard about some of the food from that section.  I absolutely love pikliz, the spicy tangy condiment that I put on just about anything.  It tastes like Haiti, and makes me imagine the hot tropical countryside there.  I also made the manba because I am a peanut butter fanatic, and wanted to compare peanut butter here and in Haiti.  My favorite dish to make is the gato ayisyen.  I have made the Haitian for New Year’s, my brother’s graduation, and my mom’s birthday.  I love making it because every time I do, my mom tells my Haitian relatives and they tell her how delighted they are that I am experiencing their culture.

But the recipes aren’t the only reason I love your book so much.  I love it because of it’s uniqueness.  It’s so much more than a cookbook.  It is a tour of Haiti and its history, wrapped up between regional dishes.  It has facts about Haitian geography, photos of everyday Haitians, and information about Haitian culture.  I learned about the Taino people and how their native places were taken over by the Spanish.  I read about the different departments, such as the Nord-Est and Artibonite, while discovering culture and cuisine from each region.  I enjoyed all of the extraordinary pictures that accompanied the text, giving me a way to see the people of each region performing everyday tasks, as well as scenic lands, pure and beautiful.

The book is truly a wonderful way for me to experience my mom’s culture.  Centre County, Pennsylvania has isolated me from being exposed to different cultures, and because of this, I feel as though I have lost much of my mom’s heritage, but your book makes me feel closer to my mom and to Haiti.  I no longer have to wait until I go to New York to have Haitian food.  I no longer have to wait until I actually go to Haiti to experience the culture.  I can experience all of it through your book.  Because of it, my mom and I have even found time to cook together.  I enjoy the excitement that come from trying a new Haitian dish, or having my mom say that something I have made reminds her of her childhood.  Thank you for giving me a way to share this with her.

Jackie Feffer