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REVIEW: Cornish Chillies - Jamaican Gold

This sauce is named in celebration of the Cornish connection to Jamaica - in particular the Methodists and miners - and to commemorate the pirate Thomas Anstis.


I think this is weird.


It strikes me as weird because of the kind of timeframe being acknowledged on the label, which is the eighteenth century. It was in the eighteenth century that Anstis was active and the Methodists and miners went to Jamaica. And it was in the eighteenth century when one of Jamaica’s counties was named ‘Cornwall’, which is also mentioned on the label. This period of history is pretty fraught and the connections between Cornwall and Jamaica around the time are complex at best and often ugly.


I’ll start with the pirate Anstis. There’s a wonderful old book from 1724 called A General History of Pyrates, which is your standard go to for piracy of the period and is still the source for many current encyclopaedias and dictionaries on pirates and piracy. (Some believe this General History was written by Daniel Defoe.) It was also written just after Anstis died (he died in 1723) so his memory would have been fresh in the writer’s mind.


The first story we find about Anstis goes as follows. A Colonel, who was aboard one of the ships that had been molested by Anstis and his crew, saw a woman being abused and he tried to intervene to save her. Anstis and his men battered the Colonel and had twenty-one men rape the woman successively before breaking her back and throwing her overboard.


This is possibly the first- and most-told tale of Anstis. He and his crew had a brutal reputation and it’s not at all clear why he is being commemorated in hot sauce. 

The best scene of Anstis’s story is when his crew decides the pirate’s life is not for them. Or rather, the getting caught and being executed bit of it. So they take themselves off to an uninhabited island near Cuba, park their ships, and write a letter to King George asking for pardon. Then they wait. They wait on this island for nine months, eating fish and turtles with the rice they have on board, and performing mock piracy trials for one another. (It feels like there ought to be a novel about these nine months.)


King George did not reply to the pirates, of course, and eventually they had to return to piracy, which was becoming increasingly difficult. After a series of narrow escapes, Anstis’s crew crept up and shot him in his sleep.


I am not being especially selective in the information I present here. This is about all there is on Thomas Anstis. Certainly I found nothing worth celebrating or commemorating. I’m not even sure what his connection to Cornwall is, to be honest, although assume he must have been born here. Cornwall is not mentioned in the General History.


So what about the other connections between Jamaica and Cornwall of this period the sauce wants to commemorate?


Well this is clear enough. It’s colonialism and slavery. Innumerable Africans were captured and shipped to Jamaica to work in the sugar plantations and a number of the land and slave owners were Cornish. One story that came to light fairly recently was that of Rose Price of Trengwainton in Madron, who took over the family estates in Jamaica, increasing the numbers of slaves enormously and having two children with one of them, a thirteen year old girl named Lizette. This Rose Price was an anti-abolitionist and is said to have continued using enslaved people long after slavery had been abolished. Some recent newspaper articles say he brought some of his slaves with him to Cornwall, justifying it by describing them as ‘servants’.


But the sauce celebrates the miners and Methodists especially, who are generally less troublesome. The miners, of course, were there to exploit the resources of the Caribbean colonies, including gold, silver and copper, and many settled there, bringing over their families or marrying into communities. The Methodists were there to establish churches and while the first Methodist missionaries to Jamaica were not Cornish they would have had the Cornish miners among their congregations.


John Wesley’s tireless campaigns in Cornwall were explosively popular and Methodism grew swiftly here. It was radically opposed to the class and gender imbalances of the English Church and enlisted preachers - men and women - from the farmers and miners. Wesley was also vehemently opposed to slavery and the slave trade, and the Cornish Methodists are said to have adopted the nationwide abolitionist campaign of boycotting sugar. Refusing sugar in your tea is still said to be a thing in parts of Cornwall.


This hot sauce is full of sugar, which feels inappropriate, bearing in mind the slave-driven sugar plantations that so defined relations between Cornwall and Jamaica in this period. Maybe it’s not deliberate, but it’s a strange coincidence that their most sugary of sauces is explicitly recalling a period in which Cornish landowners were enslaving people on sugar plantations.


On the sauce itself, this a very sweet, golden-coloured sauce with a texture like marmalade when you first open it, the thick bits clogging up the neck of the bottle. When you get past that, the viscosity is more like honey. There’s a definite heat here - immediate and medium - but not much of a pepper flavour. I really like the sauce for its sweetness, warmth and gingeriness. It will go very quickly, I know.  


But I can’t get over the story this label is telling. The Jamaican connection is, I’m sure, intended to be positive and celebratory, but when you look at the period and add Anstis to the mix, it sits uncomfortably.

If that explanatory passage on the side of the label hadn’t set me off I’d just be saying this is a nice sweet sauce.


£5 per 150ml / £33.33 per litre

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