By Lakhram Bhagirat
Although different variations of blackcurrant can be found throughout the Caribbean, those in Guyana are by far the best because of the higher quality of the ingredients used. In most countries, their cake is a combination of dried fruits such as raisins, dates, prunes, cherries and currants.
But here in Guyana, the star is the preserved carambola, more simply referred to as “fruit”.
Protecting the carambola, or five fingers as it is commonly called, is time-consuming and time-consuming, but the result is worthwhile, because the idea of providing the whole ingredient important for the quintessential Guyanese Christmas is one that brings much satisfaction.
For over two decades, Farina Fareed has been basking in that satisfaction and the widespread demand for Lisa’s Preserved Carambola. However, he never envisioned the venture growing to the lofty heights it now enjoys.
The mother of two children started keeping carambola in her kitchen back in 1997 as a means to an end. She explained that her younger child at the time had been diagnosed with hydrocephalus and needed emergency surgery in Trinidad. At that time, it seemed impossible, because her pharmacist husband simply couldn’t afford to pay for the surgery.
Nevertheless, they traveled to Trinidad and had the successful surgery, but when they returned home, they also came back with a huge debt hanging over their heads. They owed the doctor in Trinidad and needed to find a way to pay for the work that had already been completed.
“Then I decided to do a business or something of the sort to make some money. With my husband’s and my own funds, I could have to pay the doctor, so that’s how I started making carambola fruit, ”he says.
Fareed started out in her small kitchen making small batches with carambola from her father’s farm in the Number One Canal, West Coast Demerara (WBD). She explained that she had very little knowledge of the process when it started, but she remembered observing one of her cousins making dried carambola preserves back when she was a child.
However, due to the necessity of her venture, Fareed did not seek the dry version as that process was long. She settled for the wet version and soon began to gain recognition for the quality of the product she was putting out.
As her product was gaining recognition, she knew expansion was inevitable. So, she made a small workspace behind her Canal Two, WBD’s home and began the process of registering her business. Once registered, he then had the challenge of getting the product into the mainstream markets and starting to go to supermarkets.
The first shelves to arrive were at Bounty Supermarket and Guyana Stores. From there, she moved up.
The name “Lisa” is Fareed’s older daughter and at the time she was registering her business, it seemed appropriate to use that. In 2000, Fareed started his factory.
Now she produces hundreds of kilos of preserved carambola annually and offers them in a variety of sizes on the market. Almost every supermarket stocks its products, which appear to be neatly packaged in bags and containers.
Her two children also play a major role in assisting her in the operations. She explained that Lisa had been involved since she was about five years old, because, at that time, her husband had become an alcoholic.
“My oldest daughter was about five years old when she helped turn the karahee. My husband had become an alcoholic, he was a chemist and sometimes when I would leave to go to town and so, I would tell him to look the pot and so, and no, he would do it from a very young age, ”he said.
Now Lisa’s Enterprises has grown to encompass not only preserved carambola, but also authentic Guyanese snacks such as cassava and plantain chips along with chicken foot.
Fareed sources mainly carambola from inside the community along with its trusted supplier from Grove, Demerara East Bank. He explained that he used to source the fruit from the Pomeroon area, but because of the high associated costs, he decided to switch to fruit that was becoming more affordable on the coast.
The manufacturing process
When Guyana Times visited Belle West Fareed, the home of WBD, her older daughter, Ann Marie Isurdeen Samaroo, or Lisa as she was called, was there to walk us through the operations. She explained that the decision to assist her mother was never one that existed on them, rather they saw the need to provide as much support as they could.
“When we started this business, he wouldn’t have had the income to employ an employee as he was relatively small, so we helped him in ways we could get by putting them (the reserve) in plastic bags, putting them in in the labels, seal it. As we grew and eventually went to high school, we were still taking on some of the responsibilities, but I was going to St Stanislaus College, so maybe if she had orders at Georgetown, I would she would take them out with the bus when I go and then she would collect them from me and she would make the delivery, ”he explained.
Samaroo, now a school teacher, said that when she was on vacation, she would be over from her mother, assisting with the production of their wares. She also serves as the informal Operations Manager and would organize markets and meet suppliers.
Walking this announcement through the process, Samaroo noted that when suppliers bring the carambola to the factory, it is first weighed and then washed. When washing, the skins and seeds would be removed, and the fruit cut up.
Subsequently, its protection comes into effect. What they would do now is stack the fruit in large barrels with a mixture of sugar and “secret” ingredients and the fruits are left to keep for months at a time.
He explained that there was no definitive time for which the fruits were kept, as the carambolas would indicate when they were ready for the next step. The next step is perhaps the most tedious part of the process, as this is the cooking phase. They use large ‘fire sides’ powered by sawdust to boil the preserved fruit for at least four hours, turning them constantly to ensure uniformity in the cooking process.
“Now we have our ratio of how much carambola we give to how much sugar with our other secret ingredients we would use to make it the best ever. One batch would take about three to four hours depending on how the sawdust lights up. So, we would have to ignore that. We would still have to turn it. We also need to make sure that the right portion of sugar is added otherwise it could become too sweet or you might not have that sweetness you need.
“Once removed from the fire, it is put into a bucket and left to cool. After maybe three days and, yes, it stays hot for a long time; even after two days, it is still hot because of the sugar content. So after about three days, we would crush it. It is then put into the finished product barrels in the factory and we seal that, ”he said.
They would then store them labeled and as orders came in, the preserved fruits would be packaged and shipped. One thing that is unique about Lisa’s brand is that they do not consume any alcohol in the detention process. Samaroo said this was the case because at the time her mother started, they were a devout Christian family who didn’t drink any alcohol. They also considered the fact that alcohol is haram in Islam and wanted to make sure that everyone could use their product.
“We are the best and there are many reasons why we are the best. First, it is a very moist product. When you bake your cake with it, you do not have to worry that that cake is going to dry and that you will have to buy some drink to carry it down. Second, the product is ground right, so when you mix it in your cake, you don’t have to worry that it’s going to get a big chunk or it’s not going to incorporate properly. Next, the retention time gives it a unique flavor that allows that black cake to have that nice black cake flavor. The secret is what you put in the black cake, so if you have that preserved fruit and you put in your spices and so forth, it’s that cake is going to miraculously come out, ”declared Samaroo.