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Season’s greetings… From the makers of Paramin’s green marinade
What would a Trini dish be without green seasoning? We use it as the base for chicken, meat or fish marinades, and mix it into just about anything—stews, curries, soups, one-pot rice dishes, possibly even medicinal green smoothies. Without it, things taste bland. This Christmas, with lots of cooking in the cards, I went on the trail of the famous “seasoning ladies” of Paramin who manufacture Authentic Paramin Seasoning.
A jeep journey from Maraval up the narrow, winding Morne Coco and Saut D’eau Roads revealed wonderful views, filled with green hills, fresh air, sweeping skies and vertical herb gardens in the clouds, well worth the precipitous twists and hairpin turns. Tiny yellow and white butterflies bobbed in well-tended kitchen gardens.
Jumping down from my jeep taxi near the post office, I found the descending side-path to the lower floor entrance of the Paramin Women’s Group’s workshop—it occupies the ground floor of a private residence which is dug into the side of a plunging valley. A lean, older farmer overtook me on the concrete steps, loping deftly down—he balanced a fairly enormous bundle of thyme on top of his crew-cut head.
“Here is 50 more lbs for you,” he informed Veronica Romany, ceremoniously placing the crocus bag of herbs at the door. The package joined more than 500 lbs of herbs in similar large bundles in the workshop’s small front porch.
Inside, the functional space was fragrant with fresh thyme and chive. Four women in white caps, t-shirts and aprons were busy de-twigging and washing small mountains of broad-leaf thyme in large sinks facing a back window. Their workspace faced a spectacular view of the plunging green valley.
“That’s good, thank you,” said Veronica Romany to the farmer, as she half-carried, half-dragged his heavy bundle to the scales to weigh it—Romany is 60, and struggled slightly with the load.
Romany is part of the resilient, resourceful Paramin Women’s Group which since 1987 has been self-employed in their own thriving small food processing business. They provide a regular market for many hardworking neighbourhood herb farmers. The group buys about 700 lbs of herbs every week from different Paramin suppliers. This morning, they took deliveries from three farmers.
The women’s group was once much larger; now, it’s down to three core members and two helpers.
Veronica Romany introduced me to her colleagues in the business: Martina Romany (75), and Jean Letren (64)—these three are the core, with the dedicated help of two others, Gabriella Joseph (50), and Pamela Lawrence. Everyone lives close to the workshop.
The Paramin Women’s Group got initial training through state-sponsored Community Development courses almost 30 years ago. They learned a range of skills, including handicrafts, upholstery and pastry making. They already knew how to make green seasonings from generations of keeping kitchen gardens, and making fresh marinades at home. An instructor suggested they give their seasoning a shelf life, and market it. So they found a Canadian funding agency who helped them establish their small factory.
Agencies such as Cariri and IICA (Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture) helped them over the years with different aspects of production.
“We started small. At first we had little blenders, then we got larger blenders which could grind 50 lbs of mixed herbs in one go. We work two days a week, all through the year as long as we have material. Come the dry season it’s a challenge, so it’s a little slower, but we still produce. We work like 700 lbs of raw material every week. One day we clean and grind, the next day we bottle and package,” explained Romany.
The women also have other duties. Romany, for instance, is a geriatric nurse who keeps herself very busy. When she’s not nursing, she’s making seasoning or local wine. The women are strong churchgoers and attend mass in the Paramin RC Church every Sunday.
“Before we do anything in the factory, we pray,” emphasises Romany: “We never start our day without praying. We pray every day before we start work—we have to give Him the day.”
Herbs are weighed, then trimmed, washed, sanitised, and drained. Bulk pimentos and herbs are frozen until needed. Next they grind the herbs separately, and pour them into one of four big barrels to mix in secret proportions. They add a little potassium sorbate as a preservative. They use funnels to manually fill the bottles.
“Our main herbs are chives, broad-leaf thyme, Spanish thyme, chadon beni, pimentos. We don’t use any artificial thickener. We have a woman who buys our finished products to sell to groceries all over—South, Arima, Chaguanas. Some women also sell cases of product in the markets—San Juan, Petit Valley, Maraval, St James markets,” said Romany.
“There is demand for Paramin Seasoning year-round, although at Christmas there’s more demand. If other people put their seasoning in the market, and their product meets ours, their seasoning is going to sit down on the shelf until ours is sold!” boasted Romany with satisfaction.
“We have no competition,” said the ladies. “A lot of people try to imitate our seasoning. But every time they try to meet us, we already reach there and pass there!”
Gabriella Joseph said: “I use the seasoning for everything—pastelles, baked chicken, and especially stewed pork. I marinate it the whole night, then get up in the morning, stew it with coconut milk, add a dash of curry, and—wow!”
Though the business is doing well, and there’s no shortage of demand, there is some uncertainty. “As we get older, we are getting tired,” commented Romany about the business’s future: “The younger ones don’t want to come and work in the factory. They want to dress up nice and go out. We need more workers. If we had just one or two more workers—and serious, reliable, trustworthy workers—then on the same two days, we could produce more. It’s a lot of work for just us.”
But for now, the Paramin Womens’ Group is not only a business, it’s also a supportive group of friends: “We sing together, we go to church together, and we are practicing Catholics. We go to church all through the year, not just at Christmas!” they laugh.
Paramin Women’s Group
Address: Saut D’eau Road, Paramin, Maraval
Phone: (868) 738-3024 or 748-5155
Email: [email protected]
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