Debbie's Story

The Coal Pot

RPCV:  Deborah Manget

St. Lucia 1978–1979

A coal pot used for cooking in the Choiseul Quarter, St. Lucia (Caribbean)

In 1978, the Peace Corps sent me to St. Lucia to teach Home Economics to middle school girls.  I felt confident in my ability to teach 3 of the 4 subjects; textiles (sewing), interior design and child care were familiar to me. The fourth subject, cooking, was going to be a challenge, however. I was not familiar with St. Lucian fruits, vegetable and protein sources, most of which were prepared with a coal pot, an implement I had never seen before, let alone used. Soon after I arrived, the smells of charcoal cooking were evident everywhere I went. Coal pots seemed mysterious to me, much more ancient than the charcoal grills I used in my back yard. My concerns about teaching culinary arts were relieved by my students, who taught me the intricacies of preparing meals with a coal pot. Though they are used throughout the Caribbean, the Choiseul Quarter of St. Lucia is considered the original home of this cooking style.  Women shape the pots from clay along riverbanks, leaving holes in the lower section. Charcoal is placed in the top bowl of the coal pot and lit from under the holes. Once coals are red hot a cooking pot is placed directly onto the coals. Ashes fall through the holes to cool in the lower lip. More coal is added as needed. The deep, rich flavors of the ingredients mixed with earthy, smoky overtones guarantee a delicious meal at any time of day. I was glad I turned the tables and allowed my students to become my teachers. This improved their self-confidence and created a special bond between people of very different backgrounds. Thanks to my students, I have become an accomplished cook using the coal pot method.