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Sweet on Souse

By Verdel Bishop

No spoons necessary for this one— souse is traditionally made with either the feet of the pig or chicken. Pickled with limes, cucumbers and other herbs, it is a popular, traditional street food.

Acquoon Alexander, fondly known as the souse lady from St James, has been selling her popular souse for over 20 years on the Western Main Road in St James. Her souse has made its rounds across the globe by visitors looking to take home the tasty treat.

Alexander's business has developed into a family trade. She admits that street vending has not been easy; it has taken its toll over the years. The poor economy has caused a slight decline in sales, but her customers have been her driving force.

Through the challenges, Alexander admitted there were also many good times— she found her husband while preparing souse.

Alexander shares her story: "People call me sousy; I don't really like the name, but that's what my customers call me so I have to live with it. Nobody taught me how to make souse. But I've always liked souse. I started when I was 30. The first time I made souse to sell was in Exodus Panyard in St Augustine. I made two buckets and went out very frightened, but I sold out. I made $300. I was so shocked."

Alexander went on, "I didn't have any big business brain and I didn't do well in school, but I have a natural gift for seasoning and blending spices together. I use almost all the local herbs you can think about, and I put out an extra effort to make my souse properly. I use lots of cucumbers, onions, herbs and plenty limes."

The humble business grew over the years.

"It's a family business. I taught my daughters and nieces how to make souse. My sister, and daughter and nieces worked with me for years. At one time, my souse was rated as the best souse in the West Indies. A lot has changed now but I am still going strong," she said.

"The way the economy is going, business has dropped. The income is not as much as before but I am still making something; it's just that I am not letting go. When I started, I was a single parent with young children. The souse business has helped me to buy a car, a house and to send my children to school. It has gained me a lot of respect. I've met people from all over the world through selling souse, and I am good friends with many of them.

"I remember, an old Indian man used to keep me company every night. He died now. He told me I will buy a car and build a house, and I did that. People still come to look for me; it's something they must do when they get to Trinidad —and before they leave, they order some to take back home."

Police harassment was the number-one threat to her establishment.

"Street vending is difficult. You are on your feet for hours and hours but it's worth it. The police used to be a real problem, especially having to keep your eye on them. They used to threaten me. But I have a lot of regular customers so I do it for them. I used to work from Sunday to Sunday selling souse, from 6 p.m. to around 3 a.m. Now, I sell only a couple days a week," she said.

Alexander has seen St James, popularly known as the city that never sleeps, transform over the years. "Being on the streets, you see a lot and you learn a lot. St James is not the same. Long time used to be a lot more liming and partying. People don't do much of that any more," she added.

Alexander said her souse is a remedy for many ailments.

Drunken men would seek a zesty cup of souse as a quick sobering remedy, and it has eased the cravings of many pregnant women.

"Men would come straight from the bars; the souse used to sober them up real fast. A lot of women bring back their babies to show me; they used to crave for my souse during their pregnancy. Those babies turn big men and women and,

PIG-FOOT SOUSE This is a general recipe. Ingredients can be bought in quantities desired for the number of people the dish is being prepared for. Ingredients: • pig's trotters (pig's feet) • salt • limes • cucumbers • onions • hot peppers Method: Wash the pig trotters thoroughly in lots of running water. Make sure to scrape off thoroughly any hairs on the feet. Boil with salt until soft and tender. The first set of oily water should be thrown off and the trotters boiled again. It can boiled a second and third time, depending on how clear you like the water to be. When the boiled water is clear, then the souse can be made. In that water, squeeze the limes to taste; it should taste citrusy and nice but not overpowering. Add salt to taste to the water, also, add the onions, cucumbers and hot peppers; some people also put in some watercress. The souse should be made a day in advance of being eaten, so all the ingredients can be absorbed by the pig's trotters. The cucumber must also absorb the flavour and so should be thinly sliced. The hot pepper is a matter of taste and consideration for those who will eat it.

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