Peanut sip, anyone?
After 30 years “Footy” continues to serve up delicious salt-free meal in Haddo
HADDO, Westmoreland — Come rain or shine, for more than three decades, Markland "Footy" Ricketts-who professes to be the pioneer "peanut sip" salesman in western Jamaica-has been serving the hot vegetable soup to especially motorists traversing the Haddo main road in Westmoreland.
"Now everywhere you go inna Jamaica you hear about peanut soup. (But) Mi a di first man invent it in Jamaica," Ricketts claims.
The soup vendor's daily routine commences shortly after leaving his home in the Haddo community, religiously at 6 o'clock each morning for his little shop- a short distance away- where he prepares and sells his meal.
By 10:30am, he is ready to serve customers the contents from the steaming silver pot, which sits on a charcoal stove in front of his wooden shop. This he does until about 8:00pm, before heading home.
Over the years, Ricketts has provided for his family with the proceeds from the sale of the "famous peanut soup."
His customers, who hail from all walks of life, are mostly regular commuters through the quiet Westmoreland community, who frequently stop for their servings at Footy's Ital Sip shop.
During the formative days of the business, Ricketts notes, meat was a part of the ingredients of the soup he prepared.
But, he recounts that he was ridiculed, when he returned to his business, after a short stint on the farm work programme in the United States, and started to prepare strictly meat-free and salt free broth.
"So when mi come back from America a just start do this. Everybody say mi a mad man. How you feh cook peanut and them things deh give people? Nuh kill you going kill them," the poker-faced Ricketts recalls.
"When mi stop cook meat mi have about 20 pounds of meat you know. Cow skin, cow cod, cow hack - a give me give it away, and me don't use salt and them things again."
He contends that his customers don't miss the taste of meat when they partake of his ital sip, which is complemented with cornmeal dumping and yellow yam.
"Today I am using one ripe plantain, two ripe papayas- a that mi use bring up my 'salt taste'- string bean, sweet pepper, turnip, cho cho, ockra, carrot, every little thing in deh. The peas, peanut, dry gungo, corn,broad bean- a dem bring up the taste mek it taste like meat," Ricketts told the Jamaica Observer West, last week.
He argues that more and more, his business is being patronised by persons who are now adopting a healthy lifestyle, and so have cut salt and meat from their diet.
"Right now mi know a brother who used to dump the salt in his food and he went to hospital for three months because of the salt. (But) Since him come back, no more of the salt thing. Mi have him as a personal customer, him no want the salt, none at all. And him a introduce him friend them also," Ricketts argues.
Last week, when the Observer West visited his shop widely known as Footy's Ital Sip, a group of men in a car, who were heading back to St Elizabeth after picking up their relative from the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, stopped by.
One of the men, who initially scoffed at the idea of drinking the soup without meat, seemingly enjoyed it after being swayed by the other three to join in.
"Right now mi know of people who used to eat the meat and don't eat it again. Like how you see them people come here and find out say mi don't cook with salt and meat. A just the one who come from foreign, in the khaki suit, never want it. But after they convinced him you see how him partake of it," the cook points out.
According to Ricketts, his clientele includes a number of lawmen, businessmen, students and members of the entertainment fraternity including GT Taylor, Lucianno, Coco T and members of Stone Love sound system.
Ricketts notes, however, that sometimes sales are not robust.
He reveals that business is best whenever it rains or gets cold, or when events, such as football games are being held in the parish.
"Sometime me don't make any strong money, but the thing have to go on everyday because you have some nice people who come support you and give you a money and them little way deh," he reveals.
He notes that on a daily basis he extends "a charitable arm" to persons in need of a meal, including the mentally challenged.
"Mi tek care a nuff of the students dem too. Sometimes you see them out a bus fare. Mi have to find the bus fare give dem feh mek them go a dem yard. Mi no know dem family but mi don't want to see dem on the street, dem feh go home," he argues.
Ricketts recounts that he took a decision to start his soup business over three decades ago, after the canteen at the Haddo Primary School, where he used to assist his sister prepare meals closed, leaving him to seek an alternative source of making a living.
The 62-year-old Ricketts reveals that he is now ready to retire from the business, but is unable to identify a suitable successor.
"Right now mi a tell you say mi get tired now. Mi would a want give it up, but who mi ago left it give? Mi have two boys, one a architect and one is a musician. Them don't want to take over the business. So all when mi tired mi still haffi go on."
He was quick to point out, however, that "when the time comes", one of the attributes of his successor has to be punctuality.
"Dem have to come out six in the morning and the meal must be ready by 10:30," he emphasises.