On our first day on the island, we had hiked over a scruffy hill down a crater-maze of a road to Surfer's Beach. As the turquoise water curled under Patrick's surfboard, I struck up a conversation with a deeply tanned group of surfers.You've got to go to Monica's for a hamburger after the beach, said George, a Floridian who had been coming to the island for the past 30 years. And a pineapple pie, added a woman, who rubbed wax on her surfboard as she spoke. Hers are the best in town. The whole group nodded. Yip! agreed a yellow-haired island dog, which was snuggled deep in the sand.
So, it was no surprise when later that day all of us ended up on the porch at Monica's, ordering cheeseburgers and trading weather reports and swell conditions. As the lone non-surfer, I went inside to talk with Monica.Steam from the griddle fogged her glasses, but her smile was visible from everywhere in the dim room.
"I've been told this is the best place on the island for pineapple pie", I said. I was hoping to charm a recipe from her. "Oh, child. I don't know about that." Her laugh filled the small space. She turned her back to tend to the burgers. Another woman with tight cornrows pulled back from her face handed me a pie wrapped in waxed paper from the case below the register. "You're gonna like this." Back on Monica's porch, Patrick and I devoured our cheeseburgers at a rickety wooden picnic table and moved on to the pie. I split open the 4-inch round like a book, and the sweet smell of pineapple mixed with warm notes of nutmeg rose up. This was like no pie I had ever seen. In place of short flaky crust was a light spongy, cake-like shell. A thin layer of pineapple jam was sandwiched beneath top lattice crust. With one bite into the moist, not-too-sweet, not-too-pineapple-y treat, I knew it would not be my last.
The next day, Ponytail Pete, the local surfing guru at Rebecca's Surf Shop, whispered to me, "Two doors down, a lady named Mary sells pies at the 7-Eleven". Normally, I avoid anything sold as foodstuff at 7-Eleven, but who am I to argue with local knowledge? We stopped by the shop and picked up one of Mary's pies, then bounced in the Jeep along a one-way busted-up limestone path to Lighthouse Beach on the island's Atlantic side. Steven, a large island man selling conch and barbecue by the side of the road, had tipped us off to Lighthouse Beach. Slow Down: Fresh Conch and Jerk Pit Ahead the sign had read, and so we'd heeded it.
"Hello, boss, and good day to you, baby" Steven called out to Patrick and me when we pulled over. Half-a-dozen pink shells lined his wooden countertop, the meat still wriggling inside. He munched on the horn of a conch while he talked and chopped at the same time. "I ain't been down there in 12 years", he said. "It's an hour away, you know". He dunked a green pepper into a bucket of water with halved limes floating on the top, then diced it and repeated the process with a tomato. But, it da prettiest beach in all da Bahamas. He bagged the conch salad and sent us off with a smile.
After hiking up and over sand dunes and through native shrub, we emerged onto Lighthouse Beach to find a never-ending azure vista. Eons of water and wind erosion decorated the limestone cliffs. The sapphire ocean turned to teal and then aquamarine before lapping gently over rose-colored sand. I lowered my sunglasses to make sure it was not a polarized-lens trick.
Patrick fell asleep immediately, a coconut for his pillow. All the blissful elements were there: the sound of surf, the warm Bahamian sun, a slight breeze to keep us cool, and the flies at bay. But my mind could not be lulled into relaxing. I couldn't stop thinking about the pineapple pie in the cooler bag beside me. Luckily, it wasn't long before the grumbling of Patrick's stomach woke him, and I unpacked our lunch of conch salad and barbecued chicken legs from Steven's stand, plus some macaroni and cheese. Mary's pineapple pie was the perfect ending to our picnic. It had less of a moist, crumbly bottom than Monica's and maybe slightly more sticky pineapple reduction, but the effect was the same. It was delicious and disappeared in moments.
The next morning we went diving among gray angelfish, rainbow parrotfish and midnight blue tangs. I chased a mosaic wrasse around a coral outcrop, trying to memorize its exact shades of blue and yellow for kitchen paint when I got back homeMonticello Yellow and Blue Reef, according to the Ralph Lauren paint swatches. Patrick spotted a brown-and-tan trumpetfish trying to fool us into thinking it was a piece of coral. As schools of yellow snapper floated above. Patrick reached out to fan a sea cucumber that looked like Snuffleupagus' trunk.
Afterward, exhausted and starving, we headed down north, as the locals say, to Cocoplum's wooden beachfront deck for a few cold Kaliks and some conch salad that Coco diced before our eyes. "You haven't had nothin' til you try my mother-in-law Helen's pie at the airport", Coco assured me, after hearing of my newfound love for the taste of Eleuthera.Airport meals are another thing I try to avoid, but I was not about to doubt Coco's food wisdom after tasting his version of conch salad. His rendition contained less onion than previous bowls I had tried, and he used a combination of goat and finger peppers for heat and flavor. "You can line up 10 guys and give them the same ingredients, and they all will make salads that taste different", Coco said.
As the sun plummeted too quickly, signaling the end of our holiday, I convinced Patrick to get back in the Jeep and drive to the airport to pick up a pie from Helen. Although she laughed like a schoolgirl when I asked for her recipe, I knew that her years of experience meant she put the flavors of the island into every single pie. Her pie was moist and lighter than the others we had tried, baked in a rectangular sheet pan and cut in squares. Patrick was right. It was a long way to go for pie, but a week on the island of Eleuthera made it all worthwhile.
Victoria Allman has been following her stomach around the globe for 13 years as a yacht chef. Her odyssey around the globe is chronicled in her first book, Sea Fare: A Chef 's Journey Across the Ocean. Victoria's second book, SEAsoned: A Chef 's Journey with Her Captain, is a humorous look at a yacht chef 's first year working for her husband. Visit victoriaallman.com.