Enjoyed by millions today, Jamaican ‘jerk’ can trace its roots back to the early 17th century.
When England, then a republic under Oliver Cromwell, seized Jamaica from Spain in 1655, the Spanish colonists fled and making the most of their opportunity to escape, their African slaves fled into the mountains in the interior of the country, joining other landless groups such as deserters and some European hunters. This escapee community became the origin of the Jamaican Maroons.
There, it seems they fused their cooking methods with those of the indigenous Taino Indians and developed the style of cooking and seasoning the wild game, mainly hogs, that they hunted. This involved creating a small hut within which a shallow pit was dug, over which they erected a grill, known as a boucan. On this, strips of meat, in the distinctive marinade or paste, were slow-cooked and smoked over a fire of aromatic wood. The benefit of this being that the meat was preserved for days.
As well as feeding themselves they sold the meat to passing pirate ships. The men who hunted and cooked the meat were called ‘boucaniers’, after the grill. This became anglicised to ‘buccaneer’ and the name used to describe the pirates they sold the meat to!