Danny keeping grandmother’s legacy alive
As a little boy, Danny Simmons hid whenever his grandmother boiled flaxseed on the stove.
“It tasted terrible,” the 53-year-old said. “She said it cooled the blood. I said what do I need cool blood for, I want to be outside playing.”
But as he got older, he grew curious about his grandmother Mary Lucinda Theodosia Simmons's natural remedies and teas.
“She always had something boiling on the stove,” he said. “She was originally from St Kitts and came to Bermuda in 1905. I don't know if she learnt to make natural remedies there, or learnt in Bermuda.
“When I got older, I'd ask her what she was making, and what this or that was for.” Today his grandmother has long since passed away, but Mr Simmons is keeping her memory alive by cooking up his own non-alcoholic home brews.
For the last three years, Mr Simmons and his wife, Doreen, have been selling Bermuda Native Drinks, a line of teas and smoothies made from foraged wild ingredients such as lemon grass, allspice and prickly pear fruit.
They sell at the Bermuda Pie Factory on Parliament Street, and at the annual Home Grown Alternatives fair.
“I'm interested in things from a culinary cultural point of view,” he said. “I don't claim that the drinks are medicinal, but it is interesting to know what some of those ingredients were used for in times gone by.
“For example, broad leaf plantain was used for instant pain relief. Wedelia trilobata, a leafy shrub you find in coastal areas, was used for colds in Central America. You don't want to drink that one though if you're pregnant. It says that on the label.”
In his younger days, Mr Simmons was deeply interested in plants and considered becoming an environmentalist.
As a young apprentice with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries he started working with Bermuda Cedar.
“I did research on that plant, as part of a campaign to try and grow more,” he said. “I was looking at all the different uses of the cedar. I said wow, people used to drink this. I wondered what that was like. I tried to boil it. Then I learnt about other plants that had a similar thing, such as palmetto berries.”
Today he is a landscape architect with the Parks Department, but continues to experiment.
One of the first drinks he perfected was allspice, lemon grass and ginger tea.
“Allspice grows commonly throughout the island,” he said. “It is not native but is part of the environment, but it has an amazing aroma to the leaf.”
As friends and family tried his different concoctions they'd often urge him to sell them.
“I didn't originally intend to sell anything,” Mr Simmons said. “Then someone who took part in the HGA fair suggested I try selling there. It was there that we launched the drink in 2015.”
Today he makes about 100 bottles a month. Ingredients depend on the season, so he has about 40 variations.
“The hardest part about it is just finding the time,” he said. “I wear so many hats as a father, husband, son and architect. I do a lot of the work when my sons, Daniel, 15 and Dietrich, 13, are supposed to be in bed.”
He finds his ingredients in the wild.
“I would never take anything from a park,” he said. “I also wouldn't take it from anywhere I thought chemicals had been used. I also have to make sure it is a safe location. I don't want to be hanging off the edge of a cliff trying to get something.”
And while he takes from the environment, he tries hard not to be a scourge on it.
“I don't want to be a Lorax, taking so much that the environment is negatively impacted,” he said. “For example if we collect seeds from the prickly pear fruit, we try to put them back into nature. I'm experimenting with growing my own prickly pear.”
The one thing he hasn't yet conquered is his grandmother's homemade root beer and ginger beer.
“When she was getting on in age, I tried to make her root beer,” said Mr Simmons. “I told her you tell me what to do and I'll get the ingredients.”
But things didn't go quite according to plan.
“When I tried some, it smelled very strongly,” he said. “I said granny are you sure this isn't alcoholic? She said of course not, it's fine. But when I asked someone who would know, they said this is black rum! They were very excited, but I poured it down the sink. I've never been one for alcohol.”
His grandmother's recipe was never written down, so he's still trying to recreate it, even today.
“I've almost got it,” he said. “When I finally do get it right, then I will know things have come full circle and I will really feel connected to my grandmother.”
He thinks if she was here today she'd be immensely proud of his drinks. “I know she's with me,” he said.
The HGA Fair will be held on December 2 from 10am to 4pm at St Paul's Christian Centre in Paget. For more information see www.hga.bm or see them on Facebook