A day in the life: Pimento Hill

Categories: Behind the stalls

In a new series, Luke Mackay goes behind the scenes with Borough’s traders to find out what makes them tick. This time, Pimento Hill

There is a palpable air of mischief around Dawn Smith of Pimento Hill. She has inherent naughtiness, a twinkle in the eye and an entirely wicked and contagious sense of humour that I can’t help but warm to, despite the fact that she regularly makes me blush as scarlet as her sorrel jelly.

Like so many of the traders at Borough, Dawn is a complete one-off and a force of nature. I think it must be a prerequisite of success here—you have to do things differently to ‘most’ people, and you have to get up every morning and grip the day with a ferocity and vigour that I find inspiring. These are people with passion and substance; who woke up one day and thought, ‘people NEED my products’ and then they made it happen. It’s not easy.

It was eight years ago that Dawn found her calling—she won’t mind me telling you that she was in a famous Borough pub at the time and might have had one or two shandies. She knew that Borough Market needed a little Caribbean sunshine, so a little later with a six-foot trestle table and eight products created in her home kitchen to sell, Pimento Hill was up and running.

Luke Mackay and Dawn Smith at the Pimento Hill stall

Evocative and powerful
It’s all about the pimento, or ‘allspice’ as we know it here. It is the backbone, the essence of so much Jamaican cookery. Plantations cover the area of St Mary parish where Dawn (and jerk) hails from. It permeates many of Dawn’s magical chutneys, powders, jams and relishes with its warm spice. The name Pimento Hill is so evocative and so powerful, conjuring up images of wood smoke rising into bright blue skies. Of lush greenery and sunshine. I want to climb Pimento Hill, wherever it may be, and sit atop it, with a cold beer and hot jerk chicken.

If I can’t do that then Dawn’s beautiful little stall right in the middle of Three Crown Square is a pretty good second best, with hundreds of beautifully branded jars, piled high with each variety available to taste from knowledgeable staff and Dawn herself. Dawn, like so many ‘food people’, sees food as love. If someone takes the trouble to cook for you, the chances are they love you. Dawn remembers the cookouts of her childhood, the men cooking on fire, and spiced meat and fresh vegetables aplenty. Food for her is family, a large table, children fighting over the best morsels and laughter rising up into the ether.

And that along with the pimento itself is the essence of her products: joy, love, sunshine and vivacity crammed into a jar. It’s why she has so many repeat customers. They come back again and again for their hit of jerk, or her Kicking Tomato Chutney or the famous scotch bonnet chilli jam, which will clear your sinuses quicker than vapour rub.

Sunshine in a jar
If you like your sunshine in a jar and your gossip hot off the press, then you need to hang out with Dawn at Pimento Hill. Dawn is Pimento Hill. Like her jerk seasoning, she’s incredibly warm, full of sunshine and love, but there’s also depth and complexity and man alive a kick up the backside if you’re not careful.

Read Luke’s recipe for pimento spiced squab pigeon with sorrel jelly