Among my favourite Bahamian comfort foods is a dish called Fire Engine, also known as the Stede Bonnet breakfast.

Abaco Bahamas Mailboat Stede Bonnet
M/V Stede Bonnet
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The Stede Bonnet was a freight boat that transported mail, cargo and passengers between Nassau and Abaco for nearly 30 years. It’s said that this dish was prepared each morning to feed passengers on the vessel.

When it comes to the origin of the name Fire Engine, I’ve yet to receive a definitive explanation. The most commonly cited theory is that some Bahamian cooks add so much pepper to the dish that it feels like your mouth is on fire. If anyone knows for sure, please drop me a note.

However it got its name, I’ve been looking for a Fire Engine recipe for ages, so I was happy to find one in Healthier Bahamian Cuisine. Thanks to the book’s authors, Marguerite Sawyer Mendelson and Marie Sawyer Ochs for allowing me to share it with you.

Stede Bonnet Breakfast (Fire Engine)

1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cans (12 ounces each) corned beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 teaspoon thyme
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste

Place all ingredients in a large frying pan and cook over medium-low heat 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Yield: 6 servings.

bahamas, cuisine, caribbean, fire engine, corned beef, stede bonnet
Stede Bonnet Breakfast (aka Fire Engine)

Though traditionally served over grits, Fire Engine can also be served over white or brown rice.

The above recipe yields a milder-flavoured dish, which I prefer. If, on the other hand, you like more heat, add diced hot pepper or hot sauce to taste while cooking. And if you’re trying to limit your salt intake, it’s worth checking labels, since sodium levels vary between corned beef brands.

4 thoughts on “Fire Engine: Bahamian Comfort Food

  • August 18, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Amanda: I always heard that is was the colour of the corned beef after it was seasoned (RED) and white grits or rice that is is served with. You may not know but your great-uncle Ancil nicknamed “Spotty” my father was captain of the Stede Bonnet in the early fifties. I made quite a few trips each summer with him. Next time in my office I wil tell and show you an amusing story related.

  • August 18, 2014 at 9:20 am

    This is my VERY, VERY favourite breakfast. I am glad to know that the GTC folks have such a great name for it. Us Nassau people aren’t nearly so fun. (You can also take this same recipe and substitute Vienna sausages for the corned beef. Delish.)

  • August 18, 2014 at 10:32 am

    That looks more like dinner than breakfast! Might have to try it!

  • August 19, 2014 at 6:22 am

    One of the older folks hanging out at Sid’s one day told me the recipe, which is much like yours, except the grits (always grits, according to him) were added and cooked with the rest. Onions, peppers and celery were sautéed first. He told me his tale of the name, but for life of me cannot remember the whole thing. I’ll make a pot, ponder it and get back to you. Better yet, go to Sid’s and talk to the old guy with big glasses. Can’t remember his name. Dang Kalik…


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