Mention the name Rita Springer to any Barbadian, and immediately they will think of Barbadian cooking at its best! Conkies, and turn-overs, and breadfruit fritters, guava juice, jug-jug, and Christmas ham – all of our Barbadian dishes were acknowledged as proper “cuisine” by this amazingly unselfish and talented woman.
Rita was born in Crumpton Street, St. Michael, and was the eldest of 5: 4 girls and 1 boy, the children of the late Mr. & Mrs. Archibald Cozier.
“Things were very different from now“, she recalls, sitting comfortably in her white wicker arm chair. She looks out into the garden and continues, “money was very small then, and as my mother would say – ‘you had to make a 6 into a 9’. After leaving school at Queen’s College I was unable to go abroad to study home economics as I would have liked.”
Indeed, from an early age, Rita had nurtured a love for the kitchen. “My father would always have to chase me out,” she laughs. “He thought I was distracting the cook from her job, but I was only trying to help.”
After leaving school, Rita worked for several years with her father in their hardware store in Swan Street. As a hobby she busied herself documenting the recipes of her mother and other friends and family members. She laments, however, that “in those days cooks did not strictly measure anything – they just put in a bit of this and a pinch of that”, so writing recipes needed a lot of trial and testing and tasting over and over again.
She used to do home catering in her spare time.
Rita was married to Charles Springer now deceased- the brother of the late Sir Hugh Springer, Governor General of Barbados. Some years after her marriage Rita was invited by the late Miss Ivy Alleyne, principle of the House Craft Centre to join their part time staff to lecture in foods and nutrition at the centre. From here she gained much experience.
Though now defunct, this centre was located on Bay Street, just outside of the city, and as few women worked outside of the home, the Home Craft Centre was a socializing and educational meeting place. Rita very much enjoyed working with these women. “I taught both practical and theory in food and nutrition. We would bake pastries and cakes and then take them home to our families.”
In 1958 Rita and family went to live in Trinidad during the period of the Federation fo the West Indies which ended in 1962. Later, they lived in England between 1964 and 1970 when the children Basil and Helen persued their studies in higher education and her husband did a law course at Inner Temple, Inns of Court. It was at this time that she decided on the idea to write a cookbook. For though she had collected dozens of cookbooks, not one of them featured Caribbean cooking. Rita’s “Caribbean Cookbook” was published in England in 1968.
“They told me I was the first person in the Caribbean to do a cookbook” she notes, with both a calm sense of confidence and a sense of duty accomplished. And Rita Springer’s recipes have been the backbone of many a Caribbean dining table for well over 30 years.
Rita Springer – the matriarch of the Caribbean Kitchen – making sure that the recipes of our great grandmothers are enjoyed by generations yet to come.
Article written in 2005 and compliments of “Ins and Outs of Barbados” Magazine