Baking Monster Cookies in the Village

During the month that our family lived in Awalmade Village, Papua New Guinea, I learned many things about cooking over an open fire. It's not really knowledge that you can explain verbally, you just kind of get a "feel" for it. For example, knowing how hot the fire has to be to cook but not burn, and when do you need to start "turning down" the heat in order to finish things well.

We made a village pizza by cooking the dough on the first side, then flipping it over, adding the toppings, and covering the skillet to melt the cheese. I have a feeling that if we'd been served this pizza in the U.S., we might've turned our noses up at it. But, in Awalmade Village, it tasted great!!

This is a pot oven. You put about two inches of sand inside and then set some clean tuna cans on top of that. The sand spreads out and holds the heat from the fire so that there is a more consistent temperature inside the oven. Keep the lid on to hold in the heat and you actually have a pretty decent baking apparatus! It takes a pretty hot fire and some experience to know when it's too hot. That experience comes by trial and error: some of my banana bread loaves were burned on the edges and still raw in the middle. But I eventually caught on.
Baking Bread
When you're baking in a pot oven, you want to do a lot of baking at once, because once you have the fire right and the oven heated you really want to take advantage of that! Imagine trying to line up all your ingredients and your mixing station on a couple of thin, rough board counter tops. You have to find something to cover all of your dishes with because the flies want to land on everything. You've got sweat dripping from every limb because it's more than 90 degrees and very humid. There's no washing water handy, so you're going to end up using almost every dish you own in the process.

On this day, I made three loaves of banana bread, one loaf of sourdough bread, and a batch of my husband's favorite cookies--monster cookies. You can see that the two loaves in the containers have all of the sides and bottom cut off because the edges were burned by the time the middle was done; the pot oven was too hot. I do not recommend baking cookies in the pot oven because you can only bake about 8 at a time so it takes a LOOOOONG time to get them all done. And the chocolate chips were already melted from the climate before they ever went into the oven! 
But, my boys loved them (even without M&M's), so I guess it was worth it!! Thinking back, I think that round of baking took about 6 hours (thankfully, I could fit 2 loaf pans in my oven at once).

Our was papa (guardian father) LOVED banana bread! So for our last big bung kai (family potluck) in the village, he put out the word and people brought me dozens of bananas so that I could make a lot of banana bread and banana cake for our big get-together. Our PNG family had never done any baking because they didn't have the right utensils or an oven. So, I held a baking lesson in order to get all of that cake ready. They had never read a recipe or measured ingredients, so we had to start with the basics. Most of them took their turn reading the recipe I had translated into Tok Pisin, practicing measuring the ingredients carefully, and mixing things in the order & manner given. It was so fun hearing them give each other reminders and advice as they took their turns. They did a great job! 

Hopefully, they'll be able to remember their lessons because "was papa" told me that if they don't make him banana bread after we left, he was going to call me and tattle on them!!
The yummy results of our baking lesson

 After all that baking, you get to go cool down in the river as you wash every dish you own!


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