Plotinus in the Jungle

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Cookbooks in the jungle: a review

When we first started packing to come to PNG, this was one of the first questions to spring to my mind: which cookbooks to bring? Now, three years of field testing later, I can tell you what I brought and my thoughts thereunto.

Most of the cookbooks I brought were by organizations with a long history of sending people off to other lands, where you will have to substitute, improvise, and make ingredients from scratch. First off, the Mennonite cookbooks, partially inspired by the Mennonite Central Committee missions. All of their cookbooks use moderate amounts of meat if and when meat is called for.  Each one has little quotes or reflections on almost every page and introducing each chapter.

More-With-Less: The Classic Mennonite cookbook. American dishes, plus some international favorites. Large granola section. From a slightly different era, (all the dried soybeans!) but still useful. What recipe I cook the most: bierrocks, oatmeal bread, tortillas.











Simply In Season: The handy organized-by-season feature doesn’t really help that much when living in the mountains by the equator. Asparagus, tomatoes, pumpkins, and cabbage are all available fresh all year round, so I skip around frequently. But I used that feature when I was in the US and figuring out how to cook my CSA allotments, which was invaluable experience for being in PNG- learning to cook in a vegetable-centric manner. What recipe I cook the most: focaccia, curried beans and potatoes, broccoli-potato soup.









Extending the Table: The international one of the trio. Lots of bean recipes and curry recipes. Liturgical-living wise, it is nice that it divides up the main dishes into “everyday” with mostly vegetarian and small amounts of meat, and “feasting” dishes, with more meat.I just used it today to make pita bread and I felt very proud of myself. What recipe I cook the most: chickpea curry, potatoes with creamy tomato sauce.










Wycliffe, or Summer Language Institute (SIL) has a large presence in PNG, but they can be found all over the world translating the Bible.

The Wycliffe Cookbook, newest edition: great at telling you how to create ingredients: how to use powdered milk to make farmers’ cheese, substitute for sweetened condensed milk, etc. If we were living more remotely, has additional sections that would be useful- how to cook over open fires, inside baskets. What recipe I cook the most: favorite pancakes.




I have since arriving picked up a copy of “Yummy Ukuarumpa Meals” produced by the SIL headquarters here in PNG. It varies in how much access to store goods it assumes you have; we fall somewhere in the middle, so various recipes on one side of the scale or the other aren’t that applicable (I tend to skip the village ones that assume your main meat source is spam, and I also have to forgo the ones that call for cream cheese). What recipe I make the most: Buttermilk Yeast Rolls and Italian Sausage.

The Joy of Cooking, 1963 edition complete with diagrams of skinned squirrels and recommendations for what to do with snapping turtles (answer: feed them bread to clean them out for a few days first). Large section informing you about ingredients. Very comprehensive, but again, from a different era (so many things covered in gelatin)! What recipe I cook the most: Guava Jelly.













I also received a copy of Whole Foods for the Whole World by La Leche League from someone who was “going finish.” It assumes more access to tofu and other “crunchy” ingredients then is possible in PNG, but it has some nice recipes for more restaurant-like meals – gyros were a hit and I have ambitions of making chicken mole. What recipe I cook most: Eggplant Sauce.




Since I left the King Arthur Flour cookbook in the US (it is a big hefty volume and would have been hard to fit in our initial luggage) I also read the King Arthur Flour blog Flourish for baking ideas. They can stray a bit into plugging their own products like fancy sugars or specialty baking tins, though. What I cook the most: Spinach Calzone.

What I really need to do in the cooking realm is actually make and execute meal plans. I’ve gotten as far as “know what’s for dinner by 10 am” but planning out a whole week or even month is currently not happening. It’s a little tricky when perishable ingredients just show up on our doorstep (8 ears of corn! a stalk of cooking bananas!). Give me all your menu planning secrets in the comments.



  1. Bethany says:

    I have all three of the MCC trio 🙂 My go-to is Simply in Season but I can see how that isn’t as applicable in PNG! I usually plan a week’s worth of meals based on what we have and staggering meat/non-meat. Something I tried for a while was having each day have a theme: Italian, Mexican, seafood, etc., which gave something of a template to the planning and built in variety. I like making at least one big meal each week to have leftovers for lunches or next week. If most of the “surprises” at your doorstep could be sides, maybe you could plan the main dish and then leave open sides for whatever you have or whatever’s fresh?


  2. Rebecca says:

    Meal planning secrets? Um… find a way to be as lazy as possible. So, we eat the exact same thing every day for breakfast (baked oatmeal, prepared the night before and lasts us two days) and lunch (pb&j), with a special breakfast on saturday, and the occasional splurge on lunchmeat and cheese. For dinner I just try to cook a LOT so it lasts us 2 or 3 days. Pretty much every time. I make a fair use of pinterest, but it’s hard on slow internet, as I’m sure you know.

    Maybe I’ll send you a couple of our more veggie-centric cookbooks. Sadly they don’t get a lot of use in the arctic. 😦



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