Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cooking from Scratch

People's ideas about what constitutes 'cooking from scratch' seem to vary. For some it may mean not buying a ready-made meal, for others it might require only using 'fresh' ingredients. The family we were staying with took it to what was, for me, a whole new level! They had a garden, but the food wasn't yet ready to be harvested, so instead their staple diet was cooking bananas in coconut milk. The bananas grew all around and the coconuts were gathered off the jungle floor.

Our 'Papa' with coconut he has just scraped out of the shell, and bananas behind him
However, whilst we were visiting, they also cut down a sago tree to give variety to their diet. Turning the tree into food is an amazing process...

The first thing is to find a tree which is ready and then fell it.

The trunk can be seen here lying on the jungle floor
Then the bark is cleaned and removed. The bark is pried off such that it can be laid as the basis of a bed on either side of the trunk. Linbum leaves are then laid on top of the bark bed
to catch the sawdust which will be produced. If a sack or tarpaulin is available, it too might be used.

The bare trunk with the bark and leaf bed being prepared
The aim now is to break the trunk down into pieces fine enough to be processed further. The main tool we used was a 'saw', though a mallet is also popular in other parts of PNG.

The two-handled saw with nails in to break up the sago
Then it was a team effort to saw through the trunk, with various members of the village taking their turns.

Sawing through the trunk; the mallet can be seen in use in the background
Once the tree had been turned into sawdust, the work was just beginning. The sawdust was loaded into bags and carried to the nearby water to be 'washed'.

The washing stand, linbum leaves and water buckets
The stand was constructed of a top layer of hessian bag, with two layers of linbum leaves underneath. Sago sawdust was scooped from the leaf on the floor into the hessian bag. Water was then poured onto it and squeezed back out again. The squeezing process was then repeated a few times before the sawdust was discarded and it all started again.

Back up at the house, the product is strained again to prepare it for cooking.

Straining through a sieve
Then it's finally ready to be cooked and eaten in any one of a myriad of ways: fried, baked or 'turned' with dry coconut or some other accompaniment.

'Turned' sago being served
Alternatively, it can be packaged and taken to market to be sold. A useful source of income.

Leaves were used to line a pot and form a case
Then the sago was packed down to fill the pot.
The leaves are tied over and cut off, then the package is ready
Whilst these formed the bulk of the diet, meat was a much rarer commodity. If the the family was lucky, maybe a bush rat or wild pig might be caught in a trap; though that didn't happen whilst we were with them. What we did see were tree-grubs, a kingfisher and (during a visit to a relative) some fish.

No food miles - caught in the water in the background and eaten right there

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