I ran across this lovely article about unofficial Peace Corps cookbooks, and it brought a smile to my face.
There was no Panama Peace Corps cookbook when my husband and I were there, but there were plenty of recipes shared in the Peace Corps newsletter. I still have a few of them—ragged pieces of paper torn from the newsletter, smelling ever so faintly of mould.
The best Peace Corps recipe ever was for ricotta cheese made with powdered milk.
Fresh milk was impossible to come by in our village, as there was no electricity, and hence no refrigeration. Dairy of any sort just wasn’t part of the diet. But you could buy cans of powdered milk (marketed by Borden as Klim…the most uncreative name ever).
Today, with my goat milk, I am quite precise with temperature when I make ricotta, but the Peace Corps recipe was written for the Volunteer cooking over a three-rock fire with nothing more than a pot and a spoon.
The recipe went something like this:
Mix up two litres of milk from powder.
Heat to just below a boil.
Add ¼ cup of vinegar.
Skim off the cheese curds as they form.
This little recipe made surprisingly good ricotta, even from powdered milk. With it, we managed lasagne, pizza, and all manner of other cheesy treats over our little fire. It was a delightful break from unending days of rice and yuca.
Excited by our ability to make foods from home, we shared our pizza with the neighbours.
They thought it was disgusting.
But we all laughed and enjoyed the chance to talk about and compare our different cultures and cuisines.
One of the goals of Peace Corps is to foster understanding and exchange between cultures. Food is an important part of that exchange for all Peace Corps Volunteers. Even when the various parties can’t agree on what tastes good, food opens dialogue, it makes people smile, it is a common language.
Perhaps the world would be a more peaceful place if we all tried a little Klim diplomacy.