26 November 2009 Crème Caramel and more

Thanksgiving USA.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The smell of turkey since 5:00 am.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
Cranberry sauce.
Madison High vs Skowhegan  High annual rivalry.
Winter jackets.
Chocolate cream pie.
Meme’s now Uncle Raymond’s sausage.
Green bean casserole.
A fire in the fireplace.

Did I miss it? Oh yes and much more than I  last year. Last year Ghana was still fresh and new. Missing Thanksgiving seemed small compared to all the great things that I was doing, seeing and learning. But this year I have been away from home for more than a year and am occasionally homesick.  So what was I going to do? Ever since I missed the July 4th picnic at the Kumasi Sub office I had been planning to go to the (KSO) and have Thanksgiving with Mike, Lenore and other PCVs in the area. But like most long term plans in Ghana this one was thwarted. Two weeks before Thanksgiving I had to go to Accra for medical purposes. (I am fine my doctor was just being careful. They give us good medical care here.) Thus I missed more than a week of classes. End of term exams were coming up and I felt I needed to stay here and prepare my students for their ICT exam.  Lenore was disappointed. We had planned to have Thanksgiving on the Saturday after and it was her birthday. I would have loved to share her birthday with her but Lenore understood. I sent Mike a text and he replied  with “God will bless you….”.

I had no classes on Thanksgiving Day. My first decision was not to be a baby and mope about thinking about what I couldn’t have.  I planned to have my own holiday.  I would read, do puzzles and take some photographs. In the morning I did the reading and the puzzles. I also had a mineral and some popcorn. The popcorn reminded me of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Just before lunch some of the students from 3C, the home economics tract, came by and said that at 12:00 pm  they were having practicals. Hamdia wanted to borrow my coal pot and some utensils. They invited me to come watch. I agreed thinking it would be a good photo op.

I had an orange and finished my scrabble puzzle. Then I took a bath. I put on jeans. I actually felt cool and now that I can again wear my favorite jeans again I wear them every chance I get. Last year at this time the heat and my weight would have kept me out of them. Changes. It was about 10 minutes to one and I had done everything I could to make myself late. In a year I have also learned that nothing starts on time. Even though I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach the whole time I am “late” I still try to be late. The exception to this is when I am in control of the situation like my classes. I will not be late to them.

I rode my bike to the uncompleted dinning hall. There were 5 people in the hall. Madam Miriam, the Home Economics madam, Dr. Jesus, a local photographer and 3 students dressed in their catering whites.  Madam Miriam was upset and threatening to leave because the students were an hour late. Dr. Jesus was asleep. The three students were setting up a table where they would do their cooking.

Over the next hour students trickled in an set up their tables. There were four groups of students. Each group had a table and had laid out their pots and ingredients in a orderly display along the edge of the table. Behind each cooking table were one or two coal pots, a small bucket of water and some more cooking pots.

Two groups shared a table where they would display their finished products. These tables had five stands on them, one on each corner and one in the middle. Over the wooden stands they had draped a lace cloth. Their serving platters were on the display tables under the lace, protected from the flies.

Around 2:15 the cooking finally began. Yam balls was the first dish they were cooking. The yams here are huge. They look like the calf of a leg. One yam can feed a family. They yam balls were very simple to make. The yam was boiled then mashed. They added butter, salt, white peppe and two egg yolks. I was surprised that they didn’t use the whole egg because in Ghana nothing is wasted. Then they formed the mashed yam into balls, dipped it in the egg white (ah ha!) and then rolled it in bread crumbs. Then this was deep fried.

While the yam balls were frying they started on the beef or cow meat for the kebabs. In Ghana they steam the meat. If you have read this blog you might remember me praising this  particular culinary method. The meat becomes tender and saturated in the spices added to the pot and its so simple to do. Chop the meat into 1 inch cubes. Place it in a pot. Add spices. In Ghana maggie is the spice of choice; it is very similar to our bullion and can be found in beef, chicken, onion and shrimp flavors. One cube of maggie for each serving, salt, and curry powder.  I add some American spices when I cook and leave out the maggie. I put celery powder, ground ginger and cumin as well as black pepper. Slice a small onion and a few cloves of garlic, to taste. Then put a small amount of water into the pot, cover and cook at least 30 minutes. In Ghana they are not afraid to cook their food plenty. I assume in this heat that well cooked  food has less chance of carrying disease or spoiling.

Next was the fruit drink which was made from fresh watermelon, pineapple and oranges. Madam Miriam shared a section of watermelon with me and I ate it as I watched the cooks grate watermelon and pineapple then sieve out the pulp. They used a familiar juicer on the orange. This was put into a lovely pitcher and placed on the display table.

The yam balls were ready. The four best were chosen and put on a serving platter.  They were garnished and placed on the display table. Students wanted to pose with their platters of yam balls and I obliged them by taking a photo. In fact during the whole day students were hamming it up for the camera. I did get some nice candids but they were always aware where the camera was and some even jumped into then photos. A few times during the day I told them to go back to cooking because they were so distracted by the camera.

There were plenty of yam balls left and I wished for one but continued with my photography instead of asking. Master Amino came in about that time. When I saw him walking around eating a yam ball I went to one of the groups and complained. I had been here suffering with them, taking photos and encouraging them. They gave master one, who just came, but they didn’t give me a yam ball! I got two. One from group I complained to and one from those next to it. Yum.

I walked behind one table to see a pot of yellow water about to boil. I think my face showed some concern because one girl hurried to show me the red powder they used to color the water. They were making saffron rice. Phew! I have eaten a lot of things in Ghana but…..

Madam Miriam was at a table and called to me to see the next dish. She was cracking six eggs into a metal mixing bowl then she added 4 tablespoons of sugar. She took a wire whisk. Wait a wire whisk I haven’t seen one of those in Ghana ever. I asked where she bought it. “In town” was her reply, “at the plastic sellers in front of Good Family.” Thats my friend. I’ll have to ask her next time I am at market. She began to whisk the eggs and sugar together. No could they be. Oh please don’t get your hopes up Vicky but could it be true are they making a dessert? Is that dessert going to be custard? I asked Madam what they were making. crème Caramel. I did shout for joy! I said I would watch closely to see how they make it without an oven.  Madam told them to whisk the sugar and eggs well. Then she told some others to caramelize some sugar.During the preparation I walked around to each table telling the cooks how much I missed crème caramel and that I hadn’t had any since I came to Ghana.

They had four small Ideal milk cans and Madam told them to grease the inside of the cans with margarine. Some caramelized sugar was then poured into the bottom of each can. The eggs and sugar were beaten to a frothy mass and a can of ideal Milk was added and folded in. The liquid was poured through a seive into the Ideal milk cans.  At another table there were four pieces of notebook paper covered in margarine. The cooks were covering the top of the ideal milk cans with this greased paper and tying the paper around the top of the can. This table used strips of polytin bags, another had string. The margarine was to help the paper stick to the can.

I walked over to the table where madam was demonstrating putting the cans of crème caramel into the pot. She filled the bottom of the pot with about 2 inches of water, then placed a clean napkin (Americans call them kitchen towels) in the pot. The cans of crème caramel were placed on top of the napkin. The pot was covered and then placed on the coal pot. Within an hour I could be eating crème caramel! Was this a good Thanksgiving or what!

With all my excitement over the crème caramel I missed them making a syrup from some of the fruits and the cooking of the rice. The rice came out a lovely light yellow color, not disgusting at all and was garnished with, tomatoes and green peppers. They were going to use the syrup on a fruit salad. They began cutting up the fruits but I knew how to do this so I wandered off.

In Ghana the rice must have a stew(it’s more like what we call a sauce and is usually tomato based). So a simple tomato stew was made for the rice. I didn’t watch because at one table the crème caramel was coming out of the pot. Madam called me over. The papers were removed from the cans and Madam slid a knife between the can and the custard to loosen it. (I was secretly hoping for a large chunk to be left behind in at least one of the cans.) Then she tipped the can over onto a serving platter. Then she dug into that first can and came up with a nice chunk of custard dripping with caramelized sugar, which she offered to me!

I followed Madam Miriam as she demonstrated how to remove the crème caramel from the tins. I picked up the empty tins and got the rest of the caramel out with my finger. The third group had made custard in a poly bag. They put it in a can and gave it to me, with a fork. Oh heavenly day, thankful day DESSERT in Ghana! I ate slowly making sure that I had carmel with every bite.

There were 16 servings of crème caramel on the display tables. I almost suggested that the cooks post guards. I was not sure I could control myself! As I was eying the desserts my phone notified me that I had a text message. Liz had sent me a Happy Thanksgiving message.  Students read over my shoulder we read Liz’s message  “Happy Thanksgiving! I hope whether you are working or spending the day with friends and family, your day is filled  with good food and fun!  We all laughed and I said to the girls surrounding me “Yes my day has been filled with good food and fun!” I immediately replied to Liz’s text assuring her I was having both and telling her the menu.

Charles, one of the two young men in the class, came with some questions about my camera. I gave my baby to him and watch as he took some photos near me. I relaxed when I saw that handled the camera with care and kept the strap around his neck.

Last to be done was the kebabs. The meat was well steamed and ready to skewer. The cooks cut up tomatoes, green peppers and onions and made the kebabs. They put them on a platter and then poured some of the stew over the kebabs. Weren’t they going to cook the kebabs? No, I guess not, the platter went to the display table with some garnish of spring onions.

Like ants at a picnic masters came though the door. How did they know the food was finished and ready to serve?  They claimed they were just headed to foootball practice and the aroma brought them in. Before they decended I grabbed a plate and took a heap of saffron rice, small stew, two kebabs from one table and one from another, two yam balls, fruit salad and one georgeous crème caramel. One of the cooks poured me some fruit juice. I found a student desk and sat down to enjoy!

Thanksgiving Ghana

Crème Caramel
Coal pots
Fruit salad
Saffron rice and stew
Yam balls
The smell of meat steaming for 40 minutes
Fruit juice



1 Comment

  1. Suzie said,

    January 5, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Hi, Vicky.

    I am a Peace Corps nominee for a computer science/IT position in Sub-Saharan Africa. I was wondering if all PCVs in this field end up teaching computer science, and how technical you have to be. I wasn’t a CS major or anything but have worked with computers at school and work (newspaper web site) for 20 years or so. I’m also working on a Web Master certificate.


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