Martha comes to Malawi

My next post was originally going to be about my new belief in pre-paid services, since the Water Board came to disconnect my water on Friday.  I wasn’t home at the time, so ended up having to go on a several hour adventure to the main Water Board office, where I learned that my landlord/the previous tenants hadn’t paid the bill since June.  Because it was 11 AM on a Friday, I had to fork over $170 in cash to have my water restored by the weekend, and I was none too pleased.  But, I’ve probably complained about that enough; my water was eventually turned back on (though it took several more phone calls), it sounds like either my landlord or my housemate’s company will reimburse me, and anyway, retelling my battle with Malawian bureaucracy is almost as traumatic as the experience itself.

So, let’s talk about something else.  It’s almost Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.  Though I enjoy the food and the football, what I love most is the togetherness of the whole holiday; ironically, I haven’t been home for turkey day since I was in high school.  Still, I’ve had some pretty great Thanksgivings in recent years with friends and their families, and even a fantastic Telluride Thanksgiving where the living room was turned into a Great Hall.  So even though this isn’t my first Thanksgiving away from home, it’s my first Thanksgiving away from…Thanksgiving.  The holiday isn’t really celebrated in Malawi, but that hasn’t stopped me from getting sentimental about the occasion.  So, I’ve tried to bring a little of Thanksgiving to Malawi, though I’ve yet to see any sort of turkey or cranberries here.

Pie, on the other hand, seemed like an attainable goal.  Now, let’s be clear:  I actually make a pretty decent pie.  Last year, I successfully hosted a party with four pies and there was nothing left over.  My apple crumb pie was a hit at Addie’s family’s Thanksgiving last year, when they graciously adopted me yet again.  Still, despite a positive track record, pie baking in Malawi is an exercise in substitution.

First, my secret weapon for a good crust, Crisco, is nowhere to be found.  Generic vegetable shortening?  Nada.  Butter is absurdly expensive, and I wasn’t really prepared to make this a pie of GOLD, which left me with margarine.  Margarine here is fairly reasonably priced, and comes in a wide range of varieties and/or colors of packaging.  I even got something called “margarine for baking,” though a comparison of its ingredient list with that of regular margarine revealed no noticeable differences.  I was hoping that baking margarine might have a lower moisture content, but as far as I could tell, that was not the case.

My mom, always helpful in the Suzy Homemaker department, sent me a recipe for a pie crust that uses margarine.  Unfortunately, it called for cornstarch, which I’ve not been able to find here.  (Not that Malawi’s primary crop is corn or anything.)  Never one to be deterred by, you know, a recipe, I whipped together my pie crust anyway.  Since I didn’t have a rolling pin on hand, I rolled my dough into a circle using my vanilla extract bottle and a good deal of smooshing by hand.  The result was a little sticky and entirely too yellow; no word yet on the taste or texture.

Before conquering the crust question, I looked far and wide for something, anything, resembling a pie plate in this city.  The closest thing I found was a 9X9 fake pyrex dish, which cost $10 (see previous comment re: pie of GOLD) and didn’t really resemble a pie plate at all.  So, I decided to use my housemate’s round crock from Dedza pottery, which doesn’t really resemble a pie plate either, but it is round and (bonus) already in my house.

On Sunday night, I assembled the crust in my pie…crock and put it in the refrigerator overnight.  Today, I was ready to work on the filling.  I had scored some Granny Smith apples at the grocery store last week, mainly because I have been planning this pie for a while and none of the other apple varieties were immediately recognizable to me.  The filling assembly didn’t go so badly, actually.  Lacking proper measuring cups, the strudel involved some guesstimation.  The cinnamon definitely was not powdered as finely as what I’m used to, and the bag said “cinemon,” so I hope it was the right stuff.  I may have been a little too enthusiastic in my apple peeling, as the apples nearly eclipsed the crust.  Oh well.  After pie assemblage came another fun part:  converting my farenheit recipe to work with my celcius oven.  Fortunately, google prevented me from having to think too hard, and the pie went into and later came out of the oven without incident.

Since I’m planning to take the pie to a potluck this evening, a taste test has not yet been performed.  (I did break a tiny piece off the crust, and was pleased to learn that even in Africa, fat and flour can’t go wrong.)  Based on appearances, it seems like I might have done okay.  As okay as Thanksgiving in Malawi can be, anyway.

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Proof that you can take the girl away from Martha Stewart, you can’t take Martha Stewart away from the girl (or something like that).

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3 Responses to “Martha comes to Malawi”

  1. Larkin Powell Says:

    Culinary adventures are great! I’d like to get the recipe for what you made. We’re trying out some Namibia recipes before we leave in a month. Mango chutney and and apple-type cake. Don’t know if you have these ingredients in Malawi, but if so, recipes are at: http://namibiafulbright.blogspot.com/2008/11/preparing-our-taste-buds.html

  2. Julia Says:

    I love that you made a pie in Malawi, and your post made me laugh out loud. I’ll be thinking of you during Thanksgiving this year… who will my parent’s friends make fun of for being a vegetarian this year (yes, they brought it up last year)?!

  3. Kaitlin Says:

    I hope you have a great Thanksgiving (even if it won’t be filled with football and turkey).
    I will be having my own culinary adventure as Seth’s cousin has ordered a Turducken for us to eat. 🙂
    Take care!

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