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By Dave DeWitt
Gladys Graham self-published her cookbook, Tropical Cooking, in the Panama Canal Zone, then a U.S. possession, in 1947. It is a surprisingly comprehensive survey of cooking in the zone with 130 pages of recipes with ingredients ranging from avocado to vulture. She wrote of visiting local markets in her introduction.
“Here are counters with avocados, mangos looking like smooth peaches, oranges, strange roots and berries. Overhead are stems of bananas. Along the crowded aisles are bunches of scallions, heaps of knobby tan ginger root, dried fish, shrimp, and mushrooms. Cages of chickens and parakeets, platters heaped with chopped cabbage, or much, cheese and eggs catch your eye. Live pigs, turtles and lizards are tied along the sidewalks awaiting the kitchen. The smells may turn your stomach the first time as you self-consciously pass the uncurious gaze of the 'natives'.
“But the food is there, and it is edible. All this exotic hodge-podge is yours to take home and cook—for a family that was raised on steak, potatoes, and apple pie. My hat's off to your if you are interested and curious. You'll have some memorable experiences, and you'll need help and a bit of advice. About the time you think you've a good notion of what you are doing, someone will bring home a fresh-killed armadillo and sweat that he has heard it is edible. It is. (See page 81.)”
Note: I have not edited these recipes—they are direct from her book as published.
1 pound mature but not fully ripe mangoes
1 pound sugar
1/2 pound seeded raisins
2 oz. almonds
2 oz. garlic, ground fine
2 oz. ginger, ground fine
2 oz. dried hot peppers, ground fine
1 pint malt vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
Peel and slice the mangoes, then run everything through the food chopped together. Mix with the vinegar and boil for 20 minutes, stirring constantly. Seal.