The Joy of Cooking (Behind Bars)
Recipes from the innovative chefs at the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville, including Delightful Tuna Nachos and Frosted Shredded Wheat Surprise.
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Prisoners who spurn what’s on offer at the dining hall have long cooked up their own meals, using ingredients scavenged or stolen. Now, a group of female inmates at Gatesville’s Mountain View Unit have collected their wisdom in a cookbook, From the Big House to Your House.
The Associated Press’ Michael Graczyk met with the convict chefs at the prison and found creativity to be at the core of their cooking:
For example, they’ve found that an empty potato chip bag works for cooking in a quart-size electric warming pot, their only source of heat for cooking. A plastic ID card — similar to a credit card — makes an acceptable cutting or chopping implement. And tuna and mackerel can be made into great-tasting nachos.
Ramen noodles, chips, pork rinds, and other items that can be purchased at the prison commissary make many appearances throughout the book. However, tuna seems to appear most often, as the Austin American-Statesman‘s John Kelso noted when he made the trek out to Gatesville for a column last March. “The book … does a lot with tuna: Tuna Ball, Tuna Boat, Traditional Tuna Sandwich with Zest, Tuna Tacos, Zesty Tuna Tacos, Tangy & Crunchy Tuna Salad, Tuna Wraps, and Delightful Tuna Nachos,” Kelso wrote.
“I know it sounds disgusting, but I love tuna nachos. And I’ve got so many people here converted to it,” Celeste Johnson, one of the cookbook’s authors, told Graczyk. That recipe follows below:
Delightful Tuna Nachos
1 package tuna
1 package chili with beans
2 tablespoons powdered milk
2 tablespoons salad dressing
3 teaspoons jalapeno hot sauce
1 package chicken seasoning tortilla chips
1 tablespoon salsa
1 tablespoon jalapeno cheese
3 tablespoons hot water (in plastic insert)
In plastic insert, combine chicken seasoning mix and dry milk. Add water slowly to avoid lumps. Mix until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Place package of chili with beans alongside insert and cook both for 1 1/2 hours. Pour chili with beans over tortilla chips. Follow with tuna mixture. Top with salsa. Add more jalapeno hot sauce if desired. Serves 2.
Is your mouth watering yet? There’s also “Almost Teriyaki Soup,” “Sardine Dip,” “‘Skin of the Pig’ Burrito,” “Faux Sangria,” “Girly Scout Cookies,” and “Frosted Shredded Wheat Surprise.” Facts about about criminal justice, wrongful convictions, and prison life accompany the recipes.
We’re not sure that America’s most famous prison cook, Martha Stewart, would sign off on any of these recipes. Her cooking during a five-month stint in federal prison in 2004 sounded more ambitious, as she managed to whip up some crab-apple jelly, CNN reported. Perhaps she’d be willing to be a celebrity judge on Top Chef: Gatesville.
(Thirsty? How about brewing up a batch of pruno—aka prison “toliet wine”—for your next happy hour. Elaborate recipe available here. Taste, however, does not seem to be part of the homemade beverage’s charm: “For lack of a better metaphor, pruno tastes like a bile flavored wine cooler.”)