Many thanks to Ben Smith of Philadelphia for contributing this piece of historic cooking information, that is still commonly done today for special feasts.
“Cooking food in the earth,” that sounded like an interesting article for Dining Out With History.
Last summer, my niece Brianna Ralston and her boyfriend Ben Smith travelled to Papua New Guinea, where Ben grew up with his family.
He told me an interesting story about a Mumu feast, where all the food was cooked in a rock lined pit in the earth. They felt so privileged to share food with their friends from Papua New Guinea that was cooked in this traditional firepit method of cookery. Food has been cooked this way for the past 300 years and it is a custom that has been preserved to the present day.
A good series of photos is available on the Smith College Museum of Ancient Inventions, website. www.smith.edu/hsc/museum/ancient_inventions/hsc22b.htm
Families were and some still are, lucky to own even one pot, so this method of cooking has been used as a way to cook meat ( traditionally a whole pig,) along with vegetables. Now different types of meat are added. Since many families continue to cook their meals over the open fire, this method of cooking works well for bigger groups of people as the meal can be cooked with no pots, only using a fire and leaves.
Ben was kind enough to share the technique with me, as he experienced it at the Mumu feast he attended. The photos were taken by his group and show the delicious food as it is cooked in the ground. Here is the description as shared by Ben Smith :Here is the process our host, Enoch, described to us for hosting a mumu(he’s the fellow in the purple shirt):
Preparing the Mumu
- Dig a shallow depression into the ground, and build a wood fire in it
- Add stones to the fire (but NOT river stones! Those will start to shatter and explode when in a fire, shooting rock shrapnel! This happened to us at our BBQ on the river…)
- Once the stones are heated through, then cover over the fire and the wood with a few layers of banana leaves. You can remove the wood if you want and leave just the hot stones, but it’s kind of a pain to do that and Enoch said you don’t have to. In different kinds of mumu, they actually added green guava tree leaves to add smoke.
- Pile all your food in! They pile in lots of sweet potatoes, taro, greens (all sorts of random greens), chicken or lamb chops, hot dogs, corn, cooking bananas, pithy grass stalks called “pit-pit” (somewhat like baby corn?), green beans, tapioca root. There were also bits of powdered tapioca starch and water stuffed into green bamboo, so it steamed into gooey, starchy globs.
- Cover over all your food with lots more banana leaves, to seal them in.
- Our feast cooked for maybe 4 hours.
When it’s time to eat, uncover the food and separate it out into bowls for serving, buffet style. You may want to cover the bowls with more fresh banana leaves to keep off the flies. Also, beware of hungry village dogs that may snack on anything you leave unprotected!
Also, beware of hungry village dogs that may snack on anything you leave unprotected!