Jail Mix, Dope Fiend Sandwich, anyone? Prison chefs tout their creativity in cookbook


Thursday, November 11th 2004, 12:43 pm
By: News On 6


SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ Talk about your Iron Chefs.

Proving that the steel bars of the Washington State Penitentiary are no barrier to fine dining, inmates at the Walla Walla prison have just produced ``The Convict Cookbook,'' which includes recipes that can actually be made inside a cell without a stove.

``We wanted to beat Martha Stewart to the punch'' is the explanation one inmate gave for the book, said prison spokeswoman Lori Scammahorn.

Po' Mans Burritos, Cell Block Fudge or Jail Mix, anyone? How about Dope Fiend Sandwich or Prizzon Po Carcass Casserole? Those are just a few of the tasty dishes featured in the 163-page book. There's a helpful glossary of prison slang in the back, too.

The cookbook grew out of a community college class on how to make the transition to the outside. The soon-to-be-released classmates discovered they had such talents as cooking, writing and cartooning.

The book includes short facts and insights into prison life. There is also an essay ``Why Do We Cook in Our Cells? or Bad Guys, Good Taste?'' by Rick Webb, one of the authors. He explains that while prison food is OK, it becomes monotonous over time, and cell cooking provides some variety and creativity for inmates.

Cooking food in a prison cell isn't easy. Prisoners do not have stoves or microwaves. What they are allowed is an immersion heater known as a stinger, which can heat a cup of water to boiling.

Some recipes can be cooked on radiator pipes. Others require the prison kitchen. Many of the recipes involve plastic bags standing in as mixing bowls.

All involve some ingenuity.

Henry Chavez wrote that during the 1980s he worked in a prison kitchen and cooked his Upside Down Huevos Rancheros by slipping them into an oven alongside the food being cooked for the evening meal.

``Needless to say, my clandestine culinary skills got me run out of the kitchen,'' wrote Chavez, who has honed his abilities over 19 years in prison.

Dave Rivers' Perfect Omelet is made by combining all the ingredients in a plastic bag and boiling.

John Bucko, who drew the cartoons for the book, contributed a baklava recipe using flour tortillas layered with peanut butter, honey, a banana and peanuts.

Ron Valentine's Blue Mountain Crabbies combined canned crab, crushed crackers, cream cheese, mayonnaise and a few other ingredients in a plastic bag that was hung outside a cell window during winter to chill.

Donald Dunn's Jailhouse Pizza uses uncooked Top Ramen as the crust and tops it with pizza sauce, cheese spread, some pepperoni or summer sausage and corn chips.

``It's not delivery, it's jailhouse!'' says the caption of the accompanying cartoon.

Dunn also provided the recipe for the Dope Fiend Sandwich, a treat popular in the King County Jail. It consists of two Grandma's brand peanut butter cookies, with a smashed Snickers bar in between.

``These cookies are so named because heroin addicts often come to prison craving sweets,'' Dunn wrote.

Other sweets include Behind These Bars, Celly Smores, Short-timer Cheesecake, and, for inmates from Seattle, Convict Mocha (coffee, hot chocolate, melted candy bar).

Many of the recipes are original. Some have been passed down from inmate to inmate for years. There are also some from volunteers, staff members and families of inmates. The book was paid for by private contributions.

Proceeds from sales of the $17 cookbook _ available in bookstores around Washington state _ will go to the Children's Museum of Walla Walla. Some of the money will also be used for museum passes for the children of inmates, when they are in town for a visit, said co-author Webb.

``We all agree that it would be `a good thing' to provide other worthwhile activities for children besides seeing Dad,'' Webb wrote.