—by Kjersti Hanneman and Nate Paine, HPC members
The two of us met while serving as Peace Corps volunteers in Haiti in 2001– 2002. We served in a rural area in the South East Department, 60 miles from the capital, Port au Prince. Haiti is a small country, but the roads and communication networks in this mountainous country are so underdeveloped, those 60 miles took four hours to cover in a truck.
Despite these barriers, there is a degree of homogeneity in the Haitian diet. One of the most common meals Haitians of all classes and locations eat is a dish called Sauce Pois. Our neighbors ate Sause Pois several times a week, and so did we. Although at times we tired of eating this dish, looking back on our experience, it is a meal rich with memories.
Sauce Pois is bean sauce made with almost any kind of bean: red, black, pigeon, butter, split peas, or whatever is available. People in our village made Sauce Pois with black beans or red beans because that’s what they grew. Peasants eat this bean sauce on top of corn mush, again because they grow corn. Wealthier Haitians who can afford to purchase food eat bean sauce with rice.
The number of beans one uses in Sauce Pois is an indication of one’s wealth. Peasant bean sauce is quite thin because the peasants must sell a high percentage of their crops and therefore try to use as few beans as possible for their own consumption. Unfortunately, in the area around our mountainside village, the beans never lasted until the next season. There was always a lean month or two while waiting for the harvest.
Haitians who can afford it often have a breakfast of fried spaghetti or bread with peanut butter. The primary meal is consumed in the early afternoon, which is when Sauce Pois is consumed. When the sun goes down, most Haitians have a simple meal of wheat or corn porridge, or nothing at all.
Making Sauce Pois in Haiti is time consuming. Our village had no running water or electricity. Women cooked over open fires. Firewood is collected in the morning and the cornmeal is cooked into a mush and set aside. The beans are cooked with plenty of water and set aside. In the meantime, a small child climbs a tree to retrieve a coconut. The coconut is cut open with a machete and the meat is grated into pulp. The pulp is soaked with water and squeezed repeatedly to obtain coconut milk. With all of these ingredients prepared, a cube of salty flavoring is fried with hot pepper, onions, garlic and A LOT of oil. Then, after reserving some of the whole beans, the beans are smashed or passed through a food mill. The pureed beans are mixed with water, the whole beans, and coconut milk and served atop rice or corn mash. Cooking over an open fire, this dish took me four hours to complete! Here is a recipe adapted from Extending the Table: a World Community Cookbook, for first world kitchens.