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Piper Kerman: Recipes For Survival

Piper Kerman at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Eamon Coyne
Piper Kerman at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Piper Kerman (right) and <em>Ask Me Another </em>host Ophira Eisenberg.
Eamon Coyne / NPR
Piper Kerman (right) and Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg.

Sentenced to 15 months in a minimum-security women's prison for a decade-old drug offense was the last thing Piper Kerman, a Smith College graduate and "nice blonde lady," ever expected. But it happened. Then she culled her experiences into a best-selling memoir, Orange Is The New Black, which was adapted by Weeds' Jenji Kohan into a hit Netflix series of the same title.

In the book, Kerman tells of how she navigated her way through the prison social structure and expounds on both the challenges and joys of communal female living. As she told Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg when she joined the show at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, Kerman made friends by being helpful. She became handy while working in the prison's electrical shop. After accidentally insulting the food in front of Pop, the head cook, Kerman ingratiated herself to Pop by fixing her bed--and Pop went on to become Kerman's "prison mama." In fact, food played an important role in prison life, as women bonded over cooking for one another using contraband items, microwaves, and whatever ingredients they could find.

Piper herself mastered the recipe for "prison cheesecake," which she would make for other inmates' birthdays and going-away parties. (Check out the recipe on this page.) Inspired by the creative, DIY nature of her cheesecake, we put Kerman in the puzzle hot seat for an Ask Me Another Challenge about other innovative dishes, using "reconstituted" potato chips, Ramen noodles, hot sauce, and more.

Cheesecake recipe (from Piper's old blog The Pipe Bomb):

"Bake at your own risk."


(popular at birthday and going away parties)


1 six-oz. package of Graham Crackers, Vanilla Wafers or Oreos

4-6 pats of margarine

1 round of Laughing Cow cheese (8 wedges)

4 cups of vanilla pudding

6 oz. of Coffee Mate

1/2 c. lemon juice (more to taste)

Steal the margarine from the dining hall, melt in microwave and crumble cookies into a 1-quart Tupperware dish that you've bought from the commissary or borrowed from your bunkie along with the margarine. Mix well and press firmly into the bottom of the dish. Place in the microwave on high for 1-2 minutes. Your crust is done.

In a separate dish, squash Laughing Cow cheese into as smooth a mass as possible. Mix in part of the lemon juice and continue to blend. Try to work out the lumps. Mix in pudding and continue to blend, add more lemon juice to taste. Blend until filling is as creamy as possible, then gradually mix in Coffee Mate. Some people double the Coffee Mate; this seems overboard to me. When mixture is smooth & thick, pour over the crust. Chill in your plastic washbucket filled with ice under your bed (or in a refrigerator if the part of the prison where you work has one you can slip it into), for at least 4 hours. Eat.

In the video below, Piper recounts what she learned in prison--from her experience, her friends and her prison mama, Pop.

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