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excerpts from A Household Book for Tropical Colonies

1948: Emily G. Bradley

This section on "Indigenous Foods" is included in Emily G. Bradley's A Household Book for Tropical Colonies (London: Oxford University Press, 1948). Some of the ingredients and techniques are more European than African. The book is a good example of Europeans in Africa adapting to local foods and cooking techniques; it also contains advice on keeping house in the tropics, plus many other Anglo-European recipes.


A Household Book for Tropical Colonies


E. G. Bradley





Indigenous Foods

Once upon a time a man found himself in a native village, in East Africa, without stores, and depending on his black brethren for meals. There were chicken, pumpkin, green mealies, sweet potatoes, maize flour, kaffir corn, eggs, groundnuts, and native spinach. He missed his tea, butter, and sugar. It was not even cattle country so he was without milk, butter, butter-fat or beef. Most of the foods had to be eaten boiled in salted water as the natives were without any kind of fat. Otherwise he didn't do too badly, and he decided when he came home to use more of their foods as they were cheap and plentiful.

In West Africa he would have been more fortunate, as the native women prepare the local 'porridge', be it maize, Kaffir corn or cassava, more palatably than their Bantu sisters. Their groundnut soups and stews, palm-oil chop, palm-nut soups, fish and chicken dishes, rice, onions, and local vegetables have been gratefully copied by their European invaders.


When flour is scarce and expensive it may be diluted with maize meal up to a third and is almost unnoticeable.


Many people like mealie meal porridge. Stir two or three tablespoon of mealie meal little by little into a cup of boiling salted water. When it is smooth and thoroughly cooked, eat it with cream and sugar. Kaffir corn (millet) porridge is delicious, boiled in milk or milk and water.


Green corn (young maize) may be eaten as a vegetable or entree. The cobs should be very young and tender. The kernels should burst at once when pressed with a fingernail. Every African garden should, however, have its own patch of sweetcorn grown from imported seed.
Leave the last layer of leaves on the cob, but remove the silk. Put into boiling salted water. When tender, drain and remove the leaves. Put sticks or skewers into the ends. Spread with butter, salt, and pepper, and eat slowly in the fingers from left to right. The kernels may also be cut off the cob and stewed in milk, with sugar, pepper, and salt.


Succotash is a mixture of stewed sweet-corn with haricot or lima beans, fresh or dried, which have been soaked and boiled slowly until tender and added to the corn with the milk, etc. Add a little sugar.
Delicious also in ramekins with crumbs and/or a poached egg.


Cut down the rows of kernels. With the back of the knife press the contents of the kernels out into a basin. Alternatively rub several cobs on the grater.
Boil a whole peeled onion in a cup of milk. Add a cup of grated corn, some sugar, pepper, and salt. When the soup is ready for the table, take out the onion and throw it away. Add a dab of butter and serve with croutons.


Give out:

  • 1 cup of corn
  • 2 eggs
  • salt, pepper, and a teaspoonful of sugar
  • 1 tablespoonful of butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoonful of flour
  • 1 teaspoonful of baking powder
  • 1 cup of milk

Cut the corn off several cobs until you have a cupful or more of kernels.
Mix all ingredients, then the stiffly beaten egg whites, on the principle of all soufflés.
Steam or bake.


Stir a cup or more of kernels into batter. Fry in deep fat. If the white of one egg is left out of the batter and added, stiffly beaten, last of all, the fritters will be crisp and fluffy.


The Polenta of Italian fame is only boiled maize flour not unlike maizemeal. Maize porridge can certainly be used in the same ways as a substitute for mashed potatoes, rice, macaroni, etc., in a ring round stews, liver and gravy, or as follows:
Fried cakes with bacon for breakfast.
Roll out maize porridge thin. Cut it into rings. Put two together with a slice of cheese between. Fry in egg and crumb. A delicious savoury or luncheon dish. Call it Poleta Piédmontaise if you like.


Many newcomers to Africa have a prejudice against sweet potatoes. It is probably the ill-chosen name. They are not an imitation or substitute for potatoes, and would probably be more appreciated if they were given an exciting name of their own.
They may be scrubbed, greased and baked in their jackets;
Boiled and mashed with butter, pepper, and salt;
Boiled, sliced thick and roasted with the chicken or joint;
Boiled and then fried in butter, like O'Brien Potatoes, with bacon for breakfast;
Boiled, sliced, sugared, and browned in the oven to eat with ham.


Give out:

  • 2 or 3 sweet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoonfuls of butter
  • 1 beaten egg, or 2 native eggs
  • 1 tablespoonfuls of sugar
  • 1 teaspoonful of baking powder
  • A pinch of salt

Boil the potatoes until soft, mash, add the other ingredients, lastly the beaten eggs. Bake in a buttered dish until crusty on top.


Just as sweet potatoes are treated like inferior potatoes pumpkin is usually treated like an inferior kind of marrow--which is a pity.
It may be boiled, cut up, and served with parsley sauce. It is best, however, boiled and mashed with lots of butter, pepper, and salt.


The pun'kin pie of American story books is made as follows:

  • 1 cup of boiled mashed pumpkin
  • 1 cup of milk--fresh or tinned, sweetened or unsweetened
  • 2 tablespoonfuls of sugar
  • A pinch of salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves
  • 2 small eggs

Mix altogether, add one of the eggs whole and the yolk of the other, saving the white for meringue. Pour into a pie-crust shell. Spread white of egg, beaten stiff with a little sugar, over the top and bake until the meringue and the pie crust is brown.


Mash some boiled pumpkin. Add butter, salt, pepper, and a beaten egg. Shape into fritters and fry in hot butter.


With roast meat. Cut triangles of pumpkin, shell and all, the size of the palm of your hand. Remove the seeds. Bake in the oven. When they are brown and thoroughly soft scratch the top deeply with a fork. Put a dab of butter, salt, and pepper on top, and keep hot in the oven. Serve just like that, in the shells.
Grated cheese may be added with the butter, etc. Garden eggs may also be cooked in this way.


Salted. Shell them, roast them in the oven until they are crisp and the red skins rub off easily. Remove the red skins, toss the nuts in hot butter or oil, drain on absorbent paper, not greaseproof, salt thickly, sprinkle with red pepper and serve in individual dishes. They are best made fresh but may be stored in a tin.
Salted Almonds. Almonds are salted like groundnuts, except that in order to blanch them they must be soaked a few minutes in hot water, and the skins slipped off. Toss in hot fat until they are brown. Drain, salt and store in a tin.


Give out:

  • 1 cup of nuts
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 cup of soup stock
  • 1 onion
  • 1 teaspoonful of butter
  • 1 teaspoonful of flour

'Blanch' a cup of groundnuts in the oven until the skins will peel off. Mince them or pound them up with two tablespoonfuls of milk. Put into a pan with a chopped-up onion, and a cup or more of milk and cook slowly for an hour. Sieve.
Melt the butter, add the flour and soup stock and boil up. Stir in the nuts and boil up again.


Groundnut oil has to be used sparingly as it has a strong taste. It must be made very hot before anything is fried in it, or the taste of the oil is ruinous. It may be used in cakes in place of butter, and in chocolate or coffee cake does not taste at all.


This is a famous West Coast luncheon dish, reserved for Saturdays and Sundays as its effect, when eaten in quantities, is soporific. It is so delicious when properly made that overeating is almost inevitable.

  • 1 fowl
  • 1 cup of groundnuts
  • 2 pints of hot water
  • 1 teaspoonful of salt
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 onion cut in quarters
  • 1 hard-boiled egg for each person

Cut the fowl into neat pieces. Boil it for half an hour or more, while you are preparing the groundnuts, in half a pint of the water and the salt.
Roast and peel the groundnuts. Pass them through the mincing machine or pound them in a mortar. Mix with the rest of the water. Add the groundnut mixture to the chicken, with the onion cut in quarters, and a whole peeled sweet potato. Boil for half an hour or more, until the chicken is tender.

To Serve

Remove the Onion and sweet potato and throw them away.
Add a hard-boiled egg, whole, for each person, to the stew.
Pour into a tureen or vegetable dish.
For each person a heap of boiled rice, topped with a liberal helping of the chicken with plenty of the gravy, and the egg.
Or a dish of mashed yams is handed round. The first guest to whom it is offered smacks the yams with the back of the spoon once for luck for each person at the table, and once more for the devil to fly away.
On a tray place little dishes of relish as follows:
Breadcrumbs; sliced orange; sliced banana; sliced tomato, (salt, pepper); chopped-up chillies--the hot kind; chutney, etc.
The tray is handed round and some of each relish is added to the heaped plate. A meal of Groundnut Stew is usually followed by fruit or fruit salad--and sleep.


Moisten a cup of crushed roasted groundnuts with a little native honey. Serve in glasses with cream, or on rounds of buttered brown toast or stale cake.


Palm-oil Chop is another famous West Coast dish, for which many people have acquired a taste. Germans of the Cameroons call it 'country chop'. It was popular in Calabar and the South-East Provinces of Nigeria in the Niger Company days, when native chiefs dined with traders on Sundays. It was always preceded and accompanied by many glasses of gin.
Briefly it is composed of chicken cooked in palm oil, with vegetables, water, and spices, prawns, onions, tomatoes, etc., ad variorum, depending on what produce is available. It is not a dish that a European is likely to attempt to make without the assistance of his cook, who is certain to have his own ideas about it, as it is a modification of the native soup.
It is served as a stew in its own sauce on a bed of boiled rice, accompanied like Groundnut Stew with a dozen or so little dishes of relishes.


Wash the palm nuts, put them in water and cook for about twenty minutes, or until the nuts are soft. Pound them in a mortar, until the softened nut comes away from the kernel. Put the mashed nuts into a basin, and pour cold water over them. Strain off the liquid, and cook meat or chicken in it. Add onions, salt, and pepper, tomatoes skinned and the seeds removed. Hard-boiled eggs are added, as in Groundnut Stew.
Or the meat may be fried a little with the onion, and then the palm oil added, to make the soup. When fish is cooked in palm oil, it is added with chopped Onions, tomatoes, skinned and mashed, with the seeds removed.

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