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Rare African Recipes

What is an African cookbook? Any book that is either a collection of recipes from Africa (or at least contains some recipes from Africa), or a collection of recipes published in Africa.

What are the oldest African cookbooks? In the fertile Nile valley the ancient Egyptians cultivated a variety of fruits and vegetables, baked bread, and brewed beer. It is most likely that there were cookbooks in ancient Egypt, though they are mostly lost now. Were there African cookbooks written in Greek in the Library at Alexandria, Egypt? In classical Carthage (in modern Tunisia) there may have been cookbooks written in Phoenician, destroyed perhaps in the Punic wars. The ancient Roman empire included all of Northern Africa; did a Roman writer there ever produce a cookbook? Later and further south, Timbuktu (now in modern Mali) was a fabled center of Muslim education with numerous schools, libraries, and a university at the Sankoré mosque. How many cookbooks might once have been collected there? In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are no ancient cookbooks due to the fact that most African languages were never written until colonial times.

Some of the first recipes from Sub-Saharan Africa to be written down are those found in the cookbooks compiled from family recipe collections by ladies (they all seem to be women) in the Americas. The recipes in these cookbooks are mostly derived from European food traditions adapted to the New World, but they also contain influences of the enslaved Africans that worked in the authors' kitchens. African words such as okra and gumbo probably make their first recipe appearances in these early New World cookbooks. Mrs. Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife; or, Methodical Cook (1824) and Mrs. Lettice Bryan's The Kentucky Housewife (1839) are two examples of this in the United States. A half century later, Mrs. Abby Fisher's What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking is the first cookbook authored by an African-American.

Two of the oldest published-in-Africa African cookbooks of recent centuries are Hilda's Where is It? (1891) and Diary of a Cape Housekeeper (1902) by Hildegonda Duckitt of South Africa. Her books feature dishes that would have been served in a white South African household a century ago: Boer, Dutch, British, and European cuisine predominate, but there are also many Malaysian and Eastern influences as well.

From colonial Kenya came The Kenya Cookery Book and Household Guide written by the St. Andrew's Church Woman's Guild. Evidently first published in the 1920's, by 1970 it was in its 13th edition. It is also almost entirely a collection of European-style recipes, plus useful information for the colonial housekeeper. A similar book is Emily G. Bradley's A Household Book for Tropical Colonies.

During the 20th century, in what has been called an "ethnic / international cookbook movement", many cookbook writers in the United States and Britain (as well as France, Germany, Italy, etc.) produced "world" cookbooks. Some of these contain African recipes, "Africa" sometimes incorrectly referred to as a "country". Countess Marcelle Morphy's Recipes of All Nations (1935); Florence Arfmann's The TIME Reader's Book of Recipes (1949); Lesley Blanch's Round the World in Eighty Dishes (1956) ; and Elizabeth Campbell's The Encyclopedia of World Cookery (1958) are early examples of these "world" cookbooks.

The 1950's and 1960's saw the civil rights campaigns for African-Americans in the United States and the end of colonialialism and the dawning of independence for most African nations. The enthusiasm for all things African resulted in the publication of many cookbooks wholly devoted to African cuisine. There were written by Africans as well as non-Africans, were written for Africans as well as non-Africans, and were published both in, and out of, Africa. Two examples are Bea Sandler's The African Cook Book (1964), a cookbook by a non-African, for non-Africans; and Alice Dede's Ghanaian Favourite Dishes (1969), a cookbook by an African for Africans.

Mrs. Mary Randolph
Mrs. Lettice Bryan
Mrs. Abby Fisher
Thora Stowell
Countess Marcelle Morphy
Emily G. Bradley
Florence Arfmann
Myra Waldo
Lesley Blanch
Elizabeth Campbell
Rosanne Guggisberg
Rosanne Guggisberg (part II)
Marie L. Pickering
Bea Sandler
Barbara Krauss
Barbara Krauss (part II)
Barbara Krauss (part III)
Barbara Krauss (part IV)
Alice Dede
Laurens van der Post
Mrs. E. Chapman Nyaho
Craig Claiborne
Holiday Inn
Betty Crocker
Peace Corps C.A.R.

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