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from: Central Africa | cooking method: boiling-simmering

Elephant Soup

In African villages, a successful hunt means a share of fresh meat for everyone. After traveling in equatorial Africa one observer wrote, "...the gorge they all go in for after a successful elephant hunt is a thing to see -- once". (Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa, 1897.) There can still be more meat than can be immediately consumed, especially when there are no refrigerators or freezers, so a tradition of preserving meat by drying or smoking has developed throughout Africa. Dried meat, called biltong (similar to jerky) is often eaten as is. This recipe shows how dried meat can be used to make a soup or stew, similar to what is described in the quotation from Baker, below. (See also: Elephant.)

african elephants were trained as beasts of burden in the belgian congo

What you need

What you do

Recipe adapted from Exotische Gerichte: Rezepte aus der Orientalischen, Afrikanischen und Asiatischen Kueche by Werner Fisher, (Hugo Matthaes Verlag, Stuttgart, 1961). The original recipe also calls some good Madeira to be added along with the cream.

If possible, obtain real African biltong (from an international or African import grocery store). There are many websites with recipes telling how to make your own biltong. South Africans in particular are sensitive about comparing African biltong to American beef jerky.

There are many peanut recipes in Sub-Saharan Africa. See Peanuts in Africa.


Samuel White Baker

the flesh of the elephant is extremely coarse, the foot and trunk are excellent, if properly cooked

In the early 1860's Samuel White Baker explored the sources of both the White Nile and the Blue Nile. In his book The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia, and the Sword Hunters of the Hamran Arabs (London: Macmillan and Co., 1867) he describes his travels in search of the source of the Blue Nile (in what is now Ethiopia). This excerpt describes cooking and drying elephant meat.

The African elephant is equally docile as the Indian, when domesticated, but we have no account of a negro tribe that has ever tamed one of these sagacious animals: their only maxim is "kill and eat." Although the flesh of the elephant is extremely coarse, the foot and trunk are excellent, if properly cooked. A hole should be dug in the earth, about four feet deep, and two feet six inches in diameter, the sides of which should be perpendicular; in this a large fire should be lighted, and kept burning for four or five hours with a continual supply of wood, so that the walls become red-hot. At the expiration of the blaze, the foot should be laid upon the glowing embers, and the hole covered closely with thick pieces of green wood laid parallel together to form a ceiling; this should be covered with wet grass, and the whole plastered with mud, and stamped tightly down to retain the heat. Upon the mud, a quantity of earth should be heaped, and the oven should not be opened for thirty hours, or more. At the expiration of that time, the foot will be perfectly baked, and the sole will separate like a shoe, and expose a delicate substance that, with a little oil and vinegar, together with an allowance of pepper and salt, is a delicious dish that will feed about fifty men.

The Arabs are particularly fond of elephant's flesh, as it is generally fat and juicy. I have frequently used the fat of the animal for cooking, but it should be taken from the body without delay; as, if left for a few hours, it partakes of the peculiar smell of the elephant, which no amount of boiling will overcome. The boiling of fat for preservation requires much care, as it should attain so great a heat that a few drops of water thrown upon the surface will hiss and evaporate as though cast upon molten metal; it should then be strained, and, when tolerably cool, be poured into vessels, and secured. No salt is necessary, provided it is thoroughly boiled. When an animal is killed, the flesh should be properly dried, before boiling down, otherwise the fat will not melt thoroughly, as it will be combined with the water contained in the body. The fat should be separated as well as possible from the meat; it should then be hung in long strips upon a line and exposed in the sun to dry; when nearly dried, it should be cut into pieces of about two inches in length, and placed in a large vessel over a brisk fire, and kept constantly stirred. As the fat boils out from the meat, the residue should be taken out with a pierced ladle; this, when cool, should be carefully preserved in leathern bags. This is called by the Arabs "reveet," a supply of which is most valuable, as a quantity can be served out to each man during a long march when there is no time to halt; it can be eaten without bread, and it is extremely nourishing. With a good supply of reveet in store, the traveller need not be nervous about his dinner. Dried meat should also be kept in large quantities; the best is that of the giraffe and hippopotamus, but there is some care required in preparing the first quality. It should be cut from portions of the animals as free as possible from sinews, and should be arranged in long thin strips of the diameter of about an inch and a quarter; these ribbon-like morsels should be hung in the shade. When nearly dry, they should be taken down, and laid upon a flat rock, upon which they should be well beaten with a stone, or club of hard wood; this breaks the fibre; after which they should be hung up and thoroughly dried, care being taken that the flesh is not exposed to the sun. If many flies are present, the flesh should be protected by the smoke of fires lighted to windward.

When meat is thus carefully prepared, it can be used in various ways, and is exceedingly palatable; if pounded into small pieces like coarse sawdust, it forms an admirable material for curry and rice. The Arabs make a first-class dish of melach, by mixing a quantity of pounded dried meat with a thick porridge of dhurra [sorghum] meal, floating in a soup of barmian (waker) [aubergine, eggplant], with onions, salt, and red peppers; this is an admirable thing if the party is pressed for time . . .

(Chapter XXI - Fertility of the country on the banks of the Rahad)


Other African gastronomical excerpts


Paul Hoefler

A much harder beast to domesticate

Between 1900 and 1950, the elephant training station in the Belgian Congo evidently succeeded in training about one hundred African elephants, which were used for transportation and to clear vegetation. The tradition continues: a few trained elephants and elephant trainers can still be found at the African Elephant Domestication Center at Gangala-na-Bodio, near Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Elephants from the Center are used to carry tourists on game-viewing safaris. American filmmaker Paul Hoefler visited the elephant training station in the Belgian Congo and described it in his book, Africa Speaks: A Story of Adventure (The Chronicle of the first Trans-African Journey by Motor Truck from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean to Lagos on the Atlantic, through Central Equatorial Africa) (Philadelphia: John Winston Company, 1931):

For many years the Belgian government has maintained a training station for elephants at Wanda [, Belgian Congo]. From the wild herds that roam in the surrounding forests, they capture young animals and these are brought to the post for a course in discipline. They are then sold to plantations or to the missions. The African animal is quite different from the Indian species, a much harder beast to domesticate, never becoming entirely docile. Until the Belgians undertook this work, it was thought impossible to train the African elephant. They have succeeded to a certain extent, but the results obtained are small considering the amount effort and time expended, and it is not likely that this animal will ever become a great aid to mankind, comparable to his Indian cousin.
[Heart of the Congo]


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African Proverbs

Oku ajannaku li ayo ogbo si, ta li oje yo oju agada si eran, alabo owo. (Yoruba) : It is easy to cut to pieces a dead elephant ; but no one dares attack a live one.
  (from: Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, Richard Francis Burton)

Wapiganapo tembo nyasi huumia. (Swahili, Eastern and Central Africa; Also Kikuyu, Kenya; Kuria Kenya/Tanzania; & Ngoreme, Tanzania) : When elephants fight the grass (reeds) gets hurt. The disputes of the powerful injure the innocent and powerless.
  (from: African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories Website, www.afriprov.org)

Other African proverbs

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