One of my latest secondhand bookshop finds is this collection of twelve West African recipe cards by Barbara Baëta, published in 1972. I admit I was first drawn to the collection because of the wonderful retro graphics and bright orange sleeve, but the recipes sound pretty tasty too.
It looks like the ingredients for these classic Ghanaian dishes may have been simplified to attract a 1970s English audience, as it says on the reverse of the pack: ‘It needs no special knowledge or utensils to follow Barbara Baëta’s twelve recipes. Ingredients can be bought anywhere in the world.’ The West African Curry, for instance, calls for just 1 tbsp of curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper to spice up a whole 2 1/2lb of meat. I like the sound of Black Beauty and Ponkie Rice though: a pilaf cooked with minced beef, aubergine and pumpkin, seasoned with paprika and cayenne.
Groundnut Stew also sounds like a good family meal, with chicken, tomatoes, onion, aubergine, okra and eggs cooked in a sauce made up of groundnut paste (substitute peanut butter), red pepper, tomato and root ginger. For my table I would reduce the quantity of cooking oil though, as this recipe calls for a whole pint. The wonderfully-named dish Ashanti Fowl reminds me of Spam, a chef I lived with when I was a student in Camberwell, who impressed us with having learned how to bone a whole chicken. Ashanti Fowl is reserved ‘for special occasions, when the surprise of one’s guests at seeing a ‘boneless’ chicken being carved into slices is worth hours of skilled practise that goes into perfecting the technique of preparation.’
I’m also tempted to try making Poisson Ghaneen, a whole fish grilled over charcoal and seasoned with bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, onion, tomato and dried shrimp or anchovy. But despite what it says on the back, I’m still not sure I’ll be able to get hold of what I need to make Baëta’s stuffed crabs, or Akotonshi, made with 20 land crabs, that ‘can be bought by the roadside in many parts of West Africa plaited into living bundles.’
It seems my favourite little bookshop on Lewes High Street is particularly good at pointing me in the direction of notable female chefs, for as with Mrs de Salis, the most interesting thing about this recipe collection is Barbara Baëta herself. On the back of the collection, Baëta is billed as ‘a catering consultant [and] popular figure on TV and radio programmes’, and a quick look online reveals that for the last 19 years Baëta has been Executive Chairman of top Ghanaian catering service Flair.
Once a Junior Catering Officer at Gypsy Hill Training College – near where I lived in South London – Baëta now specialises in large-scale catering for ‘state banquets, food and fashion extravaganzas and diplomatic missions’. She has catered for dignitaries including Prince Charles, the Sultan of Brunei and the former President of the United States Jimmy Carter. And her packed resume includes work for the Ghanaian government, the UN, and organisations that work to advance the status and training of women in Ghana. Barbara Baëta, it seems, has a lot more on her plate than the average cook, which is why I was pleased to discover that she is working on a new collection of recipes with Fran Osseo-Asare of Betumi Blog.
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