Monday, September 08, 2008

Giving Credit for African Cookbooks

I remember a conversation with Barbara Baeta one day when she was talking about how Laurens van der Post came to Ghana and met with her in the 1960s when he was writing his pioneering Foods of the World volume on African Cooking. She was young and flattered, and generously provided him with numerous recipes used in the book--even allowing herself to be photographed serving at a dinner party in Accra (p. 83). However, she has always regretted that she took the small lump sum the publishers offered her, while a more savvy colleague from Ethiopia negotiated a portion of the royalties and made many, many times over what Barbara earned. I wonder how often Africans provide hospitality and recipes and end up with someone else receiving the credit and money. . .

In a related vein, there's something I've been needing to get off my chest for a long time. In the early 1970s when I first came to Ghana, my future sister-in-law gave me a copy of Ghanaian Favourite Recipes (Recipes that are loved best in Many Ghanaian homes) by Alice Dede. It was first published, as near as I can tell, in June, 1969 by Anowuo Educational Publications in Accra. The cover bears Dede's name, and the inside title page declares that the book was compiled by Alice Dede. In the facing page it states "The Author acknowledges with thanks the help received from officials of various educational Institutions in Ghana."

Now it is possible that Alice Dede did this as a work for hire, all the recipes were contributed by others, and once it was compiled all the rights reverted to the publisher. I really don't know. But having written cookbooks myself, I know that even a "compiler" has to make many, many decisions to create such a book, and engage in recipe testing, etc., and deserves credit for that. I've often wondered who Alice Dede was, and what her background was, and what happened to her. I'd love it if any of you can tell me.

Dede's book became a classic and was reprinted numerous times during the difficult 70s and 80s. Gradually, the book was given cosmetic face lifts (new covers, slight reorganization of recipes, removal of 5 pages of a final chapter called "recipes from other countries" replaced by 4 new pages of introductory material). By 1985, the "Recipes that are loved best in many Ghanaian homes" was gone from the cover (though still on the reprinted front page of the book, where only Alice Dede's name was gone), and the book was said to include "203 selected Ghanaian recipes of high nutritional value and delight," and to be "A comprehensive guide and reference to cooking." Somehow Dede's name and authorship disappeared. In the latest edition I have, from 2006, the title has changed to Ghanaian Cook Book: Favourite Recipes from Ghana, and the book now has a new "editor," Sophia Manu. Apparently, along with editorial advisor S. Asare Konadu, she supervised the latest face lift: a new cover with photographs and more color, including 11 color photographs throughout the chapters and a san serif type face that is larger and easier to read, as well as a better layout design. But as far as the substantive content of the book, the recipes, there are few changes. Ms. Manu moved chapter 6 (baked goods) to chapter 1. It includes two recipes for garri biscuits (#3 and also #16). In copying the menu table from the early edition, there were several errors from the original (omitting words, placing words in the wrong column), and there were also several errors in copying pages and recipes from the original index into the new index, or omitting recipes.
While the latest edition is admittedly more attractive, what bothers me, apart from the fact that I believe Alice Dede should still receive recognition for her work, is that the book is basically a word-for-word duplication of the original recipes, including measurements in cigarette tins and beer bottles, and no indication of any changes in the diet or cooking equipment or techniques in the last 40 years. This is patently not true, and yet the book purports and appears to be a "new" book. Many things have changed, and Ghana deserves a genuinely updated, comprehensive cook book.


Here, There, Elsewhere... and more said...

We used this book in cookery class at St Louis High School, Kumasi, in 1974..! Even I know (and I'm no specialist) that much has changed since then in Ghanaian "cuisine" and its preparation..:)

K'chie said...

I have the original dark blue cover book by Alice Dede that my father bought for my sisters and I when we were children in the early 1990s.

I lot of the recipes were and remain strange to me as they came from all ethnic groups in the country and the measurements "cigarette tin cups" were unfamiliar to me. What is a cigarette tin cup? How much water is water? Obviously the cookbook is for people who know how to cook the various meals or at least know how to cook like a Ghanaian woman.

So while I was initially happy to read that there's a new edition, I'm disappointed just like you that dues were not given to Alice Dede, and even more alarmed that "cigarette tin" measurements are still being used. Don't tell me "water" is still a measurement in itself. The modern Ghanaian does not cook like they used to. This is going to be of no help to the countless women who desperately need to impress their mother-in-laws ;-).