Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Making Palm Butter or Cream of Palm Fruit

A few days ago another cluster of palm nuts ripened on the tree in our yard in Tema. When they are bright orange-red, they are ready to be harvested. While extracting the palm butter/cream of palm fruit from them I realized that many North Americans have probably never seen the process:      After using a cutlass to cut the palm nuts off the tree, one whacks the cluster to loosen the actual fruits before collecting them in a bowl or basket. If the fruit is not quite ripe it may be necessary to carefully pick some of the fruits off individually. Next, the nuts are placed in a large pot, covered with water that is brought to a boil, and boiled to loosen the skins and fiber. The fruits turn a little darker as they cook. I boiled mine for about 20 to 30 minutes.
 After removing them from the water they are placed in a specially shaped wooden mortar and pounded with a wooden pestle to loosen the skin and fiber from the nuts. I pounded mine in 2 batches for about 10 to 15 minutes each. Then, everything is poured into a large pot or bowl, and enough warm water is added to allow one to loosen the fibers by hand from the kernel (by the way, it's the palm kernel oil that has the really bad rep, not the red carotene-rich palm oil, aka dendĂȘ in Brazil). 

Eventually everything is strained once or twice to remove the kernels, skin and fibers, leaving only the pulp and oil. The texture is kind of like pureed pumpkin. This is a somewhat messy job, and one needs to be careful to avoid getting the bright orange-red oil on one's clothes. Below is an awkward picture of me holding the camera with my right hand as I pound with my left, and a very brief video clip.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reflections on the time in Ghana

It's hard to believe that our almost 3 months in Ghana are drawing to a close. 
The time here has been a collage of memories: from the soothing beach at Accra to the massive recycling/scrap/toxic site at Agbgbloshie (and a painful memory of tear gas and brute force and inhumane treatment of the immigrant workers there). From the lovely tree-studded campus at the University of Ghana, Legon, to our emerging home at Tema. From days without electricity to the installation of solar panels and an inverter.

Here are just an eclectic few of my "Lessons learned": 
  1.  I prefer mosquitoes and sweating to snow and ice.
  2.  Things move much more slowly and with a lot more "hiccups" than American me wants them to (though this does cause me to reflect a bit on the frenzied pace of life in the U.S. and my inordinate dependence on electronic media).
  3.  Schools in Ghana still reward memorization and obedience over critical thinking and creativity. 
  4. Ghanaians still seem to suffer from an identity crisis: their models in most areas of life, from food to hairstyles to architecture, seem based on the Americas or Asia rather than emerging from their indigenous societies.
  5. There are many signs of hope springing up (e.g., the African "maker movement," sustainable agriculture and improved hygiene efforts, and a number of  true Ghanaian entrepreneurs)
  6. There's still a long way to go to overcome the lack of a maintenance culture, and to improve customer service.
  7. An especially painful lesson: don't forget to back up your photos on your new phone or you'll kick yourself when you lose it in a taxi and all those photos are gone, gone, gone. . .