African Pit-Smoked Elephant & Rendering Elephant Fat, 1862

English: Elephant Skeleton, prepared and artic...

Elephant - Wikipedia

Sir William Baker loved a good hunt.  In fact, reading his accounts of African exploration suggests that ‘exploration’ may, at times, have come second to a good wild game hunt.  This is suggested in the title of his book on which current blogs are based:

Exploration of the Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia.Sources, Supply, and overflow of the Nile; the Country, People, Customs, etc,interspersed withHighly Exciting Adventures of the Author among Elephants, Lions, Buffaloes, Hippopotami, Rhinoceros, etc.Accompanied by Expert Native Sword Hunters.”
One of many of Baker's sketches depecting elephant hunts that he organized.  Source:  Wikipedia

One of many of Baker's sketches depicting an elephant hunt in which he participated. Source: Wikipedia

The last entry gave the recipes in his book for making  Ethiopian and other african honey wines.   Today’s entry details how to pit-smoke an elephant foot and also how to render and use elephant fat.  Sir Baker explains these and other food preparations as instructions for future explorers coming into Africa.  The elephant foot recipe is also given by The Congo Cookbook, which I consider to be the best site on the Internet for African recipes and lore.  Well worth a visit.

Pit-Smoked Elephant Foot:

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 should be 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 should be 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, and will feed about fifty men.

Rendering and Storing Elephant Fat:

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 it should 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 leather 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.

The area through which he hunted in Eastern Sudan is described as being plentiful of elephant and other game.  This is amazing.  I worked  in that area in the early 1990’s , and any game left is very well hidden – and there are certainly no elephants left.

It is a flat land of clay soils, very suitable for growing cotton and sorghum, interspersed by hills, especially the closer one approaches the Ethiopian border.  I was coordinating a research project with the Sudanese National Forestry Association, in conjunction with the Kenya National Forestry Institute, to find and document agroforestry species and practices in this area.  The collaborative effort was funded by the National Academy of Sciences (Board on Science and Technology for International Development).

We actually discovered a new variety of semi-arid-land bamboo of the species Oxytenanthera abyssinica, which grew prolifically in hills such as those shown in the picture below.  Local populations relied heavily on it for building purposes and also as a source of income.  Now, however, the bamboo appears to have disappeared – along with the wild game.  Amazing how quickly the natural resources are being depleted, in Sudan and elsewhere.

The area through which the Bakers travelled has changed little since their safari in 1862.   Source:

The villages through which the Bakers travelled have changed little since their safari in 1862. However, there are no more elephants; and perhaps no more arid-land bamboo. Source:


About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
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7 Responses to African Pit-Smoked Elephant & Rendering Elephant Fat, 1862

  1. Pingback: A Greedy Ancient Egyptian Bureaucrat who Loved Fat « Dianabuja's Blog

  2. Pingback: Rajasthan Fairs and Festivals – a Riot of Colours | Put Your Hands Up

  3. Pingback: How to Air-Dry Game Meat and Prepare Nutritious Foods for Safari, 1862 « Dianabuja's Blog

  4. great post Diana – thanks!


  5. Baker reminds me of Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King, one of my favorite characters in all fiction…could just be a male thing….


    • dianabuja says:

      Roel – Ha ha, yes Baker is a great character; most of the explorers were – they had to be, in order to survive!


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