During their explorations of the White and Blue Niles in the mid 19th Century, Sir Samuel Baker and his wife Florence seem to have gone comfortably native – at least when it came to food. Baker’s travel journals provide more information on crops, cuisine, livestock, cooking methods than any of the other 19th century explorers.
In the last entry, Baker – most certainly with his wife’s culinary input (elsewhere, Baker mentions that women did all of the cooking during their travels) – describes how to pit-roast an elephant foot and render elephant fat.
In today’s entry they detail how to air-dry game meat and prepare several nutritious foods (including sorghum ‘crackers’) that can be taken on long marches, as well as how to eat them. A very practical man – with an eminently practical wife.
I have added explanatory footnotes at the end.
Air-Drying Game Meat:
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 animal 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 fiber, 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.
Preparing Safari Foods:
The Arabs make a first-class dish of melach (1), by mixing a quantity of pounded dried meat with a thick porridge of dhurra meal (2) , floating in a soup of barmian (waker) (3), with onions, salt, and red peppers ; this is an admirable thing if the party is pressed for time (if not too hot), as a large quantity can be eaten with great expedition.
As the Arabs are nomadic, they have a few simple but effective arrangements for food during the journey. For a fortnight preparatory to an expedition, the women are busily engaged in manufacturing a supply of abrey(4). This is made by several methods: there is the sour, and the sweet abrey.
Fermented Sorghum Wafers [sour abrey]:
…the former [sour abrey] is made of highly-fermented dhurra paste that has turned intensely acid; this is formed into thin wafers, about sixteen inches in diameter, upon the doka or hearth(5), and dried in the sun until the abrey has become perfectly crisp; the wafers are then broken up with the hands and packed in bags.
There is no drink more refreshing than water poured over a handful of sour abrey, and allowed to stand for half an hour; it becomes pleasantly acid, and is superior to lemonade. The residue is eaten by the Arabs, thus the abrey supplies both meat and drink.
Non-fermented Sorghum Wafers [sweet abrey]:
The finest quality of sweet abrey is a very delicate affair; the flour of dhurra [sorghum] must be well sifted; it is then mixed with mills instead of water, and without fermenting it is formed into thin wafers similar to those eaten with ice-creams in this country, but extremely large; these are dried in the sun, and crushed like the sour abrey; they will keep for months if kept dry in a leathern bag.
A handful of sweet abrey steeped in a bowl of hot milk, with a little honey, is a luxurious breakfast ; nothing can be more delicious, and it can be prepared in a few minutes during the short halt upon a journey.
Eating on the March:
With a good supply of abrey and dried meat, the commissariat arrangements are wonderfully simplified, and a party can march a great distance without much heavy baggage to impede their movements.
The flesh that is the least adapted for drying is that of the buffalo (Bos Caffer).
As noted above, this is the most detailed entry I have found from the 19th. Century on local foods, food preparation, and cooking methods in the Sudan. The same methods continue to be used today: in the northern and central regions of the country sorghum gruel (‘asiidah) eaten with a vegetable or meat broth is still the main daily meal – especially in rural areas.
1. Melach: ‘malih’ is Arabic (and Hebrew) for salt, but I await a better description of what dish is being described. Perhaps, just ‘a dish’ (that contains salt).
2. A thick porridge of dhurra meal: Sorghum meal, is the most important grain in the Sudan. The fermented porridge he describes is called ‘asiidah and is a staple in villages. Here is a brief description of Sorghum (with good links) from the Rockefeller Foundation, which has funded research into improving the crop over the last several decades.
3. Barmian (waker): Eggplant, though it is unclear if these are indigenous ‘garden eggs’ or similar to those cultivated in the Nile Valley.
4. Abrey: A sorghum batter that is fermented, hence sour. It is baked in thin sheets that can be broken into smaller pieces and stored. Here is an article on fermented sorghum products. Fermentation is a central feature of food preparation in northern and central Sudan.
5. Doka: A three-legged ‘hearth’ used for rolling out dugh and for cookingin the Sudan that can be easily transported. It is placed over coals or beside the fire; bread or other foods are cooked upon it.
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