Your characters are dressed in the latest fashions, they're moving in a world of politics and intrigue, walking through the halls of grand architecture or escaping stifling hovels, they dance with abandon. But they sit down to eat a sumptuous feast or a meager breakfast and you don't know what the king ate, or the jester drooled over. My husband asks periodically just why I have so many cookbooks when I don't cook that much. My first stop at a used bookstore is either the travel section or the cookbooks. Some I pick up in the countries I've visited. Historical sites often have reproductions and my husband rolls his eyes. I could look it up on the Internet sure, but when the Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated history of eating and drinking through the ages is on the shelf why would you. I still have to resort to it when the country or era is more obscure, but for menus, recipes, and the history behind all the times it does cover, its answered most of the questions I've had. As long as it’s covered.

Then again I can always fall back on Chocolate cooking with the world's best ingredient an entire book on you guessed it just the history and recipes for chocolate or Columbus Menu, Italian Cuisine after the first voyage of Christopher Columbus. Recipes from the Kenyan Coast offers a bit more of an off the beaten track cuisine.

My shelves have a bit of everything to tell the truth, Pioneer cooking I can do that with my The Little House Cookbook, Eating up the Santa Fe Trail, and Wagon Wheel Kitchens food on the Oregon Trail. I can even Feast and Fast with Louis and Clark a weighty tome that not only tells you what they ate, but how it was packed, and why it was picked. There are more little pamphlets from this museum and that than I care to count. An old cookbook from 1879 Housekeeping in Old Virginia is sure to make an appearance too. If I need older there's several from the Colonial and Revolutionary period. The Virginia Housewife, The First American Cookbook, Colonial Virginia Cookery.

Overseas, I love overseas, I write about it all the time. The Around the World Cookbook is a good doorstop as well as an all around great book to look at. I even have a 1960’s version of Favorite Recipes form the United Nations and a bunch of others. Historical in those are a bit harder to find when you get out of the ever popular, Italian, French, and such. The Medieval Cookbook covers England and France mainly. The Good Housewife's Jewel goes back even a little further. That's where I fall back on the Internet. As much Cooking Maltese Cuisine can help me in the Modern day it just doesn't do anything for 500 years ago.

Old or new it doesn’t matter, I love cookbooks. And yes I’m sure my husband will continue to roll his eyes for years to come. Hmm maybe I should give him my wish list for Christmas. My kitchen bookshelves are already overflowing, but I’ll figure something out.

#history #food #writing


So for those of you who don't know I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya during the late 90's. I was doing agroforestry and met my husband there. I always joke that I went to school in Minnesota, but I had to go to Kenya to get a husband from Minnesota. He's an engineer and he's been involved with Engineers without Borders for about 2 years. The local chapter needed help with the education portion for a composting toilet facility they were designing for a school in Axim, Ghana. Well I'm going to Ghana here in a few months. I haven't been back to Africa since I left Kenya in 1999, I had watched the American Embassy there blow up even. We've been paying school fees for a good 10 or more kids since we left, volunteered with several NGO's working from the US to help there, but not been back. I'm excited to get going, but there is a little trepidation as well. Visas, shots, paperwork, all by the end of next month. I figured while I'm crash coursing everything Ghanaian I would make it a learning experience for all. Food, culture, music.

Ghana is a West African country, bounded on the north by Burkina Faso, on the east by Togo, on the south by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by Côte d'Ivoire. Formerly, it was a British colony known as the Gold Coast and was led to independence by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah on the 6th of March, 1957.

Ghana became the first black nation in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence from colonial rule. The country is named after the ancient empire of Ghana, from which the ancestors of the present inhabitants are thought to have migrated. Ghana is a democracy, having completed the 3rd successful election cycle for parliament and president most recently in December 2008. Ghana does retain its traditional chieftainship system, as well.

English is the official language and is used in schools from about our 4th grade level. Most Ghanaians also speak one or more "home" languages.

In 2010, the World Bank ranked Ghana 152 out of 181 countries in GDP-PPP(Purchasing Power Parity). Although Ghana's economy has improved markedly in the last decade or so, the average per person annual GDP was only $1,644. The compares to the US at $47,1543, Mexico at $14,564, South Africa at $10,565, and Democratic Republic of Congo at $347 (in 181st place).

About Axim

Axim is the Capital of the Nzema East District, an area encompassing 2194 square kilometers (9.8 percent of the total area of the Western Region). This relatively poor town has recently become a municipality. The population of greater Axim, including nearby villages is approximately 33,000. There is a modest hospital in town. The economy is based on fishing, subsistence farming, and government services.

Axim is near Ivory Coast to the west, and the nearest substantial city, Takoradi, is about a one-hour drive to the east. It is about 150 miles west of Accra, about an eight-hour drive. Recently oil was discovered some 50 miles off the coast of Axim. It remains to be seen what effect that may have on the life and economy of the area. Axim people are mostly Nzema. Most speak Nzema, Fante, English, and smatterings of other Ghanaian languages. Schools teach French or Arabic, as well.

The "castle", Fort Fort St. Antonio, is the center of the town. The Dutch captured it in 1642. It was ceded to Britain in 1872. For some 300 years, it was a center for trading gold, slaves, timber, cotton and other products. Today the castle houses some offices and has some areas historically preserved to demonstrate how it was used as a slave trading center.

Every September, Axim hosts the Kundum Festival. It coincides with the fish season. Families return to their "family homes." Deceased ancestors are remembered and mourned. Family problems are sorted out in peaceful ways, helped by the traditional elders if necessary. There is much dancing, drumming, and feasting. Traditional leaders and honored guests are ceremoniously carried in palanquins, shaped like their fishing canoes, and decorated with flowers. No one knows for sure how far back this festival goes, but we do know that a Dutch traveler recorded a Kundum Festival in the 17th century.

Ghana is a democracy, but it also retains its chieftaincies. The Paramount Chief of the Lower Axim Traditional Council is King Awulae Attibrukusu III. Axim also has a Queen Mother. The system is somewhat similar to that of our own American Indians, where the tribe controls land and has rights within the democratic system.

The symbol of the royal house is a chicken nesting on a pole, signifying the need of the King and the royal family to nurture the people. The man carrying the symbol pole is the chief linguist. He is knowledgeable about Ghanaian laws, customs, and protocol and typically is the spokesman for the King in formal public forums.

#travel #ghana

2,000 miles across the great American desert, 15 miles a day (on a good day), I take a bit of offense to that I'm from Kansas, but at the time, that's what it was. This huge expanse of nothing to cross to get to the rich fertile farm lands of Oregon and the gold fields of California. The 6 month trips started in 1842 though a handful of people made it across in the two years previous. This was several years after Narcissa Whitman and her husband made the trip to found a mission, she was the first woman to head west and her letters back home sparked the first real interest. If a woman could do it, anyone could. Taking off from Independence, MO the route followed the rivers west, the Platte, the Snake, the Columbia, dozens other smaller ones. Some they had to cross, some they used as a traveling water source and followed their banks. Only a trickle was flowing when gold was discovered jumping the numbers from hundreds or thousands a year to tens of thousands. New short cuts were discovered from miners wanting to get west faster, the Mormons crossed to Utah in the same period many of them pulling handcarts it was in their best interest to cut time off. Slowly the jumping off point moved north, from Independence to St. Joseph, MO to finally Council Bluffs, IA, the former Mormon wintering over site. They were only there for a few seasons as they made their trek to the Great Salt Lake but it set up the resources to supply them leaving and it cut several weeks off the journey. By the end of the era 4 months was a usual crossing.

Whole books were written to pass on vital information to those following them, a large amount of the space filled with supplies to be taken. In our time of fast food, and convenience stores carrying 6 months of food is a novelty. Not only that they had to hope they would have enough left to help them get through the first very lean winter as they set up their homes and farms. Or the funds to buy it in a land where there wasn’t much. A handful of stops along the way gave some chance but in a heavy travel year what those trading forts did have could very well be gone by the time you got there. For each and every person in the party it was suggested that they carry, 200 pounds of flour, 30 pounds of pilot bread (similar to that ubiquitous hardtack), 75 pounds of bacon, 10 pounds of rice, 5 pounds of coffee, 2 pounds of tea, 25 pounds of sugar, half a bushel of dried beans, one bushel of dried fruit, 2 pounds of baking soda, 10 pounds of salt, half a bushel of corn meal, half a bushel of corn and a small keg of vinegar. Seeing as it was large families that often traveled together the amount of food alone becomes staggering. Vegetables unless pickled were none existent. Many would add luxuries to that list, cocoa was available, a product along the lines of soup bouillon, cheese, flavored essences like peppermint and lemon. But the cost of them would of course be more, they were saved for special occasions.

The wagons in addition to carrying the supplies for the 6-month journey all with only canvas to keep out the elements, also had to carry everything that would be needed to start a house and farm out of nothing. An ax, a saw and a plow, were mandatory. However, if your child would get schooling you had to bring your own books, furniture if you were lucky to have room. Think of it like having a regular sized cargo van and fitting everything you would need to eat for 6 months as well as everything you could possibly fit to get you started on the other end and then while one of you drove the rest walked along side it. What would be your most prized possessions that you couldn't leave behind? The cross-country railroad wasn't finished until 1869, it was a once in a lifetime trip for most. There was no chance to go back for more.

The most dangerous part of the trip wasn't Indians despite what the prejudices were, it was sickness and accident. Perhaps Indians killed 300 people in some 20 years. Deaths for all other causes estimates are as large as 30,000 deaths, but a more conservative estimate is 20,000 for the entire 2000 miles of the Oregon Trail - an average of ten graves per mile. Assuming 350,000 people emigrating, which is commonly thought, that averages to one death for every seventeen people who made the trip. Cholera was a big factor caused by drinking infected water. But many occurred from more mundane things poor sanitation practices in cooking and food storage, bad water, and poor living conditions. Diseases that we now have vaccines for but were killers then caused many more deaths; pneumonia, whooping cough, measles, small pox and various other miscellaneous sicknesses and diseases.

Fort Kearney, Fort Laramie, Fort Bridger early on, Fort Hall, Fort Boise, were all stops along the way, but they weren't vacations, most they were only there overnight, buying a few supplies if they had the money and if there were even any available. Maybe a drink. The great American desert, the Rocky Mountains, and then just as they are about to collapse from exhaustion they had to cross the Blue Mountains before finally pulling into Oregon City. The end of a journey, but not the end of the ordeal, arriving in fall they had no houses to live in, no crops stored for the winter. They still had a lot of work to do.


#oregontrail #history

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