Beyond Gumbo: A History of Ghanaian Cookbooks by Fran Osseo-Asare


Despite significant recent research into culinary history, rarely have studies utilized West African cookbooks or cookbook authors extensively. This paper identifies primary Ghanaian/West African cookbooks in English during the latter half of the 20th century and develops a typology using authors and audiences as a framework for analysis. The cookbooks’ origins, development, and relationship to African-American and African diasporan cookbooks are briefly examined.  Finally, the paper posits the need for the establishment of a West African culinary archive.

Food as a Research Topic

There is currently an explosion of research and writing about food, a subject that “illustrate(s) the intriguing intersections between (the) public and private sphere, the collective and the individual, and nature and culture.” (Makelþ et al. 2000). The wide-ranging emerging field of food studies brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers from the humanities, professions, physical and social sciences – from nutritionists, physicians, dieticians, nurses, public health and social workers – (Kittler and Sucher 2000; Counihan and Van Esterik 1997), to literary and performance studies scholars and artists (Fisher 1990) philosophers (Curtain and Heldke 1992) and theologians (Sack 2000) political scientists (Cusack 2000), culinary and social historians (Wheaton 1996), geographers (Bell and Valentine 1997), anthropologists, and sociologists. While anthropologists have long looked at food and culture, the past several years have seen the publication of a number of textbooks in the fledgling field of “the sociology of food,” (Whit 1995; Wood 1995; McIntosh 1996; Beardsworth and Kein 1997; and Germov and Williams 1999).

Cookbooks as a Research Tool

Within this multidisciplinary mix, cookbooks have emerged as helpful tools for analysis when used in conjunction with other contextualizing resources (Oliver 1996; Messer et al. 2000). Feminists are interested in what cookbooks reveal about food and

identity, especially in the sense of body image, gender roles and domesticity (Neuhaus 1999). Culinary historians use cookbooks to track social history (Weaver 1982; Messer et al. 2000). Political economists as well as social and cultural anthropologists have used cookbooks to analyze the development of a national identity (Cusack 2000; Appadurai 1988).

Such “cookbook” research has tended to emphasize European cookbooks (or “cookery books”), especially those of English and French cuisine, though there has been work on Indian, Chinese, and U.S. cookbooks. For an introduction and overview of the several threads of interest, see the section on  “Culinary History” by Messer, Haber, Toomre, and Wheaton in The Cambridge World History of Food, 2000, Cambridge University. Recently, research on African culinary history and historiography has begun to appear (Newman 2000; Houston 2000; Cusack 2000; Feldman 1998).

African Culinary Research

While the U.S. research has included cookbooks by African-Americans (Longone 2001), only rarely have studies extensively identified or utilized sub-Saharan African cookbook themselves.  There are probably several reasons for this former lack of interest in sub-Saharan African cookbooks among both lay people and scholars. One is the oral tradition. Traditionally young girls in Ghana learn to cook from parents, aunts, and big sisters, and are expected to have mastered all basic recipes by age thirteen or fifteen – i.e., before marriage. The assumption in Ghana and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa has been that learning to cook from a book shows inadequacy. Consulting a book would be a serious embarrassment for a cook and her family. (Ayensu, 1970, pp.xiii-xiv, Osseo-Asare 1997). This heritage of cookbooks as a sign of incompetence probably hindered the development of a market for them despite the development of literacy, urbanization, and a middle class. Also, since overwhelmingly women are the ones who cook (as wives, caterers, mothers, sisters, children, aunts), the cookbooks that were written have tended to remain on the margins of academia and relegated to the invisible female sphere of activity (i.e., appropriate for domestic science, home science, and consumer science teachers and training colleges).

Other reasons for the lack of interest in such studies are ignorance and ethnocentricity. Africa has had extensive bad press in the West that contributes to a popular image of the still dark continent (e.g., AIDS, starvation, war, corruption, natural disaster, refugees, poverty). In a 1992 book, Africa’s Media Image , Hawk argues persuasively that:

African, as it is used in the Western press, does not mean anyone who lives on the African continent, but rather people who are black and live on the African continent. It is a colonial label. North Africans and descendants of European settlers are not included in the term. This narrow, racial definition of Africa, structured by the language employed to tell the African story, tells readers and viewers that the continent has a simple, homogeneous culture. . .Like anthropologists and explorers of the colonial era, journalists are empowered to paint an image of Africa by listing its deficiencies with respect to Western norms. Coverage of Africa which emphasizes poverty, disease, and famine corresponds to the existing view of Africans as have-nots. . .we are able to create an image of Africa in the American mind that is a chronicle of its deficiencies to the Western standard. (Hawk, p. 9)

Africa’s relative global powerlessness supports the bias that sub-Saharan Africa is a poor and illiterate society that has no “real” (or “haute”) cuisine, a view reinforced by books like Rozin’s The Flavor-Principle Cookbook. Published in 1973, it omitted coverage of the food of sub-Saharan Africa, though in an expanded and revised Ethnic Cuisine (1983, 1992) a brief section on West African cuisine was included. Rozin finds  “sub-Saharan cuisines are neither rich nor complex, perhaps because the land has always suffered from a difficult climate and a paucity of natural resources” (p. 78). Her assessment is reminiscent of that of respected anthropologist Jack Goody, who did extensive research in West Africa for his book Cooking,Cuisine and Class, but found that, unlike China or the West, places like Ghana never developed a “high”  or “differentiated” cuisine. He buttresses his opinion of “the limited nature of African cooking in contrast to Eurasian” by citing the illustrated Time-Life series on ÔFoods of the World.’ The 1970 book on African cooking was written by a white South African man and noted culinary author:

Of the eight chapters (in the African volume), four deal with the cookery of South Africa, one with Portuguese Africa, and the sixth with the Highlands (formerly known as the ÔWhite Highlands’) of East Africa. A further chapter is devoted to ÔThe Ancient World of Ethiopia’ which I see as falling within the area of differentiated cuisines. The remaining chapter covers the rest of Africa south of the Sahara, that is, the whole of non-colonial, non-Ethiopic Africa.  Even here the author, Laurens van der post, can find so little to say about indigenous cooking that he has broadened the scope and calls the chapter ÔNew Cuisines for New Nations.’ (p. 212-213)

In an article on South African culinary historiography in Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Comparative Studies, Houston comments that

Culinary history is, as all history typically has been, the story of the conquerors; but this is not all that history can or should be. . .it is important to interrogate the manner in which the history of culinary traditions (is) told . . .How much violence is there in the process of imposing culinary traditions onto another culture?

Related to ignorance, bias, and disinterest may be the reality that historically Westerners, especially in the U.S., have had relatively little direct contact with subSaharan Africa’s cuisine and culture via business, the military, schooling, or tourism. While some religious, education-related and public service contact has occurred, it has not been on a large scale. Certainly, the slave trade introduced large numbers of West Africans into the culture of the Americas, and research has been done on the Columbian exchange and how the African-American diet evolved and influenced the diet of the U.S., especially in the South (Viola and Margolis 1991; Goyan and Sucher 2000). However, though there are some similarities, there are important differences between the available ingredients, cooking techniques, and cultural preferences of Ghanaians/West Africans and African Americans who have lived in the U.S. for many generations. Barring the unwilling immigrants of the slave trade, until recently there have not been large influxes of African immigrants into the U.S. Despite the ubiquity of their “chop bars,” street vendors, and catering businesses, sub-Saharan Africans do not have a tradition of restaurant going as it exists in Western societies. As a result of these combined historical realities, African culinary influences are often loosely and vaguely covered by unexamined references to “Diasporan” cooking.

There is currently an upsurge in interest in African, including West African, cuisine in North America, as the publication or release of a number of African cookbooks illustrates (Cusick 1995; Hafner 1993, 1996; Osseo-Asare 1993; De Witt et al. 1998; Harris 1998;  Jackson 1999; Grant 1998; Spivey 1999; Hatchen 1998; Otoo 1997). As African immigrants enter the United States, modest African restaurants are beginning to open (Labat 1997), and a search under the topic of “African restaurants” on the Internet will bring up dozens of sites around the world, such as “The Fufu Lovers Guide to African Restaurants: A Guide to Restaurants Serving Sub-Saharan African Cuisine” (


This paper’s aim is modest: to present an introduction to Ghanaian cookbooks in English during the latter part of the last century and to provide a framework for analysis. Narrowing the focus to one Anglophone African country requires obvious tradeoffs. The choice of Ghana might seem arbitrary given the often artificial country boundaries in West Africa – the Ewe are found in Benin and Togo as well. Or, a case could be made for a regional look at the cookbooks that corresponds to the commonly accepted four regional cuisines of Africa (North, East, West and Central/South). However, this would, among other challenges, have required broadening the topic to include Francophone, Lusophone and Spanish-speaking former colonies. Another possibility would have been to include Anglophone West African countries such as Nigeria. This is particularly tempting given the classic 1934 Kudeti Book on Yoruba Cookery and the 1957 Miss Williams Cookery Book, reprinted in 1980. In the end, depth won out for this initial offering. Still, a caveat is in order. While confident that this paper considers the major Ghanaian cookbooks published in English in Ghana or written by Ghanaians, it dares not claim to be complete. Possible weaknesses include its emphasis on U.S. publishing, and lack of access to materials published for use in Ghanaian secondary and/or catering/teacher training institutions, as well as specialized publications by educational institutions like the African Studies Program at the University of Illinois or the African Outreach Program at UCLA. Further research should remedy these weaknesses. The paper does include asterisks before any references to significant materials that the author was unable to access directly, but that warrant recognition.

Historical Context

Some preliminary comments should be made to put Ghana in historical context. It was known as the “Gold Coast” before it achieved independence in 1957, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to do so, and under the charismatic leadership of the Pan-African leader Kwame Nkrumah. Ghana was known not only for its gold, but also for the “black gold,” the high-quality cocoa it produced and exported globally. The British colonizers were preceded by the Portuguese, who arrived in the late 15thand the Dutch in the late 16th centuries, and who built a number of fortresses along the coast. These, such as Elmina Castle, became infamous holding points for human cargo during the slave trade.

Compared to other sub-Saharan African countries, at the time of independence Ghana had a fairly well-developed educational infrastructure established by the colonial powers and religious organizations. It also had a long and rich tradition of scholarship and collaboration with Western academics, especially anthropologists and sociologists (e.g., Birmingham et al., 1966; Amedekey, 1970; Little 1973; Robertson 1984). Four years ago Ghana held its first democratic election in many years, and 1981 coup leader, J. J. (“Jerry”) Rawlings resigned his military position and became its elected civilian president. Ghana was in the news again recently when the ruling party was voted out of office and the leader of one of the opposition parties, the New Patriotic Party’s (NPP) J. A. Kufour, became “The Millennium President.”  On January 7, 2001 for the first time since independence, there was again a peaceful transfer of power from one elected president to another in Ghana.

With independence in 1957 came a heady optimism for the future of the continent, both within Africa and in the West. Ghana’s early years of independence coincided with the civil rights movement and “war on poverty” in the U.S. during the 1960s, and the enthusiasm for the “Peace Corps,” when idealistic young Americans headed off to places like Ghana to assist with development efforts. There was a great burst of expectation of progress and empowerment for the continent. The 1970s and beyond showed how naive such hopes had been. The development literature is filled with post-mortems of why staggering social, economic, political, environmental, and agricultural problems arose (e.g., Lele 1975; 1981; Berg and Whitaker 1986). There was an exodus of many Westerners from the country as survival became the first priority, the infrastructure tottered, and military coups occurred in 1966, and 1972, and 1981.

This paper breaks the publishing history for cookbooks into three periods:

  •        early independence, the 1950s-mid 1970s
  •       the stress years, the late 1970s-1980s
  •      contemporary, the 1990s-2000

The paper assumes the relative size and location of the cookbook publishers are important pieces of information that serve as a guide to the audience and perceived market for the cookbooks and the strength of marketing distribution channels. Ghanaian publishers did not have significant overseas distribution channels in place for large-scale export of Ghanaian publications overseas, particularly to the United States. The books published within Ghana, all paperback editions, presumably target Ghanaian consumers, with possibly a small secondary market being expatriates and the tourism industry. Similarly, self-published books in the United States or Great Britain, or those by small or alternative presses, are in general not expected to have the same impact as books by larger, more established publishers. This idea will be developed further throughout the paper.


One way to begin to analyze Ghanaian cookbooks in English is to develop a typology of authors and audiences. In other words, who wrote the cookbooks and who were they writing for? One can set up a 2 X 2 matrix with four cells, based on whether the cookbooks are intended primarily for Ghanaians or nonGhanaians, and whether they were written by Ghanaians or not, as shown in Table 1:

Table 1. Typology of Authors and Audiences








By Ghanaians




By G

For G


By G

For NG


By NonGhanaians





For G



For NG

While it is readily admitted that these cells are not, in reality, neatly mutually exclusive, the cookbooks do tend to cluster in one or another cell. Let us consider each cell in turn.

By Ghanaians for Ghanaians

There are five cookbooks in this category, with one additional entry, though not a true “cookery book,” a set of “cookery cards” by the leading Ghanaian caterer Barbara Ba‘ta. The cookbooks include books by Dede , Nyaho, et al., Eshun, Dovlo et al., and the Ghana Home Science Association. See Table 2.

Table 2. Cookbooks by Ghanaians for Ghanaians

The Early Years Ghanaian Favourite Dishes, by Alice Dede, 1969
Ghana Recipe Book by Mrs. E Chapman Nyaho, Dr. E. Amarteifio, Miss J. Asare, 1970
Barbara Ba‘ta’s West African Favorites Cookery Cards, by B. Ba‘ta, 1972
The Stress Years Cowpeas: Home Preparation and Use in West Africa by Florence E. Dovlo, Caroline E. Williams, and Laraba Zoaka, 1976 (reprinted 1984) [by a Ghanaian and two Nigerians]
Popular Ghanaian Dishes by Sylvia R. Eshun, 1977
Contemporary Home Economics for Schools, Book 2, by Ghana Home Science Association, 1990

The cookbooks are educational in nature and were written essentially by females. All the books were published in paperback. All but the general home economics textbook, which includes a section on food preparation, were written in the 1960s or 1970s. All were published in the Accra/Tema area of Ghana, with the exception of the book on cowpeas which was published by the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa. Its overseas publication probably also explains how it could have been published during the extremely stressful late 1970s and early 1980s, when publishing within Ghana was nearly impossible. The Home Economics for Schools, Book 2,  was a cooperative project between the Ghana Home Science Association and the Saskatoon and District Home Economics Association, with funds contributed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) through the Canadian Home Economics Association. The books include primarily traditional recipes with some Western recipes. Barbara Ba‘ta’s cookery cards, while published in Accra, were probably intended for a wider audience and could have conceivably been included under the section of the table “By Ghanaians for NonGhanaians.” Barbara Ba‘ta was introduced to a large international audience when a photograph showing her catering a party was included in the Times-Life series on African cooking by Laurens van der Post mentioned earlier.

By Ghanaians for NonGhanaians

The second major category also includes five main entries which can be further subdivided into those published in the West and those published by small presses or self-published for Western distribution. See Table 3.

Table 3. Cookbooks by Ghanaians for NonGhanaians

Major Publishing Houses in the West

The Early Years The Art of West African Cooking by Dinah Ayensu, 1972 (Doubleday)
Contemporary A Taste of Africa by Dorinda Hafner, 1994 (Ten Speed Press)

I Was Never Here and This Never Happened by Dorinda Hafner, 1996 (Ten Speed Press)

Smaller Western Presses/Self-published

The Early Years A Safari of African Cooking by Bill Odarty, 1971 (Broadside Press)
The Stress Years *Tante Ama’s African Cookbook by Zinta Konrad, Amet Binder Akyea and Ofosu Akyea (Dzika Publications), 1981

[A Safari of African Cooking reprinted 1987]



[A Safari of African Cooking reprinted 1992]

Authentic African Cuisine from Ghanaby David & Tamminay Otoo, 1997 (Sankofa)

The Art of West African Cooking by Dinah Ayensu reprinted[self-published] 1994

A Taste of Hospitality – Authentic Ghanaian Cookery by Marian Shardow, 1998 (Minerva)

Who were the authors? Dinah Ayensu, daughter of a Ga chief and educated at the prestigious Wesley Girls High School in Cape Coast and in England, was the wife of a botanist working with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Doubleday found her well-suited as a spokesperson to interpret West African cuisine to a U.S. audience. At about the same time Ayensu was writing her book, an entrepreneurial Ghanaian in the U.S. sensed that the time was ripe for an African cookbook. Appropriating the image of exotic Africa and “safaris,” one of the common and positive images of Africa in the U.S., Odartey contacted African embassies on the continent for representative recipes from their nations and mobilized his own West African contacts (including Barbara Ba‘ta) to compile a book of recipes. Odartey’s is one of the few offerings with a man’s name on the title page. Bill Odartey, a pseudonym for Bli Odaatay,  saw the book reprinted in 1987 and 1992, as interest in things African began to rise again. In the “contemporary” years, not only was Odartey’s book reprinted, but Ayensu, now operating her own tour group, regained rights to her 1972 book and reprinted 3,000 copies. Marian Shardow, educated at the respected Achimota school in Ghana, furthered her education in Hotel and Catering studies in the United Kingdom. A residence hall manager at Imperial College, she wrote her book after being unable to locate one in Ghana to give to friends who requested a Ghanaian cookbook. Like Shardow, the Otoos wrote their Authentic African Cuisine from Ghana to fill what they perceived as a gap in accessible and authentic cookbooks with Ghanaian recipes for Americans.

Major publishers in the U.S., however shunned publishing African or West African cookbooks by Africans until the tide began to change two decades later. In 1993 a Ghanaian woman living in Australia, a popular entertainer there who began her career as an ophthalmic nurse in London, saw her cookbook A Taste of Africa, based on her popular television series of the same name, published by Simon and Schuster Australia. The same year Ten Speed Press in California published it in the United States. The book contained over a hundred recipes, many recognizably Ghanaian. Most of the books in this category contain collections of anecdotes, stories, sometimes maps but almost always information to familiarize those from outside the continent with the customs, culture, foods and preparation techniques required to successfully prepare the recipes. They provide an alternative look inside “Africa” that counters the prevailing stereotype of poverty and starvation. Hafner’s A Taste of Africa is the only full-color, lavishly illustrated hardback cookbook (though it was also published in paperback) of those listed in the “By Ghanaians for NonGhanaians” category, and the illustrations and writing style both draw on her flamboyance and storytelling ability to capture interest whether or not the reader actually wants to try cooking the recipes. Hafner followed this book with other successful cookbooks, notably in 1996 the poignant and funny I Was Never Here and This Never Happened, filled with stories and photographs and recipes from her years growing up in Ghana, as well as her experiences living outside Ghana. Tante Ama’s African Cookbook is listed in the table  without comment because it is a widely referenced work, but one that to date this writer has been unable to obtain a copy of to review.

By NonGhanaians for NonGhanaians

Up to this point, the typology has been fairly manageable and straightforward. However, as we move to the third category, cookbooks by nonGhanaians for nonGhanaians, the picture becomes more complicated and consideration of the cookbooks written by nonGhanaians for nonGhanaians requires additional subdivision – first, between nonGhanaians who are African and those who are not. Within the nonAfrican category are three major groups: expatriates who have lived in Ghana and have strong ties to the culture and country, “heritage” cookbook authors, generally nonAfrican blacks, who may have strong or weak knowledge/cultural ties, and the miscellaneous “other” category of authors, largely consisting of nonAfrican whites with relatively weak cultural/knowledge ties to Africa. Race once again intrudes as a variable. This classification is, admittedly, messy and dissatisfying, but is the best the author could devise. Table 4 summarizes these groups.

Table 4. Categories for Cookbooks Written by NonGhanaians for NonGhanaians




  •  Expatriates with strong cultural ties primarily based on living or working         there (primarily white)
  •   Heritage cookbooks, authors may have strong or weak cultural ties  (primarily      black)
  • Other cookbooks (primarily white authors)


Once again, the limitations of the typology are obvious. Labels like “African” and “nonAfrican black” refuse to stay neatly fixed. Rosamund Grant is “black,” and “nonAfrican” (raised in Guyana in the Caribbean), but her grandmother was from the Kromanteng people of central Ghana. Jackson is white, but was born and raised in Nigeria. However, the distinctions still provide the useful clustering argued at the beginning of this paper. Let us consider each piece in turn. Table 5 identifies major books written by nonGhanaians for nonGhanaians by essentially white “expatriates,” those who have a fairly direct connection to Ghana via having lived, grown up, or worked there and/or marrying someone who has.

Table 5. By NonGhanaians for NonGhanaians: Expatriates (lived in Ghana/West Africa)



The Early Years


Kitchen Safari by Harva Hachten, 1970 (Atheneum) [Re-released as Best of African Regional Cooking by Hippocrene in 1998]

A West African Cookbook by Ellen Gibson Wilson, 1972 (M. Evans & Co.) in hardback; (Avon) in paperback

The Anthropologists’ Cookbook by Jessica Kuper, ed., 1977 (Universe Books in paperback Kegan Paul in hardback) section on Africa, recipes from Ghana by Esther Goody, Lynn Brydon [Re-released in 1997 by Kegan Paul]

]The Stress Years A Taste of the Tropics, by Voluntary Service Overseas, 1983 paperback

The Africa News Cookbook: African Cookng for Western Kitchens  by Tami Hultman, ed. 1985, 1987 (Penguin Books) hardback and paperback



A Good Soup Attracts Chairs by Fran Osseo-Asare, 1993 (Pelican) hardback

Best of African Regional Cooking  by Harva Hachten, Hippocrene,1998 [Re-release of Kitchen Safari, 1970] paperback

The Anthropologists’ Cookbook by Jessica Kuper, ed.,  (revised and expanded version of 1977 book, 1997, London and New York: Kegan Paul)

South of the Sahara (Traditional Cooking from the Lands of West Africa) by Elizabeth A. Jackson, 1999 (Fantail) paperback

Expatriate Cookbooks

It is acknowledged that only one of the cookbooks in Table 5 is specifically “Ghanaian.” They all, however, feature Ghanaian recipes explicitly, and illustrate the reality that nonGhanaian audiences have yet to clamor for strictly “Ghanaian” cookbooks.

In 1965 journalist Harva Hachten traveled with her husband, an academic with a grant to study the mass media in the developing countries of Africa, to a number of African countries, including Ghana. She returned in 1968 when he had a Fulbright, to Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, and Uganda. Ms. Hachten was women’s editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, and used the trip to observe and sample as many dishes and collect as many recipes as she could, which she compiled into a cookbook. Though a sympathetic observer, she affirms her perception of the “monotony” of most African cuisines. Of her husband, she admits “I can’t recall him trying any local dish south of the Sahara.” Her cookbook came out in the flush of enthusiasm in the early years of African independence. She makes no reference to any published Ghanaian cookbooks, though she does acknowledge her debt to Barbara Ba‘ta who was already a highly successful caterer (Hatchen notes that Ba‘ta catered the 1967 buffet diner given by the American Ambassador when then Vice President Hubert Humphrey visited Ghana in 1967) and the dietician of the YWCA in Accra, Ghana. As mentioned above, while it is not specifically a “Ghanaian” cookbook, Hatchen’s book features Ghanaian recipes and illustrates how Ghanaian cuisine was presented to Western audiences.

Another work is Ellen Gibson Wilson’s A West African Cookbook. Ms. Wilson was a journalist for what was then  The Milwaukee Journal before marrying and moving to Britain in 1964. Her British husband “spent some happy and formative years in West Africa (and) developed an appetite for African food which could not be satisfied solely on widely spaced return visits.” Ms. Wilson visited Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana to familiarize herself with West African cuisine. Her book is an intelligent work by someone who savors and respects the cuisine she writes about. She did thorough research and documents her reliance on West African sources. Her cookbook, published in both hardback and paperback in 1971, was well received, but has unfortunately remained out of print.

As the favorable climate for expatriate researchers in subSaharan Africa deteriorated in the 1970s, a cookbook was edited by the South African social anthropologist Jessica Kuper in 1977. The limits of the typology are again shown by the fact that Dr. Kuper is technically African, though the recipes on Ghanaian cooking are by nonAfrican antropologists Goody and Brydon. The book was published in both hardback and paperback in New York and London, and was expanded and revised in 1997 and republished by Kegan Paul.

In the early 1980s the British nonprofit group Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) published a small paperback cookbook to commemorate twenty-five years of service. Their cookbook includes sections on East African, North African, and West African cuisines, with recipes contributed by members. While again not specifically a “Ghanaian cookbook,” any of the twelve recipes could have been from the country, and this book again documents how information has diffused to the West from those with exposure to what remains in the U.S. an unfamiliar cuisine. Similar examples could be identified from numerous Western religious, service and educational organizations.

The African News Cookbook was edited by Hultman and originally published in 1985 and in 1987 in both hardback and paperback editions. Hultman worked in South Africa for the National Council of Churches before founding the Africa News Service in 1976 with Reed Kramer.

In the “contemporary section” of Table 5 is seen, as already mentioned, re-release of Harva Hachten’s book under a new title, and Kuper’s as well. Included in this category is A Good Soup Attracts Chairs,  a Ghanaian cookbook titled after an Akan proverb. Written by a sociologist and the American wife of a Ghanaian and one of only two books in this category with color illustrations (Jackson’s is the other), the author has lived and worked in Ghana. While primarily marketed as a children’s cookbook, reviewers have recommended it to adults as well. The final cookbook in Table 5, Jackson’s 1999South of the Sahara, is placed here because though this daughter of missionary parents is Nigerian by birth, she is culturally more of an expatriate, and now apparently resides in New England. This beautifully illustrated cookbook is noteworthy for its appreciation, knowledge, and respect for West African cooking, and includes numerous dishes that are also found in Ghana.

Heritage Cookbooks

The “Heritage” subsection includes cookbooks that contain Ghanaian recipes and were primarily written by people of African descent but not born and raised on the African continent. It is illustrated by Table 6. Another name for these books might be “African Diaspora” cookbooks. While they are not, in theory, necessarily written by nonwhites (as, for example, Cusick’s or possibly Bayley’s), they tend to be championed by people seeking to reclaim their heritage and record it. Often these authors have visited Africa, but may not have spent extensive time immersed in daily ife there. While what has been called in this paper the “early years” and the “stress years” of publishing saw only scattered examples of such books, there were an accelerating number of such cookbooks being published as the last century ended. This paper will describe representative examples.

The first cookbook placed, cautiously, in this category is Black Africa Cookbook by Monica Bayley. The objective of the book is to provide information “not (about) “American soul food” . . .(but) authentic tropical African cooking.”

Next is Rosamund Grant’s Caribbean and African Cookery, which was first published in 1988, and reprinted in 1998. As mentioned earlier, Grant has strong family links to Ghana even though she is from Guyana and appears to have settled in Great Britain. She brings flexibility and her “no-meat” orientation to the cookbook as well as experience from her restaurant Bambaya. A number of Ghanaian recipesare included in the book.

The quality and emphases of these cookbooks vary according to the thoroughness of the authors’ research and familiarity with the cuisines about which they are writing. Jessica Harris is an educator and culinary professional who has made one of her goals remedying the lack of informed writing about African cuisines. She first traveled to Senegal in 1973 while doing doctoral research on Francophone theater (and could also have been placed in the “expatriate” category), and has been to the continent many times since then.

One of the realities, however, of encyclopedic and ambitious cookbooks, such as Spivey’s The Peppers, Crackling, and Knots of Wool Cookbook: The Global Migration of African Cuisine, covering African-influenced cooking from all over the world, is that the authors are not authorities on all the foods and cultures they include and must rely on secondary sources. Copage, for example in Kwanzaa: An African-American Celebration of Culture and Cooking,, includes a recipe for the popular Ghanaian snack “kelewele” (though its preparation has been adapted) and attributes it to being Caribbean, though he notes it is also popular throughout West Africa. He also draws on Wilson’s cookbook, as well as Laurens van der Post’s. Another example of a heritage cookbook is Mother Africa’s Table, “A Collection of West African and African American Recipes and Cultural Traditions” by The National Council of Negro Women, published in 1998. It was compiled by Cassandra Hughes Webster, and lists the names of twenty-eight contributors at the back of the book, giving it a sense of being a community cookbook.

Table 6. By NonGhanaians for NonGhanaians: Heritage Cookbooks

The Early Years Black Africa Cookbook by Monica Bayley, 1971
The Stress Years Caribbean and African Cookery by Rosamund Grant, 1988. Reprinted in 1998.



Kwanzaa: An African-American Celebration of Culture and Cooking by Eric V. Copage, 1991

 Mother Africa’s Table: A Collection of West African and African American Recipes and Cultural Traditions by The National Council of Negro Women, Inc., 1998

 The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of A Continent by Jessica B. Harris, 1998

[Note: Jessica Harris had also published Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons: Africa’s Gifts to New World Cooking in 1989]

The Peppers, Cracklings, and Knots of Wool Cookbook: The Global Migration of African Cuisine by Diane M. Spivey, 1999

Cookbooks by NonGhanaians for NonGhanaians: Africans

In evaluating cookbooks written for a wider audience than Ghanaians, Table 7 lists several examples of books published in the West that were authored by Africans. The list begins with the two books from African Cooking (a lavishly illustrated hardback book and a spiral bound book of recipes) published as part of the Time-Life Foods of the World series. South African Laurens van der Post, as noted earlier, was the author. Though it is heavily biased towards white and European culinary influences, the book remains a classic and is also noteworthy for its beautiful photography. Cooking the African Way, a modest offering, is also part of a series, the “Easy Ethnic Menu” series targeted at children by the educational publisher Lerner. The two authors include an African American home economist and a Ugandan woman who is a social worker. The book is placed here rather than in the “heritage” section given what seems to me to be the predominant African influence. The slim forty-six page book includes twenty-two recipes from East and West Africa as well as introductory material and color photos. Available in both paperback and hardback versions, it remains one of the more accessible introductory resources in terms of both cost and presentation. In 1980 Foulsham and Co. Ltd. in Great Britain published Nigerian Ola Olaore’s book African Cooking, headed on the cover and spine by the title “The Best Kept Secrets of West and East African Cooking.” Olaore’s book was re-released in 1990 as Traditional African Cooking.

Table 7: By NonGhanaians for NonGhanaians: African Authors

Major Western Publishing Houses
          The early years African Cooking (Time-Life Food of the World series), by Laurens van der Post, 1970
          The stress years African Cooking [The Best Kept Secrets of East and West African Cooking], by Ola Olaore, 1980

 Cooking the African Way, by Constance Nabwire and Bertha Vining Montgomery, 1988  (Lerner)

          Contemporary Traditional African Cooking [re-release of Ola Olaore’s 1980 African Cooking], 1990

(W. Foulsham & Co., Ltd.)

Smaller Presses/Self-published

Contemporary A Taste of Africa. An African Cookbook by Tebereh Inqai, 1998 (Africa World Press)

“My Cooking” West-African Cookbook by Dokpe Lillian Ogunsanya, 1998 (Dupsy Enterprises)

There is a refreshing lack of self-consciousness or need to apologize or preach in these early books, as well as a tone of authority missing in books from the other categories except perhaps for cookbooks “By Ghanaians for Ghanaians.”

In 1998 a Nigerian woman apparently living in the U.S., Dokpe Lillian Ogunsanya, published a West African cookbook containing sixty-four “family recipes.” Her book is similar to that published by the Otoos, in that she was motivated to fill a similar perceived gap in information available for those wishing to prepare common Ghanaian and Nigerian dishes. Such self-published books, even with the advent of electronic marketing channels via the Internet like, probably have very limited circulation compared to established presses. Inquai’s book is included as an example of an African cookbook written to educate both Africans and nonAfricans. Inquai is Ethiopian and worked as a food and nutrition teacher in Ethiopia and Botswana as well as opening a small-scale African food business in England. She includes over seventy recipes, providing a “taste” of the continent’s variety. In hers, as in many of the books, it seems arbitrary whether a recipe is attributed to Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo, etc., or to “West Africa.”

By NonGhanaians for NonGhanaians: Others

This survey of the history of West African/Ghanaian cookbooks in English over the past fifty years now comes to the miscellaneous “Other” category of cookbooks by nonGhanaians (and nonAfricans) for nonGhanaians. Prhaps another title for it would be books by the “ethnic/spicy/international cooking” movement. Table 8 illustrates some of these cookbooks. It should be noted that there has been an explosion of interest in international/African cooking, and the contemporary listings are meant to be representative, not exhaustive.

Table 8. By NonGhanaians for NonGhanaians: Others (“Ethnic/International Cooking” Movement)


The early years

The African Cookbook by Bea Sandler, 1964

The African Cookbook, by Bea Sandler, 1970 [re-released in 1993]

The stress years Ethnic Cuisine: How to Create the Authentic Flavors of 30 International Cuisines by Elisabeth Rozin, 1983 (includes work from 1973 The Flavor Principle Cookbook)

African Cookery by Annette Merson, 1987




Ethnic Cuisine: How to Create the Authentic Flavors of 30 International Cuisines by Elisabeth Rozin[re-released 1992]

 The African Cookbook [re-release of Bea Sandler’s 1970 cookbook, 1993]

 Soul and Spice: African Cooking in the Americas, by Heidi Cusick, 1995

Flavors of Africa Cookbook: Spicy African Cooking – From Indigenous Recipes to Those Influenced by Asian and European Settlers, by Dave DeWitt, M. J. Wilan, and M. T. Stock, 1998

In the U.S. there has long been a search for interesting new cuisines–I recall the vegetarian/organic/natural foods/ethnic cooking trends from the late 1960s and early 1970s during my student tenure at U.C., Berkeley.

Indeed, one of this author’s earliest African cookbooks was Bea Sandler’s 1970 The African Cookbook. Sandler’s interest in Africa dated from 1964 when, in her capacity as a culinary professional and menu consultant, she was asked to plan meals for the distressingly named “Tree House Restaurants” at the African Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. After putting together a popular booklet of recipes with the same name as her expanded cookbook, she took an “African Food Safari” (again, revealing American stereotypes: tree houses and safaris), and developed her cookbook, which with characteristic American zeal was touted as “the first book on African cooking to appear on this continent or, indeed, anywhere outside of Africa.” I remember trying dutifully to prepare meals from the cookbook, only to find the recipes from Ghana, for whatever reason, unrecognizable from the food I ate daily in Ghana during the early 1970s. Ms. Sandler, for all her contributions, and certainly drawing attention to African cuisine is a major one (as well as including the stunning woodcut illustrations of Leo and Diane Dillon), simply is not rooted in the cultures. Thus, she freely substitutes American yams for African yams, confuses green plantain chips with kelewele, is unaware that “froi” is not a specific dish, but rather word for stew in one of the Ghanaian languages. To be fair, all of us cookbook authors run such risks.

Several cookbooks in this category, such as Merson’s African Cookery, simply purport to have more authority and mastery over the subject matter than they do. The earlier cookbooks by Ghanaian or Nigerian writers recognize the subtleties of ingredients far more than those by outsiders (in any of the categories) who travel to the continent, sample some dishes and try to absorb and record information quickly. Red palm oil, like olive oil, comes in different grades and may be flavored; there are at least seven different types of akara, forty-seven different kinds of greens are eaten in Ghana, African yams vary just as potatoes do, etc. As in the section on “Heritage cookbooks” by African Americans, these cookbooks vary significantly depending on the extent to which cookbook authors have “done their homework.”

By NonGhanaians for Ghanaians

This concluding category of cookbooks by nonGhanaians for Ghanaians is a small subset. It can be used to highlight classic cookbooks of interest to Ghanaian educators such as the pioneering 1934 Kudeti Book of Yoruba Cookery by Mars and Tooleyo, and Miss Williams’ Cookery Book by R. Omosunlola Williams (later R. O. Johnston)When she was turned seventy in 1995, fifteen years after retiring as Deputy Chief Inspector of Education in the Lagos State Ministry of Education, Mrs. Johnston authored another book, titled Never a Dull Moment – Memoirs of a Nigerian Educator 1950-1966  (Balogh 1996), that deserves a place here, along with O’Reilly-Wright’s 1964 The Student’s Cookery Book. O’Reilly-Wright was a Sierra Leonian who headed the domestic science department at the Accra High School in Ghana, and her book covered the West African school certificate examination for the cookery syllabus. It is not clear how good regional distribution channels are currently, but there are several Nigerian cookbooks that could also be of interest to Ghanaians, such as the 1982 Nigerian Cookbook, authored by Antonio and Isoun. Anthonio was then in charge of the University of Ibadan’s Catering Department. Another noteworthy book is the 1996  book by the Home Economics Teachers Association of Nigeria (HETAN),HETANrecipe book: a professional handbook for Nigerian home economics teachers and students,  edited by O. P. Nwanna-Nzewunwa et al.

Summary and Conclusion

This paper has analyzed Ghanaian cookbooks by identifying the authors and intended audiences of the cookbooks, and by considering publishers and publication time frames.

What statements can be made and what conclusions drawn?

1) There has historically been a Western bias against sub-Saharan African cuisine as “second-class.” 2) There have been several classic cookbooks authored by Ghanaians in the past fifty years, though those cookbooks are now out of print and not readily available. 3) Ghanaians (and other English-speaking West Africans) have continued to write cookbooks to make their cuisine more accessible to outsiders and to dispel stereotypes, often but not always self-publishing or publishing with smaller presses. 4) Despite a flurry of Ghanaian/West African cookbook publishing in the West immediately following independence of the colonies from Great Britain, interest waned in the third quarter of the century. 5) The close of the 20th century saw a renewed interest by U.S. publishing houses in “West African” cookbooks, generally by republishing earlier African cookbooks or approaching the subject broadly – i.e., subsuming Ghanaian/West African cuisine under “African Diasporan” cooking including “soul food,” as well as the cooking of all of Africa, the Caribbean, and Brazil.” 6) There is wide variation in the accuracy, authenticity, and reliability of “West African” cookbooks and recipes authored by nonAfricans.

The increased interest in and accessibility of cookbooks about western Africa is welcome. We in the U.S. have, appropriately, never minded adapting other cultures’ cuisines to our own tastes and preferences. However, unexamined assumptions must not color scholarship. There is a proverb in Ghana that says “The stranger’s eyes are very big with looking, but he/she doesn’t see anything.” One must listen to voices other than one’s own and look to the writings of those attuned to the subject they write about. The global community’s lack of respect of sub-Saharan Africa’s indigenous culinary history is out dated. Numerous humble African paperback cookbooks produced locally in the past century are in danger of disappearing due to neglect.

Another wise saying is: “We fail to see the lens through which we look.” In the U.S. we tend to be smugly amused to read that Ghanaian cookbooks use such measurements as “cigarette tins,” “beer bottles,” and “margarine tins.” These readily accessible and universally accepted items of measurement are no inherently sillier than preferring “teaspoons,” and “cups” over milliliters or liters. The written record of Ghanaian cuisine, and by extension, the history of other sub-Saharan African cuisines, deserves respect and a more prominent place in culinary archives. This paper closes with a plea that such an archive be established and made freely available to all scholars.


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Viola, Herman J. and Carolyn Margolis, eds. Seeds of Change. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

Weaver, William Woys. ed. A Quaker Woman’s Cookbook: the Domestic Cookery ofElizabeth Ellicott Lea, by Elizabeth Ellicott Lea, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

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Cookbooks Referenced (see note below on asterisked references)

*Amarteifo, E., J. Asare, A. Addo and E. Chapman. A Ghana Cook Book for Schools. London: Macmillan, 1963. (122 pages)

Ayensu, Dinah Ameley. The Art of West African Cooking.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1972. Reprinted Accra: Fredina Tours Ltd., 1994. (144 pages)

Baëta, Barbara. Barbara Bta’s West African Favourites Cookery Cards. Series one.Accra: Moxon Paperbacks, 1972. (12 cards)

Bayley, Monica. Black Africa Cookbook. San Francisco: Determined Productions, Inc. 1st ed. 1971; 1st paperback ed. 1977. (125 pages)

Copage, Eric V. KwanzaaAn African-American Celebration of Culture and Cooking. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991. Reprinted in paperback 1993. (356 pages)

Cusick, Heidi Haughy. Soul and Spice: African Cooking in the Americas. San Francisco:Chronicle Books, 1995. (pb 303 pages)

De Witt, Dave, Mary Jane Wilsan, and Melissa T. Stock. Flavors of Africa Cookbook. Rocklin: Prima Publishing, 1998. (pb 262 pages)

Dede, Alice. Ghanaian Favourite Dishes. Accra: Anowuo Educational Publications, 1969. (pb, 104 pages)

Dovlo, Florence E., Caroline E. Williams, and Laraba Zoaka. Cowpeas: Home Preparation and Use in West Africa. IDRC 055e. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 1976 Reprinted 1984. (pb 96 pages)

*Du Sautoy, Marjorie. Some Gold Coast Foods. Accra: Department of Social Welfare and Community Development, ~1953.

Eshun, Sylvia. Popular Ghanaian Dishes. Tema: Ghana Publishing Corporation, 1977. (pb, 107 pages).

*Field, M. J. Gold Coast Food. Achimota: Achimota College Press, 1931. (26 pages).

*Fuller, B. G. Ghanaian Cookery. UK: New Millennium, 1998.

Ghana Home Science Association. Home Economics for Schools. Book 2. Tema: Afram Publications (Ghana) Ltd. (pb, 133 pages).

*Ghana Medical and Education Departments. Ghana Nutrition and Cookery. Edinburgh:Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1953; fifth reprint 1962. (347 pages).

Grant, Rosamund. Caribbean and African Cooking. London: Grub Street, 1988. Reprinted 1993, 1998; Reprint, with a foreword by Maya Angelou, Brookline: Interlink Books, 1998.  (paperback, 160 pages)

* – Taste of Africa. London: Lorenz Books, 1995.

Hafner, Dorinda. A Taste of Africa. East Roseville NSW, Australia: Simon & Schuster; Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1993  (hb and pb 160 pages).

– I Was Never There and This Never Happened. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1996.

Harris, Jessica B. The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent. New York: Simon andSchuster, 1998. (hb, 382 pages)

Hatchen, Harva. Best of Regional African Cooking. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1998.(Originally published as Kitchen Safari by Atheneum, 1970). (pb  274 pages)

Hultman, Tami, editor. The Africa News Cookbook. New York, New York;

Middlesex, England; Victoria, Australia; Markham, Canada; Auckland 10, New

Zealand: Penguin Books, 1985. Reprinted in hardback and paperback simultaneously1987 (hb and pb, 175 pages).

Inqai, Tebereh. A Taste of Africa. An African Cookbook. Trenton, New Jersey and Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press, 1998 (pb, 120 pages).

Jackson, Elizabeth A. South of the Sahara. Hollis: Fantail, 1999. (pb 204 pages)

*Johnston, R. O. Never A Dull Moment – Memoirs of a Nigerian Educator 1950-1966.Lagos: Fadec 1995 (153 pages) See also, Rhoda Omosunlola Williams.

*Konrad, Zinta, Ahmet Binder Akyea and Ofosu Akeya. Tanti Ama’s African Cookbook.Madison, WI: Dzika Publications, 1981.

Kuper, Jessica, ed. The Anthropologists’ Cookbook. New York: Universe Books(paperback); London: Kegan Paul (hardback), 1977. Revised edition, Kegan Paul, 1997 (230 pages).

*Leith-Ross, S. and G. Ruxton. Practical West African Cookery. Chichester: J. W. Moore, 1910.

Little, K. African Women in Towns: An Aspect of Africa’s Social Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

Mars, J. A. and E. M. Tooleyo. The Kudeti Book of Yoruba Cookery. Lagos: C.M.S. Bookshops 1934.  2nd edition 1965, reprinted 1970; 3rd ed. 1979 by C. S. S. Bookshops, Lagos. (pb 60 pages)

Merson, Annette. African Cookery. Nashville: Winston-Derek. 1990 (pb).

The National Council of Negro Women, Inc., compiled by Cassandra Hughes Webster. Mother Africa’s Table: A Collection of West African and African American Recipes and Cultural Traditions. New York; London; Toronto; Sydney; Auckland: Main Street Books/Doubleday. 1988. (hb, 210 pages)

Nwanna-Nzewunwa, O. P.,  J. N. Ononuju, R. A. Ogunjimi, and M. Manshop, eds. HETAN Recipe Book: a Professional Handbook for Nigerian Home Economics Teachers and Students. Port Harcourt: Pam Unique Publishing, 1996 (pb 398 pages).

Odarty, Bill [Bli Odaatey, pseud.]. A Safari of African Cooking. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1971. 2nd ed. 1987. Reprinted: New York: Visa Choice, 1992 (pb 137 pages).

Ogunsanya, Dokpe Lillian. “My Cooking” West-African Cookbook. Austin: Dupsy Enterprises, 1998 (pb 104 pages).

Olaore, Ola. African Cooking [The Best Kept Secrets of East and West African Cooking]. Berkshire:W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd., 1980. Reprinted as Traditional African Cooking, 1990. (pb, 96 pages)

*O’Reilly-Wright, Enid. The Student’s Cookery Book. London and Ibadan: Oxford University Press, 1964. (231 pages).

Osseo-Asare, Fran. A Good Soup Attracts Chairs. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 1993.

Otoo, David and Tamminay. Authentic African Cuisine from Ghana. Colorado Springs, Sankofa, 1997. (pb 107 pages)

Rozin, Elisabeth. The Flavor-Principle Cookbook. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1973. –       – Ethnic Cuisine. Lexington, Massachusetts: The Stephen Greene Press, 1983. Reprinted         New York; London; Victoria; Toronto; Auckland: Penguin, 1992.

Sandler, Bea. The African Cookbook. New York: World Publishing, 1972. (hb, 236 pages); Citadel Press, 1993.

– The African Cookbook. New York: Harvest House, (pb, 64 pages) 1964.

Shardow, Marian. A Taste of Hospitality: Authentic Ghanaian Cookery. London: Minerva Press, 2000 (pb, 99 pages).

Spivey, Diane M. The Peppers, Cracklings, and Knots of Wool Cookbook. Albany: State University of New York, 1999. (hb, 422 pages)

van der Post, Laurens and the Editors of Time-Life Books. African Cooking. Foods of the World. New York: Time-Life Books, 1970. Reprinted 1971 (hb 208 pages).

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). A Taste of the Tropics. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode Ltd, 1983 (pb 69 pages).

Williams, Rhoda Omosunlola. Miss Williams’ Cookery Book. London, Cape Town, Melbourne, New York, Toronto: Longmans, Green and Co ; Lagos: Longmans of Nigeria; Calcutta: Orient Longmans Private Ltd.. All 1957. (hb 260 pages). Reprinted: Ikeja: Longman Nigeria, 1980. (see also R. O. Johnston)

Wilson, Ellen Gibson. A West African Cookbook. New York: M. Evans & Co., Inc. 1971?Reprinted in paperback in 1972 by New York: Avon. (hb and pb, 267)

[1] This is a revised and expanded version of a paper first presented at the Joint Annual Meeting of The Association for the Study of Food and Society [ASFS] and The Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society [AFHVS], New York University, June 2000.



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