Lady Tew’s “West African” Cookbook

Tew Cooking in West AfricaAn interesting cookbook for those pondering the influence of colonialism on the British and their foreign subjects:

Cooking in West Africa: A Colonial Guide, by Lady Muriel Tew (London: Jeppestown, 2007. Originally published 1920.)

In the introduction to the 2007 edition, Lady Tew’s son David provides some rare biographical information about her:

My mother was born in 1881. She had a year at Cheltenham Ladies’ College under the famous Miss Beale. She met her husband Mervyn Tew when he was a schoolmaster, but he joined the Colonial Service in 1904 as as District Officer. In 1910 he was invalided home after being struck on the head while asleep by a disaffected local.

He transferred to the legal side in 1911, when they married. They went out to Nigeria and remained in Nigeria and Cameroons during the 1914-1918 War.  Her husband was forbidden to enlist in the Army by the Colonial Office. he must have explained to her the difficulties in catering faced by young district officers, often on their own.

When things began to return to normal in 1919 she had the idea of preparing a cookery book to help such young officers. So she prepared her book on practical lines. She returned to England in 1920 to have a baby, and took the opportunity to get 500 copies of her book printed in Liverpool and marketed by Messrs.  Macsymon’s Shipping Agents, with the advice of their manager, Mr. Nuttail. It was well reviewed and sold out. Her husband was surprised to be greeted with “So you’re the husband of Mrs. Tew’s Cookery book.”

Here’s a fairly typical recipe:

Gateau of Cold Meat

A breakfast cup of minced meat
1/2 teacup of bread crumbs
1 tablespoonful (or more) of gravy or stock
A tablespoonful of fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg
A little chopped onion
A little salt and pepper
A mould or small plain basin

Grease a mould or basin and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Mince the meat; put it in a basin, and add the onion, pepper and  salt, the gravy and breadcrumbs. Mix with one egg. Turn the mixture into the mould and bake it for 20 minutes. Turn it out when it is cold.

I hope the young men knew how to turn on the cooker … and what size “mould” to use.

As for local food, Lady Tew included a recipe for Ground Nut Soup and a few recipes using mangoes. That’s about it for local food.


4 thoughts on “Lady Tew’s “West African” Cookbook

  1. Hi Louise,

    As far as West African cooking goes, I find Elizabeth Jackson’s South of the Sahara:Traditional Cooking from the Lands of West Africa to be one of the most authentic. It’s hard to be authentic in part because many ingredients cannot be substituted, but, that said, it IS possible to cook fairly authentic-tasting food anyway, depending on the recipes chosen. Also, the smoky flavor of the open fires might go missing. But, again, many families use small gas cookers these days, too.


  2. Very interesting, and along the lines of similar cookbooks/cook pamphlets that I’ve collected in Kenya, with an emphasis on home cooking à la the home country, and with just a few local dishes. But, always constrained by local ingredients.

    Louise – the Time Life Library book is indeed about the best comprehensive book – that I know about. But it is really difficult in a comprehensive book to present even a flavor for all of the sub-regional variations and variations by wealth and status or with regard to special holiday dishes, etc.

    As well, the definition of ‘authentic’ can be historically problematic: cuisines of Africa have changed so dramatically since the introduction of new world crops, Asian crops, and colonial cooking ingredients and techniques. In my experience, it is the cuisine of the poor that is oftentimes the most ‘authentic’ – in the sense of using only local ingredients and cooking techniques – primarily because these folks lack the wherewithal to do otherwise!


  3. Thank you for bringing this book and series to my attention Cynthia. Looks like yet another book to add to my collection. The list is growing long…However, I am in need of a truly “authentic” African cooking book. The only source I have at present is from the Time Life Library.

    Thanks Cynthia, once again, an excellent post!!!


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