Cynthia D. Bertelsen's Gherkins & Tomatoes

Lady Tew’s “West African” Cookbook


An 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.

© 2009,  2014 C. Bertelsen