Palm Butter and Rice:The Joys & Challenges of Cooking a Liberian/Grebo Meal- Pre-Thanksgiving Recipes For Your Enjoyment


My two oldest children, Besie-Nyesuah and MT love to cook like me. But when they are cooking, I too, am cooking, whether I am at the end of the world, in a foreign country, reading poetry in California or driving five hours to a remote city to read poetry. They are ready to cook, their cooking utensils ready, and then they dial me so I can drop everything and go over the recipe of a particular Liberian cuisine. Often the ingredients, that we may have rehearsed over the years are all assembled. If the call is from my son, MT, you can be sure he has one or two of his college girlfriends in earshot, all of them ready to learn how to make okra stew, palm butter, pepper soup, torborgee, etc. etc. etc. But sometimes, I cannot drop everything so they have to drop their cooking and just get over it. I recalled having to grab my phone while I was doing a very important speech in San Diego a couple years ago. It was my daughter, Besie on the phone. She needed to talk about cooking palm butter- whether to put in the shrimps before steaming them or to drop them in the boiling sauce. I was confused, and told her to turn the stove off until my speech was done. Everyone in the audience laughed. They didn’t know her, I mean my daughter, Besie. She would call again and again until I turned my phone off.

She reminded me to post some recipes. That way she and all the children of African immigrants and their boyfriends and girlfriends can log on and find a recipe on some Liberian meal. So, here is one; hopefully, others will follow.

HERE’S TO BESIE & MT and of course, all those young people out there.

Grebo/Kru or Liberian Palm Butter with Steamed Rice (Also known as Palm Soup, Palm Cream Sauce, etc.)

palm-butterThis is the can of imported cream of palm from which to make the palm butter. Here is what I call Pumpkin as it is known in Liberia, but Americans call it butternut squash. Next the to squash is a small bundle of fresh basil for spicing up the taste. I am ready to cook with other ingredients not in the photo. At a certain point in the cooking, you will see my big pot boiling below. Let’s take a look at it before the reccipe. pot-of-palm-butter

PALM BUTTER (Six Servings)

2 cans of Palm Nut Cream (imported from Ivory Coast, Ghana, etc.)

l medium butter squash or pumpkin

1 8 oz pack of mushrooms

six to eight habanera peppers (very hot, so please this is optional)

1 medium eggplant

1lb of snow crab legs or blue crabs

1 large piece of smoked salmon (fresh is fine) optional

1 large smoked turkey drumstick or a pack of smoked turkey wings

1 lb of fresh or defrosted shrimps

1 stewing or free range chicken

2 -3 bouillon cubes

fresh basil leaves, bay leaves, and other spices

3 pounds of white or parboiled rice

10 cup measure of water

Season salt,


Assemble all ingredients on the counter. Assemble pots (deep pots are better for the sauce), and cooking spoons, etc. Measure 10 -12 cups of water (5 for each can of palm nut soup) and bring water to boil in a medium pot. Place the cans of palm nut sauce in very hot tap water to begin the melting process of the nut cream, which is very greasy.

Open the cans of palm nut sauce, and scoop it out into a large bowl. Pour the boiling water over the cream sauce to melt the thick cream. At this point, you are attempting to take the palm cream concentrate from its preserved state to its original liquidity. Mix the thick cream in with the boiled water, melting all the oils and whatever chaff from the palm nut. Remember, the cream of palm is a product from the chaff of the palm nuts; therefore, don’t be alarmed to see a few chaffs. At this point when the cream is thoroughly mixed and is now not so thick liquid cream, you need to use a large sift to sift the cream into a pot or another big bowl. Many people do not resift the cream or mix it, but in order to get the best sauce and the best taste, one must sift the creamy liquid carefully before beginning to cook it. Palm butter is one of the messiest to cook, but its product is the best on this earth, I tell you, when it is done.

All of the meats at this time should be ready to work with as the palm sauce is sitting. You can either do the meats before the sauce or whatever works for you.

The chicken needs to be dressed if it is not yet done. Cut the chicken into edible bits and place all of the parts with the crab legs and other tougher ingredients. You cannot put in the fish or shrimps at this time. But you can chop the eggplant in large parts, ground the peppers with the basil and the mushrooms (optional) with the spices then add them to the chicken in the big sauce pot. The pot needs to be deep like the one on my stove to prevent the sauce from jumping out during the long strenuous ritual of cooking the Grebo sauce.

As a Grebo woman who comes from a land of waters, the ocean, rivers, etc., I grew up cooking palm butter with seafood, smoked dried fish African style dried, clams, lobsters, etc. If you do not like seafood, then substitute the seafood with other meats that you are comfortable with. I did not include beef because fresh beef is not an everyday meat for Liberian palm butter. Some people add goat meat instead of seafood or along with it. Steam the pot of chicken with the spices for about fifteen minutes. Remember that stewing chicken needs to boil some to take away that toughness, so it is okay to precook it.

Now that you have cleaned all of the ingredients, and steamed the chicken and crab, it is now time to pour the sauce into that big pot with the chicken. Your palm butter can begin to boil as you cut up the butter squash. I usually just chop it into five or six pieces, take out the seeds and soft stuff, but leave on the skin. The skin is nutritious, so leave it alone just as you leave the eggplant skins alone. Add the pieces of squash at this time and let it cook.

The pot of palm sauce is liquid at this time, but in time, it will thicken. A pot of palm butter can take two hours to complete cooking with all the pre-cooking details I just told you about. The sauce must be cooked on medium heat only, not rushing. When the palm butter has been cooking for an hour, it is time to add the fish and other softer meats. At this time, the sauce will have some oils at the top.

This is the time to reduce the heat. When the sauce begins to thicken, you should add the fresh shrimps. I like my shrimps almost half cooked to preserve the taste and prevent overcooking.

When the sauce is halfway to getting done, you must steam the rice. Take the three pounds of rice and cook it in a rice cooker or in a medium pot. You must be careful not to burn the rice when cooking it in a regular pot.

The palm butter is done when it is almost as thin as turkey gravy, not too thin, but not too thick either. The mix of seafood, smoked fish, eggplants, mushrooms, and squash with the stewing chicken will give your palm butter a special flavor you will never forget. Remember that palm butter has many versions, and comes from many West African countries, many ethnic groups, and that palm butter speaks many languages. But as a Grebo woman, I grew up on the Grebo style of palm butter because palm butter is the staple dish of the Grebo people. Every Grebo woman who wanted to stay married and to raise healthy children had to learn how not to and how to cook palm butter.

These are the taboos for the Grebo woman cooking palm butter:


by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

A woman should Never mix palm butter when she is under the moon

Never add onions to your palm butter

Where there is no palm butter leaf, use basil or bay leaf for spicing

Tomato is not for palm butter cooking; palm butter is red enough

Never add palm oil to palm butter; palm butter is the mother of palm oil

Palm butter is never Grebo if it has no pepper

It is okay to eat palm butter and rice with your hand if you wish

After all is said and done, cooked and ready,

remember that the crust from the rice pot can also eat palm butter,

and that Grebo husbands have divorced their wives

just because they were denied the palm butter rice crust.

Finally, every Grebo woman knows that palm butter

is the way to a healthy lifestyle even if the doctor disagrees.

Pictured below are little Grebo/Kru babies growing up in America while eating Palm Butter. My sister’s and other relatives children are now living proof of this strange culture that has found its way in the New World. Enjoy, and let me know if your palm butter turns out well- okay?



Poets, Poetry Readings and the Adventures of Literary Connections


The Connection between poets and writers is unique. Here below, you will find me paying a visit to the University of Ghana campus near Accra to meet with the renowned Ghanaian poet, Kofi Anyidoho. Kofi Anyidoho is a poet from the Ewe tradition, a Professor of English for many many years. I wanted to sit with him and just learn from his wisdom as an African poet while I was teaching poetry writing with Pan African Literary Forum in Ghana this summer. So, here I was, being taken around the campus, visiting the officials of the campus with this well respected poet and Professor. There is much to learn from simply talking to Professor Anyidoho. Here are some photos for your eyes: I am here standing with Kofi at the English Department building at Legon.


photos-for-mom-121 Here I am standing before the English Dept. at Legon

photos-for-mom-109Presenting my three books to Kofi for the English Dept. library

photos-for-mom-112Sitting in the English Dept at Legon

photos-for-mom-113This is Kofi here at his desk at Legon.

photos-for-mom-115This is me reading the poem, “For Kwame Nkrumah,” from my third book of poems, The River is Rising.

The visit ended with my photographer, Enock Amankwah also getting a shot taken of him. He was my faithful photographer, tour guide, the Ghanaian best friend of my son, MT. Here is Enock posing to have the chance to also be seen with Kofi. Afterwards, Enock said that before this day, he had always only heard about the Professor and poet, but today he had set eyes upon the renowned Kofi. There was no one as patient with me as Enock when he worked with me in Accra.


Enock and Kofi

photos-for-mom-098My friend, fellow writer, Faith Adiele, reading at the Pan African Literary Forum in Ghana. Faith is one of those rare people you meet and always know. Meeting Faith in Accra was one of those reunion activities for me. There were other writing friends too, like Pamela Fletcher who is one of my friends from long ago. Faith’s reading that night made us laugh and think about the way of life we call African culture.

photos-for-mom-458And of course, another reading here in Monrovia, Liberia, at the Liberian government forum.

Poetry Readings are usually very interesting both for the invited poet and the institution, students, and audience who may often come from the community. My students over the past years have often come away from readings with all sorts of comments about the invited poet, often some of the comments not so encouraging. I do a lot of poetry readings across the country and now in other countries. Usually, I look at a reading as a sort of a performance, something the inviting institution is paying their hard cash for, however small or large, and I, the invited one must do my best to articulate my poetry so the audience can get a clearer perspective for what is important to me. I want my images to be clear in my reading, and I want people to walk away with a sense of what poetry is. Sometimes, I think I do a good job. Sometimes, hey, I can’t know. Below are a few photos of a few readings I have recently done. Sorry, I can’t load the numerous videos I have, but the photos will tell you how seriously the inviting groups often believe poetry reading is. And who can blame them?


This is me here practicing with the famous Oliver Lake Jazz Group, Mr. Lake standing there, and me looking like I was ready to die just from doing the same poems over and over to match the reading to the music.  We are practicing here one poet at the time with several other poets for the Pittsburgh City of Asylum’s Poetry Jazz Concert that was held one day later on Sept. 13.


poetryfestival3After all that trouble, and all the poets had practiced well, here is the occasion. There were a couple thousand people at least in the audience of an enthusiastic crowd, a few voices of various poets, including Gerald Stern,  Lynn Emmanuel, Terrance Hayes, Nikola Madzirov, among others. A fantastic evening after all, and I drove back home the next morning, leaving behind Pittsburgh and all the memory as always. The Concert was a fund raiser to help settle two exiled poets in the US each year. My favorite poet among all of us was Gerald Stern, one of the finest poets who still has a sense of humor and a heart after decades of living the life of a poet. On the morning of concert day, I walked into the breakfast hall of our hotel where the Festival founder, Henry Reese had lodged us, and Gerald welcome me to his table with his wonderful humor and his warm heart. He is one of my most beloved poets, even past 80, he is still bubbly with poetry and a heart.

Miriam Makeba- Mama Africa, Warrior Woman, Dead at 76- Come, and Let Us Lay Out the Lappas





On Hearing That Mama Africa Is Dead: A Poem for Miriam Makeba

Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (copyright)

Miriam Makeba- Mama Africa, Warrior Woman, thunder,
before the earth knew thunder.

Mama Africa, dead today, before the warrior child
who came out of years of fighting had time to pick up the gourd.
Mother Africa, you whose tears some of us grew to weep

for before we knew the meaning of tears. Mama Africa,
Thunder Woman, Town Crier, the stone at the edge
at the outskirts of South Africa’ flames

Wailing for Africa before our feet found the footing
that only the warrior woman knows how to walk.

Mother Africa, Miriam Makeba, I tell you, tears alone
are insufficient to quench the fire you breathed on us
for decades, before I knew how to see this world.

Mama Africa, all the ancestors have now lined up
at the gates with kola nuts to welcome you home where
only the brave can sit and relive.

Mama, did you go with news of all the things, happening?
Maybe, at your bedside, someone whispered to you
what the town crier came to say.

Maybe someone told you that today, today, in America,
one of your sons has been given the stool to sit on.

Maybe someone whispered to you as you journeyed beyond
that all the dreams you cried so hard for are now here with us
and that it is not only South Africa you have saved.

Maybe, the ancestors you join will tell you there is now
a new day. Maybe you knew before we knew, our time
has come. Mama Africa, we love you.

Mama Africa, your children now stand at the gate
waiting with wreaths to usher you homeward.
Mama Africa, we love you!


A Day To Remember: Obama, the First African American to Become President of America: God Bless America!


OBAMA WINS: This is a moment to behold, a moment for tears, a moment for reflection. Black people and America have come a long way. I am proud to be in America today. I am proud to be a black woman in America. I am proud of all the tens of thousands who fought in the civil rights movement for this day. I am proud of all of the hundreds of thousands of blacks, whites, Hispanics, immigrants, old and young who worked endlessly for months to bring Obama this far. I am proud of Barack and Michelle Obama.


Barack Obama’s win is a win for America and the entire world. I have been weeping, shouting, and answering calls from friends and family as we awaited this moment. This is a day to behold as tens of thousands wait to hear Obama speak tonight in Chicago. God bless America!

All of My Poetry/ English Professor Friends, Whites and Blacks Are Voting for Obama-WOW, Please Remember to VOTE!!!!

This is an historic election, no doubt. Everyone is at a standstill, waiting. All over the world, everyone is waiting. My friends around the world have told me they too are at a standstill for America. They love America and also wait like all of us.

What is most interesting to me is the circles of associations that we have formed around the election. Around me, many of my neighbors are for the opposition, but you have just to enter university territory or neighborhoods or college professors vitual world or poetry lanes, and you have Obama support everywhere to encourage you. My first duty as a supporter of Obama tomorrow is to drive forty minutes to State College to pick up my son, MT, who is registered in my township to vote. Besie, our eldest will be voting near her Penn State campus. After that, I will go to my campus to see if I am needed to drive students to the polls. I will work with all my strength to see Obama elected. I have given the few hours and few dollars I could. In my family, I am proud to say that my very intellectual two older children have their heads on their shoulders and are voting for Obama. My children want a better life for themselves and their children.


My poetry friends are all up in arms with excitement and fear for the elections and Obama. But all will be well, I tell myself. Writers and artists and teachers and professionals at college campuses know the toll college education is taking on all of us and our children. They are on the field where art has been pulled out of schools, where poets can no longer get funding, where student drop-out is related to who makes policy of education, and we are counting the hours. One of my facebook friends, a very fine and renowned poet had her hours and minutes counted to the hour of voting. November 4, 2008 will be a day to keep in history. If Obama wins the position he is expected to win (if no one cheats this time), it will be a great day for most Americans and for all of us around the world.


Listen to this poem: A Poem for Obama by Ainsley Burrows—-