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.)
This 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.
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
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:
A PALM BUTTER POEM
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?