Preparing a Table in the Wilderness

Psalm 78:19 is the verse that God used to make me willing to go with my husband to Africa.

Here’s what I was thinking. “My husband has picked the most desolate place in the world to take me and our six children; five of them boys who have man-size appetites. How will I ever feed them?!” And I hung back, reluctant, unenthusiastic, and unsupportive.

But God had Dr. John Dreisbach preach the very sermon I needed from this text in Psalms. “Then they spoke against God; they said, ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?’” From that point on, I trusted God and entered wholeheartedly into my husband’s decision.

atableinthewildernessThere were three cookbooks that became fundamental to my cooking: Betty Crocker Cookbook (the old one that doesn’t use canned soups and ready-made mixes), Wycliffe Cookbook, and New Tribes Cookbook. Wycliffe’s was by far the best. I have a friend who memorized the page numbers for what she was cooking, she used it so often. New Tribes had some pretty bizarre recipes.

My first year abroad, six children, living in a remote African town, was a challenge beyond! I wrote every friend I had in America and asked for recipes using okra, eggplant, and onions: the three fresh items we could get at our local market.

I made onion casseroles, pickled onions, sautéed onions, and French-fried onion rings. In fact, “French-fried” became my salvation. Every day, it was either French-fried cabbage, French-fried sweet potatoes, French-fried okra, French-fried eggplant, or the favorite: French-fries.


The meat at the local market was, well, fresh.  Most of our visitors preferred NOT to see where we bought our meat.

It was Jay’s job to clean the meat to prepare it for cooking. I can still see him standing at the counter with the window open, throwing meat scraps out to Brownie the dog, who could hear him sharpening the knife and would take his post before the window, waiting.


The meat got marinated, chopped, pounded, or pressured to make it chewable and flavorful. Lloyd said that if he couldn’t stick his fork in it, he refused to eat it, which I thought was a bit unfair. Little pieces can be chewed easily no matter the toughness.

With limited vegetables, limited meat, something had to be plentiful! I bought a 50 kg (100 lbs) sack of flour every month. That again was a risk. You always smelled it before buying. One time, it was so flavored of kerosene that I had Jay bury the 50 kg sack in the back yard. I was too ashamed to throw it out and let my neighbors see how wasteful I was.

So there was an endless amount of baking: breads, cakes, donuts, sweet rolls, cookies – just about anything made with flour. Eggs were not readily available, so even there I had to be creative as to recipes.


And finally, there was the issue of keeping cool. We lived Sub-Sahara. It was hot. All the time. ICE and cold beverages were a big deal. I could place a big cookie sheet of water on the element of our kerosene refrigerator once a day and have enough ice for one meal a day. I never allowed any of the kids to put the ice in the glasses. That was my job. No waste, utterly fair, and last minute.

Next week we will talk about substitutions in cooking. I feel like I am the Queen of Substitutions having done it for twenty years!

What are/were some things you couldn’t do without when you’ve lived in a different country? What did you do to make it happen? I’m interested to hear!

4 thoughts on “Preparing a Table in the Wilderness

  1. The Wycliffe cookbook was my favorite and I still use it often even though we are in the States now. The substitution guide in the back was a lifesaver!


  2. I used Wycliffe all the time, too. Also Fanny Farmer had great from scratch (nothing canned) recipes. This is the cookbook that has my famous ice cream recipe in it. Is used the base to make all sorts of flavors from mango for Charis (tasted like maple for some reason) to chunky monkey for Julie. I loved cooking in Africa. It was an exciting challenge. I’ve just now started making mor homemade breads. I still cook rice no African sauces, but can’t get every ingredient (like ginseng). Of course we all miss maggi arome!


  3. We used the Wycliff cookbook all the time too! We didn’t have as many problems finding ingredients but we definitely substituted! We had rice and sauce a lot, and something my mom liked to make was bean burgers. She also sauteed fresh huge mushrooms. Sometimes we had a fend for yourselves night where it was everyman for himself! 😉 Our meat was tough too but when I was younger I didn’t know there was any other kind of meat LOL. One thing I tried was termite sauce. (something my mom did NOT make! Once you got past the idea it wasn’t too bad.) We also ate a lot of fresh fruit which I miss. Especially the mangos and bananas, which do not taste the same in America.


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