Moore Cooking With Joy
Perhaps good food and Peace Corps seem antithetical, but in Morocco, a cultural crossroads, it was everywhere. Whether fruit, vegetables or a plucked chicken from the market, most things were fresh and seasonally available in towns such as Taza or Essaouira. And lacking such distractions as a telephone or TV, we had an incentive to imitate Julia Child's joie de la cuisine.
Those of us who were teachers in Morocco had the summer months off to work on special projects. My friend Joy and I were a decade or two older than most of our fellow PCVs (with perhaps a tad more experience in the kitchen), so we decided to update the volunteer cookbook. This was the early ‘80s, which meant manual typewriters and primitive copy machines. Because recipes had to be adapted to local conditions and ingredients, the project required a lot more experimentation than we’d anticipated. In fact, copies of Moore Cooking With Joy weren’t ready for release until our close of service, when the new recruits were due.
While Joy dealt with introductory chapters on ingredients and equipment, as well as breakfast and dinner entrees, I handled the soup, salad and dessert sections of the cookbook, plus the index. Another volunteer with artistic talents and a sense of humor designed the cover and suggested the riff on Joy of Cooking for the title.
While doing research for our project, I would comb through cookbooks from home looking for cakes or cookies with ingredients that were readily available, while Joy would test and adapt recipes like refried beans and salsa. Of course, many items had to be made from scratch because packaged convenience versions weren’t available at the local hanout.
Testing the recipes took a bit of ingenuity. My kitchen only had a two-burner camp stove hooked up to Butagaz and no oven or refrigerator. Early on we had learned about so-called Palestinian ovens or m’skouta, which could be used for making things like cake or bread pudding. They consisted of a bundt-like pan, a removable cylinder for the center of the pan, a lid with steam vents and a metal ring that elevated the pan from direct heat. One afternoon, when my new friend (and future husband) came to ask me out for coffee, I was tethered to my kitchen by a cake undergoing this slow baking process!
Another adaptation to baking in Morocco was the Peace Corps oven. It was useful for making pies and cookies. This consisted of a large stovetop pan along with the metal ring from the m’skouta and a large flat cover. It, too, required longer baking times and lower temperatures. At Thanksgiving, I used this improvisation to make pumpkin pie! Lucky were the volunteers who lived near a neighborhood firhan: they could just take their unbaked cookies and other treats to the public oven.
Since these were the days before volunteers had laptops and opportunities to blog or exchange emails from Internet cafes, cooking and baking could provide a comforting connection with home. Though I missed things like oatmeal and peanut butter, I could satisfy other cravings for things like macaroni and cheese or fudge-like brownies. For Joy, who had lived in California, it was Mexican and Asian dishes that she missed, so recipes for tortillas and tempura made their way into the cookbook.
In our table of contents, there’s a quote by Anselme Brillat-Savarin, “The pleasure of the table is of all ages, conditions, countries and times.” What kind of cookbook would it be, then, without recipes for Moroccan entrees such as couscous and tajine? Not to mention harira, brochettes, semolina cookies and mint tea. And of course we had to acknowledge the residual French and Spanish traditions by including recipes for specialties such as quiche, ratatouille and paella.
Then there was the recipe for Betty’s Elephant Stew:
1 medium sized elephant
1 cup salt
2 cups pepper
brown gravy to cover
Cut elephant into bite-sized pieces. Add enough brown gravy to cover. Cook over a kerosene fire about 4 weeks at 465°. This will serve 3800 people or 100 Peace Corps volunteers. If more are expected, you can add the two rabbits. Do this only in an emergency as most people don’t like hare in their stew. (Sorry, I don’t know the origin of this recipe!)
Although our meals were often as simple as a piece of bread with cheese, when we’d gather with other volunteers to celebrate a holiday or invite friends of different nationalities for dinner, there was usually a feast involved. Our Peace Corps allowances may have been minimal, but they were adequate for the occasional splurge.
In retrospect, the most wonderful memories of all involve the hospitality of Moroccan students, friends and future in-laws. From afternoon teas to communal meals around a low table to lavish wedding ceremonies, the tastes, aromas and camaraderie were unforgettable. And all those delicacies like bastilla, beghrir and briouats—someone else prepared them!