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First Moroccan cookbook in English… 50 American-adapted recipes

In 1950s, American expatriate Evelyn Neitzert wrote a Moroccan cookbook, the first of its kind in English. The book compiled 50 Moroccan recipes, tested and adapted to American taste.

Estimated read time: 2'

In the 1950s, Evelyn Neitzert, an American cooking enthusiast, settled in Casablanca. She lived with her husband, an American engineer stationed at the Nouasseur Air Depot, a United States Air Force base, from 1951 to 1963.

A freelance journalist and amateur chef, she quickly found a new passion. The Colorado-born housewife discovered the treasure that is Moroccan cuisine: Couscous, pastilla, tajine and many other delicacies. But being the journalist that she was, she needed a written reference.

Evelyn searched everywhere for a Moroccan cookbook that she could read and perhaps share with other American expatriates. In vain, she decided to write her own, the first English-language cookbook with only Moroccan recipes.

But Evelyn's Moroccan Cookbook was no ordinary cookbook. Its recipes were tested and adapted to American tastes, according to a 1957 article about the project.

50 Moroccan recipes adapted to American taste

To gather her favorite Moroccan recipes, Evelyn, «accompanied by some Moroccan friends, visited the homes of many families», reported the July issue of The Sunday Star. The American mother even «traveled into the desert to get recipes from Berber tribesmen», according to the same article.

After traveling around Morocco to collect the 50 recipes she later included in her cookbook, Evelyn, with the help of her Moroccan housekeeper, «tested and adapted the recipes to American tastes and cooking methods».

She believed that cooking food slowly in glazed earthenware dishes, namely the tajines, over small charcoal braziers was a Moroccan lesson in patience, something «some American housewives did not have».

After collecting, tasting, and adapting her Moroccan recipes, the American expatriate struggled to get her cookbook published. This was mainly due to the political situation in Morocco in the mid-fifties.

According to the same article, «the country was in the middle of a guerrilla war with the French». Evelyn told the Sunday Star that the owner of the publishing house in Casablanca that was tasked with publishing her cookbook was in «disrepute with the government».

Although he was French, the publisher's «sympathies were with the natives» and often Neitzert would «arrive to correct the proofs of the book and find the place locked». That is why, she explains, the printing of her book went ahead without proofreading.

That's why «there are quite a few typographical errors in it», she told the Washington DC newspaper. «And I had to go from the base to Casablanca in a bulletproof jeep - we never knew who would be shot next», she recalled.

To illustrate the article on the Sunday Star, Evelyn posed in a photograph wearing a Moroccan caftan, holding embroidered slippers, and sitting next to traditional Moroccan brass kitchenware.

In the Sunday Star article, the only reference to her «Moroccan Cookery» book, Evelyn said she wanted to include more than 50 Moroccan recipes in a second volume for her book. A dream that never came true.

Today, «Moroccan Cookery», published in 1954, is being sold on the antiquarian book platform, labeled as one of the earliest English-language books on Moroccan cuisine.

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