After three generations, abolo will no longer be baked from scratch in the Malm compound at Abokobi and the cavernous interior of the grand clay oven has gone cold.
This weekend we laid to rest the last abolo maestro- the matriarch, Auntie Dzama; she was 80.
For the last twenty five years, she has single handedly kept the tradition going.
It was gut wrenching to hear from her younger brother, Uncle Odoi, that none of his nieces- or nephews, or any of his own children had studied the ancient art of making and baking abolo.
Time was when we put in our order and Auntie Dzama made sure that baskets of the firm, tasty, golden brown cakes that sat in banana leaves with sporadic dark surface crusts were delivered to Tema.
The abolo cakes were always neatly arranged in a colorful woven basket and covered with the obligatory absolutely clean and starched white cloth with lace borders.
I still remember the smiles on the faces of Mama and Papa when Uncle Odoi delivered the much awaited consignment by mid-morning.
The cakes were straight out of the clay oven and still quite warm in spite of the 40km journey from Abokobi to Tema.
Everyone immediately had a slice……perfect bliss.
The connoisseurs had their slice with a cup of tea. Mensah Kpolukpolu had his thick slice with jam and relished it.
Small parcels consisting of two or three cakes each were then made out for other friends and family. The stuff was so good, it had to be shared.
The face of a dear friend and retired Army General always lit up when his parcel was handed over; then he immediately waxed nostalgic about his kiddy days in Osu and the abolo sessions.
How shall I tell all of them that the maestro is no more and that sadly we have come to the end of an era?
The baked abolo recipe that included plantain, sweet potato and corn dough has been lost; we need to search for and retrieve it; a substitute will not do.
The creamy white steamed abolo does not come close. Sadly, only pictures of this variant are available on the Internet….tut, tut.
No wonder another uncle based in the US confessed that he does not remember the last time he ate “real abolo”.
Uncle Odoi recalls that the clay oven in the house is the smallest of the four ovens in Abokobi. All the other three are situated at another place – the house of a professional bread baker.
Those other three are huge ovens- much bigger than the smaller family sized oven in the Malm house.
The Malm oven was used to bake regular pastry cakes, tarts and buns for domestic consumption……and of course abolo….and ablongo (a delicious and nutritious plantain cake).
There is no one in that house who does not have a sweet tooth!
The Malm oven, Uncle Odoi recalls, was built by his Grandfather just over 60 years ago for use by his Grandmother – Maa Afua , who was originally from Manyhera behind Pokuase.
She had four lovely daughters and one of them- Maa Mary (Uncle Odoi’s mother) learnt how to make abolo and carried on the tradition after the passing of Maa Afua.
The maestro then picked up the ancient skill from her mother, Maa Mary, and carried on as the third generation, but alas…….
How many of these traditional culinary skills have been lost and replaced by fried rice; cheap, decade old, tasteless, black Brazilian chicken; and mayonnaise laden, E. Coli strewn salad?
Even the skill required to build the traditional clay oven has been lost.
Great Grandpa Malm made his own clay bricks which he used for the oven’s foundation; and he used wet crushed laterite from a termite hill mound as the mortar.
He fashioned the uppermost conical shape of the oven by using a raffia basket of appropriate size that he placed upside down.
It had four crossed wooden poles to hold it in place as he worked the clay over the basket template while smoothing out the whole structure with the crushed termite hill laterite mortar.
Several days later when the oven was dry, the basket frame was removed and the oven was heat tested by lighting a huge wood fire within.
Any small cracks that appeared were filled in again with the laterite.
If there were too my cracks, the whole structure was razed to the ground and rebuilt.
Great Grandpa Malm was a trained surveyor and mason; Uncle Odoi still has some of his tools including an antique four foot long level.
But no one in the village or beyond has his indigenous sustainable clay oven building skill.
What has been lost must be found.
There is so much to be done and so little time.
Fare thee well, my dear Auntie Dzama.
By Nii B. Andrews