Book Review: How to Cook a Tapir

When the naive, newly married collage student Joan Fry agreed to a yearlong working honeymoon in what was then called British Honduras in 1962, she scarcely imagined what life in the rainforest would be like. An only child, Joan was raised in the New Jersey suburbs and at twenty years of age, was plunged headlong into a world of bare breasted women, tamales filled with chicken feet and insects the size of dinner platters. Her husband Aaron was the first American anthropologist to live with and study the Kekchi Maya who made southern Belize their home and as such, expected Joan to abide by the local customs.

Thus Joan had to forego smoking, learn how to cook bush meat on stone slabs, negotiate for goods or services and much more while coping with a cold, distant husband with no understanding of his wife’s fears. Although Joan never quite got over her disquiet of half-naked women, she managed to forge deep, lasting relationships with the villagers who patiently offered instruction and friendship.

Most of the recipes involve chicken, beans, rice or squash although the Convict Soup is funny as it refers to looking for cockroaches in the Knox packages. The Sesame Coconut Crunch is quite tasty and as Joan says, will feed 1-2 sugar addicts. Joan’s view of daily village life is liberally laced with funny observations such as the size of bull testicles, making this an entertaining coming of age story as a self-assured woman emerges from a sheltered young bride.

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