I first got wind of Barbara Abdeni Massaad’s work a few years back on my usual Summer trip to Lebanon. A large coffee table book was prominently displayed on the shelf with the title Man’oushé. I remember feeling elated that someone would actually build an entire book over our humble and beloved breakfast flatbread.
This book is yet another remarkable effort: It focuses on Lebanese traditional methods of preserving foods. Mrs. Massaad, ever the intrepid traveler, combed the four corners of the country camera in hand. She recorded with beautiful photographs the tireless efforts of folks intent on preserving the bounty of our Mediterranean land.
This imposing coffee table book (it weighs almost 5 pounds) is chockful of images (including glimpses of the author and her children); it reads like a collection of vignettes capturing here, the preparation of fig molasses, there the harvesting of pine nuts, and hundreds of other such pursuits.
Mouneh is the title of this book and it is the word used to describe the Lebanese tradition of preserving foods for the Winter months. I remember my grandmother every year, in Beirut, getting busy with a limited mouneh. She’d pickle cucumbers and turnips and brine olives and dozens of jars would be stored in the attic located in the kitchen. In Ms. Massaad’s oeuvre, one is privy to the mouneh of salt-of-the-earth type of folks in their own private habitat.
The book is organized in a sequence of chapters divided into seasons and months; each month includes certain foods or vegetables (or fruits) and their pickling, drying or preserving; traditional foods such as cheeses or various molasses are also covered. In addition the book contains dozens of recipes and tips such as the best way to preserve grape leaves or how to prepare plum paste or watermelon jam.
In conclusion, this is a book I am glad to have acquired; I will leaf through the pages every now and then for many years to come and even make use of some of these recipes. The photos alone make one feel as if stepping into nature or going on a road trip to a wonderful place. This book encapsulated the best images of Lebanon that one would wish to keep in memory.