Starting in the sixties, when Sun Ra and his Arkestra were living in a communal house in the East Village, the group sometimes subsisted on a home-cooked vegetarian meal named after their lunar complement. Like Gurdjieff’s salad, not all of its ingredients could be precisely measured, says Ra’s biographer John F. Szwed:
Sometimes when they were short of money for food [Sun Ra] took over the cooking, and his cooking was like the music, individualized, spiritually guided, mysteriously concocted. Moon Stew was his chief dish, a mix of green peppers, onion, garlic, potatoes, okra, tomatoes, and ears of corn. And when it was done right, he said you could taste each ingredient individually. Once when he was asked to share the recipe for a musicians’ cookbook, he warned the authors that there were no fixed proportions to it, and that it required the ingredients of sincerity and love, to say nothing of the ability to make the fire burn with psychic intensity:
“You can’t say, ‘One teaspoon of this, or one teaspoon of that.’ Like a musician, you improvise. It’s like being on a spirit plane; you put the proper things in without knowing why. It comes out wonderful when it’s done like that. If you plan it, it doesn’t work.”
The cookbook was Jazz Cooks: Portraits and Recipes of the Greats, which included recipes for Dave Brubeck’s burgers and Max Roach’s corn. One of the book’s editors told the LA Times Sun Ra made him work for the Moon Stew recipe:
“I sat with him for an hour and a half, and it was hard to keep him on planet Earth,” Young said. “He never did give exact amounts of his ingredients, or cooking time, but he really went on about what he ate as a child.”
The Arkestra’s current director, Marshall Allen, recently confirmed that no one makes Moon Stew like Sonny did:
I tried making the Moon Stew myself. I used all the same ingredients like him, but it didn’t taste like his.
As reported by the food blog A Slice of Earthly Delight, the unharmonized melody goes like this:
Butter or Vegetable Oil
Broth (chicken or vegetable)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1) Chop the vegetables.
2) Bring the broth to a simmer on the stove while making a rue. To make the rue, melt the butter or vegetable oil in a pan and add flour, stirring until it reaches the consistency of wet sand. Stir a little of the broth into the rue and then add the rue into the broth.
3) Add the vegetables, salt, pepper, sincerity, and love to the broth.
4) Cook for at least one hour and serve to family and friends!
At 44:09 in the interview below, Marshall Allen and Danny Thompson of the Sun Ra Arkestra (now on tour) describe life in the Sun Palace, the Arkestra’s former East Village digs.