(an outtake from Once More, From the Beginning. This is one of the bits that didn’t make it into the book.)
After just a few weeks in the wilderness, the women began to observe the sparse vegetation along the wayside, looking for food to sustain their families on what was shaping up to be a lengthy journey.
“What is that stuff?” exclaimed the men, one by one, and in small family groups. The men had barely noticed the change in vegetation along the way, and what they saw, they didn’t like. It was unfamiliar, and anything unfamiliar was bound to be bad.
“I don’t know!” replied the women. “But it looks as if it might be edible.”
“Well, don’t try feeding it to me. I want what I always eat. Anyway, the laws are very clear about what’s suitable. I don’t want to take chances. Besides . . . that looks funny. I won’t like it. ”
“So . . . what when we start running out of food?”
“I carried enough grain across that sea on my own back to feed a city. My shoulders still ache. There’ll be plenty.”
Unfortunately their meagre store of grain, dampened by the spray while they watched the Egyptians flail in the sea, began to spoil and stink, and the hungry men whined that Moses had brought them out of bondage only to let them starve in the wilderness.
Miriam, who had become a respected leader among the women, encouraged them to ignore the prejudice of the men and continue to experiment with the native plants. Eventually, they found what they were looking for.
“Miriam!” whispered one of the more adventurous young explorers one evening, when the women gathered after the dinner dishes had been scrubbed and the babies put to bed. “I think I’ve found what we need! I brought this grain to my mother – nobody can cook like my mother – and she baked these cakes. Try one. They’re not half bad.”
Miriam nibbled. “Hmm. Not bad. Sweet . . . but bland.”
The young woman’s face fell.
“It just needs a pinch of something,” offered Miriam, sympathetically. “Listen, I smuggled a big bag of coriander out of Egypt; it must be around here somewhere. Tell your mother to bake the next batch with coriander, and it’ll taste just like home. Where did you find it?”
“Oh, it’s all over the place! We can prepare it fresh every day or two.”
They gathered the other women and shared their discovery.
“Are you sure it’s not poisonous?” asked somebody’s granny.
“Well, I’m still here, aren’t I?” responded its young discoverer, somewhat testily.
“Sorry. It’s a remarkable find. But, you know, the men will never go for it. By the time they finish debating whether it’s acceptable in the eyes of The Lord – and themselves – we’ll all starve to death.”
They all nodded, grimly.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” suggested Miriam. “We’ll gather the plants before dawn, and bake the bread while the men are still sleeping. We’ll call it manna, and tell them it appears miraculously each day especially for our consumption. If they get suspicious, just invite them to help gather some for breakfast. We all know that’ll never happen.”
So they prepared manna every morning – except, of course, Saturday, when The Lord and the women rested. In forty years, no man ever offered to help gather the food and to this day the Hebrew men believe that God himself dropped the manna from heaven especially to sustain them on their travels.