African Vanielje on Oct 13 2007 at 2:03 pm | Filed under: Uncategorized
I was born in Africa, in what was then Rhodesia and what is now Zimbabwe. Bulawayo, the city of my birth means ‘House of Slaughter’ which lovely handle was hung on the Royal Kraal of Lobengula Kumalo, second and last King of the Ndebele (or Matabele) nation. nDebele means ‘people of the long shield’ which refers to the Zulu style of shield carried by the tribe. Mzilikatzi was a Zulu general under Shaka Zulu, who split from the tribe with about 500 warriors and moved north. He became the first Ndebele King and father of Lobengula, amongst others.
These names trip as easily off my tongue as the Afrikaans names of the Voortrekkers, who were the first boere (Afrikaans farmers) to make the pioneering (for the white settlers at least) journeys over the huge Cape escarpments into the interior. Amongst them the Bothmas and Steyns, both names of Dutch descent which are threads in the tapestry of my ancestry. I had one intrepid ancestress, who despite her shortness of stature matched only by her almost equal girth, insisted on joining an ox wagon trek with her family, accompanied by three servants: one to push her over the mountains, one to pull and the third to carry a riempie stool for her to sit on when she needed to rest.
The same undaunted refusal to acknowledge what may or may not have been appropriate pioneering behaviour lived on in my maternal grandmother, Margaret Jaqueline Christine Balne, nee Bothma. She grew up in Matabeleland, spoke fluent Shona and Ndebele and was African down to her very soul, yet she refused to abandon those conventions of a colonial upbringing so entrenched in her generation. When my grandmother wanted to plant new rosebushes she would simply have her gardeners dig a six foot deep trench, fill it with manure and plant the roses. Do I need to say that my grandmother was famous for her green fingers and beautiful roses.
My mother, who was raised in great part by Aali (their ‘houseboy’) a wonderfully loving and gentle maShona, used to have to eat mangoes with a knife and fork at the table with the ubiquitous white gloves that were requisite for well brought up young ladies. That was if her mother was around. The other option (Aali’s solution) was to eat them in the bath. This dichotomy of practical wildness and convention is still such a great part of my mother’s makeup and is inevitably a true reflection of her African heart. It is also reflected in all her food which is both earthy and whimsical, African and European. It cannot be labelled really, but people who know her or her restaurant well can immediately pinpoint food that I make which has its roots with her.
The sandwich above is pure Kas, delicious 3 seed bread, lightly toasted, slathered with fresh farm butter and organic cream cheese, topped with a crisp and juicy apple from the orchard and some sprinkles of fresh lemony thyme, not yet hardened off and woody, from my windowsill. Pure Kas, and by extension, pure me. When I grow up I want to be my mother. Some may think that a sad ambition, but then, they may not have met my mother. A gentle matriarch with a kind and loving heart, an endlessly welcoming kitchen and a back bone of steel. I guess it’s those pioneering genes again.
This light and tasty combination may seem quite modern, but I can remember my mom slipping plates of identical temptation onto the yellow wood floor of my bedroom, next to my messy spread of homework books while I sprawled on my tummy delving with equal relish into the delicious sandwich and the rich and moreish history of my country and my forebears.
I love history and as I grow older and start to pass on skills to my daughter that I learned at my own mother’s apron strings, the common threads of the great tapestry that makes up our lives become more apparent to me. I know I am not alone in feeling this as many people have blogged lately about mothers, grandmothers, connections and family.
To me this is all indivisible from the food we eat and how we eat it, and the sense of continuity is part of my endless fascination with food. It adds extra spice to anything I make and the piquancy of moments remembered and meals shared is an essential part of my store cupboard.
This is not the post I sat down to write, but clearly all those mothers and grandmothers watching over us had something different in mind. So I would like to dedicate this post to Jeni’s mother, who has just passed away, and to announce an event that Jeni and I have been batting back and forth for nearly two months now. At the time her mother was ill, but not imminently at death’s door, and I am not sure why we kept procrastinating. Now I realise that timing is everything and it is now more appropriate than ever.
The event which I have called Apples & Thyme (I hope Jeni will forgive me but it just seemed right) is a celebration of time spent in the kitchen with our mothers and grandmothers (or anyone else you wish to blog about) and what they did or did not pass on to us that influenced how we cook and eat today. We would love you to enter and share with us a person and a dish that celebrates your relationship with them. The closing date is 10th November, with the roundup being posted on 15th November, the first monthly Apples & Thyme Day.
Event rules are as follows:
1. Post on your blog before 10th November about your mother or grandmother (or any other person special to you) and time spent with them in the kitchen that influenced how you cook and eat.
2. Include a dish which reflects the relationship.
3. Take a picture of the dish and/or person.
4. Include the words Apples & Thyme in your blog title.
3. Add a link to this post.
4. Please send an email to email@example.com with the following details:
Your name,URL of blog,URL of your Apples & Thyme post and a 100 x 100 pixel picture for your entry in the round-up.
You can also enter through Jeni’s blog The Passionate Palate
Please let as many people as possible know about this event as I can think of no better celebration of life than to honour the women who made us what we are today.