Apples & Thyme – a celebration of mothers and grandmothers and time spent with with them in the kitchen

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 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.

Vanielje Kitchen Cook Book

Toasted Cream Cheese with Apples & Thyme

16 Responses to “Apples & Thyme – a celebration of mothers and grandmothers and time spent with with them in the kitchen”

  1. on 13 Oct 2007 at 10:33 pm The Passionate Palate

    Your words are poetry and did more justice to my thoughts than my words could have. The connections, feelings and roots to our (particularly maternal) predecessors run strong in most of the women I know. I am so excited about seeing what this round up brings – both in terms of the recipes and the stories.

    Brava my dear friend!

  2. on 13 Oct 2007 at 10:58 pm african vanielje

    Bring it on Jeni, I’m sure your mom would have relished sitting at the kitchen table with you, sifting thru recipes and stories.

  3. on 14 Oct 2007 at 12:16 am The Passionate Palate

    P.S. What I forgot to say was that your maternal ancestors sound fascinating, as do the locations in Africa where they lived and adventured. It sounds like you could write a book about this subject alone. Someday, over a glass of wine and in person, I want to hear more stories.

  4. on 14 Oct 2007 at 12:45 am Belinda

    What an especially lovely post today, Inge. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing you share a few tidbits about your fascinating ancestry. I can easily sense the pride you feel in your family, and reading the revealing morsels of history you’ve shared, I can fully understand your pride…what a marvelous background to be able to lay claim to. And Africa, the mere mention of the word is enchanting. I’ve no doubt that your lucky little girl will speak in this same way one day about her Mother and Grandmother. :-) I love the idea of this blog event, and since I don’t have to track down lavender (haha!), you can definitely count me in this time around.

    Oh…and this apple, fresh herb and organic cheese combination sounds delightful…everything looks so fresh, and the apples look picture perfect…great job on these photos as well, beautifully done. :-)

  5. on 14 Oct 2007 at 8:34 am katiez

    What a wonderful post! I love reading all of the little snippets of information about a place I am so totally unfamiliar with. And you mother and grandmother sound remarkable! I never knew a grandmother and my mother didn’t really like to cook – but I’ll think on this one….

  6. on 14 Oct 2007 at 10:36 am african vanielje

    Someday over a glass of wine features big in my future plans Jeni…it sounds lovely

    Thanks Belinda, I do love my family, even the eccentric ones (and there are quite a few of those). We’re hoping many people will share their stories as it is quite an open and accessable event.

    Funny thing is that lavender reminds me very much of both my mother and my grandmother. Not so much in how they smelled but that they both always had a bush growing wherever they lived. My grandmother even had a bush growing in the nursing home she insisted on checking herself into before she died. I have a little pot with lavender buds from my gran, my mother and my house, which I open and let the perfume and memories out every now and again.

    Katiez, that’s the beauty of this event. It is about people and what they did or DIDN’T do that shaped how you eat and cook today. It’s pretty open really and you can blog about anyone really, as long as they are linked to you and how you eat/cook. We’d love you to join

  7. on 14 Oct 2007 at 5:39 pm myfrenchkitchen

    What a lovely story, a little history and what an original idea. I can so relate to everything you’ve said and your tale brings back memories of my own, nice warmhearted touching ones. I will not the date and hope I’ll be in time with my entry!

  8. on 14 Oct 2007 at 10:50 pm ejm

    What a nice idea, Inge.

    And WHAT a great looking sandwich! I love the idea of combination of the lemon thyme, cream cheese and apple!

    Do you have a recipe for the seed bread and/or what seeds are in the bread?


    P.S. Lovely photo of the sandwich too. Is it permissible to use for advertising on my eventcalendar?

  9. on 14 Oct 2007 at 11:45 pm african vanielje

    Come on Ronelle, let’s have a story, or maybe a painting?

    Elizabeth, go ahead and use the logo for your events calender. Hope you can add a story and recipe as well. The bread is a half wholemeal, half white, quite wet, with a lot of yeast. A good light crumb but not great for staying power. With the abundance of yeast it will stale quickly. I vary my seeds but this one was sunflower, linseed and sesame

  10. on 16 Oct 2007 at 7:45 am sognatrice

    Beautiful post, as always, only more so.

    And I love this idea; can’t wait to get working on my contribution :)

  11. on 16 Oct 2007 at 5:58 pm ejm

    Thank you, Inge. I’ll try to get a post together in time. (I’m afraid not the absolute best at deadlines… I always delude myself that there’s plenty of time at noon.)


  12. on 16 Oct 2007 at 8:06 pm african vanielje

    Not to fussy about deadlines myself Elizabeth so just keep it coming, even if it’s a little late. you have so much fascinating knowledge at your fingertips. So come on share share!

    Sognatirce, I just know you have something to add for us, together with some great photographs no doubt.

  13. on 20 Oct 2007 at 8:26 pm Ruth Daniels

    Wonderful post and even better idea for an event. I look forward to sharing the kitchen with my mother once again. Even though she passed away many years ago, she’s always around helping out in the kitchen.

    Thanks for thinking of me.

  14. on 22 Oct 2007 at 4:45 am Arfi Binsted

    Oh, I have a very fond memories I shard with my grandmother in the kitchen. I always enjoyed cooking with her. And yes, I’d loved to send you my entry. You have such lovely time in the kitchen with your beloved Mum as well. You’re right, it’s now the time to look back and smile. Happy hosting!

  15. […] is my (admittedly very late) entry for this month’s Apples & Thyme. The roundup is ably served up by Jeni at the Passionate […]

  16. on 03 Jun 2010 at 11:15 am Christine Balne

    I’m sorry, I realize this is an old post of yours, but I stumbled upon it when searching for my last name. Your grandmother was named Christine Balne? Was she a native of Africa? Was Balne her maiden name or married name? If she’s not African, where did she originate? I’m sorry if any of this come across as being too personal, but I have a great interest in my family history, and as my last name is very uncommon, I like looking up others who have my last name, but is not immediately known to be a family member. I would love to talk to you if you ever get this message. Thank you!

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