Sibuyisela Ulwazi

Mnandi was honoured to be invited to participate in the Biowatch SA Siybuyisela ulwazi Food and Seed Festival last week.   We sold many recipe books, made great connections, shared stories and seeds, and learnt a lot.  Biowatch SA organised the festival to celebrate the diversity of our indigenous and traditional seed and food cultures, exchange knowledge and ideas and explore innovations in support of food sovereignity, social and environmental justice.

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Presentations about all the things we are passionate about were by inspiring and knowledgeable people. There were talks of seed and African spirituality, the Food Price barometer, GMOs, Climate Smart Agriculture (not so smart), the benefits of fermentation, Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, beautiful music made from the humble calabash and a myriad of food activists to connect with.   Legendary Permaculturalist John Nzira asked “What is the difference between seeds and money?”  Amongst all these seed savers and defenders of our food diversity the answer was unanimous – seeds hold our future. The diversity of seeds is the key to life. Phansi GMOs Phansi!

The climate-friendly vegetarian lunches were superb and we also got to taste traditional umqombothi and umqusho, peanut soup, sorghum, celery and apple salad and too many other things to mention.  Ntombenhle Mntambo shared her fantastic Rainbow Salad (all ingredients grown in her Mpophomeni garden) and talked about healthy eating.

Ntombenhle salad

We were proud to share the kitchen with author and dietician, Mpho Tshukudu. She inspired us with her talk African Food is Healthy, Beautiful and Delicious, singing the praises of our heritage foods (naturally low GI) and sharing new ways of preparing them.  Her book with Anna Trapido – Eat Ting is very interesting.

Mpho chopping

Agro-Ecological Farmer and activist Richard Haigh talked about the way Big Food has hooked us with their laboratory engineered ‘bliss point’ flavours, our addiction to sugar, salt and fat and urged us to de-colonise our palates.  Forager and Wild Food Champion Loubie Rusch shared her knowledge of Cape wild food and encouraged us to look around, to eat and the plant indigenous edibles in our gardens.  Gogo Qho followed with a passionate presentation about wild plants that are her food and medicine, the importance of traditional and indigenous food culture and the value of leafy greens for good health.

The festival truly celebrated the diversity of our indigenous and traditional seed and food cultures and advocated for a just and healthy food system. 

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Comments from our group:

Nathi Adam – It was a fruitful day. The pure seeds and food displays, prepared by passionate people were amazing and all the talks were inspiring. I learned and saw the Earth differently after the talks. The food tastings were wow!

Traditional music goes well with traditional food prepared by people who care about what they eat. I was taken aback to see people enjoying themselves in this way. I loved talking to Sazi Dlamini and networking with many others.

It was saddening to realise that industrial agriculture is killing our earth. I learned that we need to put more effort into educating and assisting one another to take serious care of ourselves and our mother Earth, in order to realise better health and wealth in the Permaculutre way.  We have plenty of natural resources in Africa, but we should not misuse and abuse them. People Care plus Earth Care equals plenty for us and our children and their children.

Zandile Sikhakane – I learned a lot about seed and food that keeps us healthy. I took note of the importance of preserving our seeds, so we do not have to buy more.  Everyone who presented explained very well and answered the questions well. My favourite guest was John Nzira. He inspired me a lot about our food culture and urban farming. I was so happy to see Sazi Dlamini playing music out of the food we eat. I learnt how to plant sweet potatoes.

Ntombenhle, sanele, mary

Njabulo Mokoena – I enjoyed talking to different kinds of people in different languages. I learnt a lot from farmers like John Nzira and that if you respect nature, it will respect you back. I tasted food that was very delicious. There was African traditional food that I have never eaten before – like amabele.  I was so inspired by the farmers, that the day afterwards, I started a small garden at home. It was a beautiful event.

Mary Mlambo – I met many wonderful people, especially John Nzira. He spoke about how the love of money overpowers our love for seeds and nature that actually gives us life. “We can throw money on the ground and it won’t grow, but throw seeds on the ground and watch them grow into food.” That gave me a lot of motivation. I was thrilled to taste delicious indigenous foods that were prepared with so much love. I even got iHali, a very rare fruit I have not seen since I was a young girl. I had fun.

Mary Mlambo food is medicine

Eidin Griffin – I felt deeply honoured to be amongst such incredible earth workers and ethical food producers. Meeting the farmers from Pongola, Matubatuba and Lesotho was a profound privilege and I was able to trade seeds, shake hands and we could communicate in our special language of seeds rather than a common tongue. Grand gesticulation and a great amount of laughter helped too! Tasting foods created with love and looking at ways to nourish ourselves and our food supply really got my brain and heart excited. I truly hope that this is the start of an incredible annual event and I will share the new information that I gleaned (yes, good word indeed) and plant my new-found seed friends in the soil and nurture them as best I can and hope to return, wiser and stronger with more abundance to share next year.

Nhlakanipho Nzimande – My experience was good, I made many connections with conscious farmers. I learnt about healing herbs and plants and I invited a Khoisan man Q, to visit and perhaps we can work together. I learnt how to build and use musical instruments from Sazi Dlamini. I got cuttings of different plants and different types of seeds. I may go into strawberry production with the lady who sells homemade jams.

Mnandi Heroes Nhlakanipho and Eidin

Ntombenhle Mntambo – Sibuyisela ulwazi was great – food, talks, tastings and meeting people closely. My wish is that we all meet each other as one.  Languge issue is always a problem. I wish Richard, Mpho, John, Loubie could speak isiZulu because the translating of their talks was not that good, it only gave half the information and some people when they get home will say there was not enough information because they did not understand English. I wish the translator had finished everything that was said. The questions are important because it helps those that did not hear correctly to understand better. It was too fast, we need more days – how about 5? It was a very good event.

Xola Keswa – It was a festival which I feel should have happened a long time ago, but I am glad it has happened at last. It included people from all walks of life – from Zululand to the green forested South Coast. Food activists to environmental activists and many gardeners and farmers – a mixture of aware people, with everyone knowing something about what was spoken about from traditional food to traditional music, food tasting and activist talks. Richard Haigh from Enaleni shared his extensive knowledge and food. John Nzira, permaculture guru, was one of the main speakers. He has an incredible record for experience with transforming land into fully productive agroforestry. Environmental activist Method Gundidiza represented Sheila Berry’s Earthlore organisation – the man from Swaziland had a lot of strong words to say. Words that I think that have stained themselves on the minds of many who were there.

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Pinky Dlamini – I had an amazing day. The surprise of my life was the love, caring and communication. I learn about food that I had never heard of. Like one big nation we all eat together. I find friends from different areas- Venda, Cape Town – all these people talking about different things that can shape our lives and our cultures. I think it is up to us to tell people in Mpophomeni what we are doing and how to improve their lives.

Thabani Mnikathi – I enjoyed being around such loving people and seeing people from different parts of the country coming together to share information and life experiences.  I learnt a lot about different cultures, music, food, how to grow food, keep yourself healthy.  The food was delicious – colourful and exciting – a whole new experience.  What is best is that you never knew what to expect. Sibuyisela ulwazi has inspired me to try to make my own personal garden and try some home grown food for a change.

Nikki Brighton – It was marvellous to meet new people as passionate about food as we are and reconnect with fellow food activists. The variety of presentations was exceptional – something for everyone and all contributing towards the goal of food sovereignty.  In particular, I enjoyed the presentation by Richard Haigh who talked about how Big Food has hooked us with their laboratory engineered ‘bliss point’ flavours, our addiction to sugar, salt and fat and urged us to de-colonise our palates.  Also enjoyed Loubie Rusch, who shared her knowledge of Cape wild food and encouraged us to look around, to eat and the plant indigenous edibles in our gardens. Gogo Qho’s passionate presentation about the plants that are her food and medicine was enchanting and very informative. I found it interesting to learn that Climate Smart Agriculture is not so smart. Meeting the small rural farmers who had brought seeds to share and sell added a real depth to the festival.  I stocked up on all sorts of interesting ideas and ingredients – millet, sorghum, pulses to eat and plant.

local seed

Ntombenhle and Nikki agreed that this was more fun than the Slow Food Terra del Madre event they attended in Italy last year! We could make real connections, learn things that were appropriate to our world and contribute in a more meaningful way. Well done Biowatch SA.

Ntombenhle dancing

 

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Our Food Heritage

Seasonal eating is not a new concept, although it is trendy right now. Our ancestors foraged and hunted – following the rains, the fruiting trees and the animal migrations. The first agriculturalists to settle in one place and cultivate crops, ate what was in season too.

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Culture and food are interwoven across the world, with locally abundant ingredients determining the tastes that we prefer.  In South Africa, where only recently many people have become urbanised, food memories are largely influenced by rural life – hearty, satisfying food.  Mostly home grown, but including easy to store staples enhanced by an array of cultivated and wild greens.  Urbanisation and new wealth have caused many to abandon the simple nutritious food of our childhoods in favour of the artificially flavoured ‘modern’ food.

In the process of abandoning foraged ingredients, our diets have become impoverished. There is a perception that wild greens are ‘poor people’s food’ – around here we call them imifino, while in other places around South Africa, marogo is the common word to describe all manner of leafy greens. They are, in fact, jam packed with nutrients, often far surpassing that of more commonly eaten leafy greens like Swiss Chard and cabbage.

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Across the globe, many communities seek out the new growth of wild greens in Spring and Summer – a delicacy long awaited through the colder months in Europe. There is a great revival of the popularity of indigenous greens in East Africa. Now sold in large supermarkets, served in restaurants in Nairobi, and Kenyan farmers have increased the area planted with these greens by 25% since 2011.

Amaranthus is one of the most common greens and grows profusely in poor soils requiring little watering or attention. There are many varieties – green or red, tall or creeping.  It is versatile and can be used wherever greens are called for in a recipe.   Amaranthus leaves have heaps more Vitamin C than cabbage or chard – just 50g contains 100% of our daily needs.  The leaves are rich in protein, beta-carotene, iron, calcium, carbohydrates and fibre. Leaves are frequently dried and stored for winter use.  Seeds contain more protein than most other grains. Amaranthus is most often eaten with mielie meal, as a relish, but young leaves are great in salads, perfect to add to soups and stews or blend into your favourite juice mix.

amaranthus in sack

Isijabane is a great way to use imfino and a clever way of including greens in a dish for children who are picky eaters. While people usually use easy to find imbuya (or spinach), according to the community elders the very best imifino to use for isijabane is msobo (Solanum nigrum) and intshungu (Momordica balsamina) Pictured belowThese add a bitter taste and are perfect.  

  • 500g mixed greens
  • 1 or 2 chopped shallots or spring onions
  • 500g maize meal
  • ½ tsp salt

Cook the greens, chopped shallots and salt in a little water.

Once the greens are cooked (5-7 minutes) sprinkle dry maize meal into the pot and stir as it absorbs the water. Add a little more maize meal and keep stirring for ten minutes over a low heat.

The finished dish should be very green and have a soft porridge consistency.

If you really don’t like the idea of all that stirring you can cheat by cooking a soft maize meal separately and then adding it to the cooked imifino.  Or even using instant mealie meal or polenta.

This recipe is included in Mnandi – a taste of Mpophomeni, along with many other varieties of imifino and ideas on how to use them.

What memories do you have of your grandmother cooking wild greens and weeds?

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intshungu – Momordica balsamina

Sisters in the Wilderness

“Will they be lunch for the lions?” asked Mrs Ntombela nervously as her daughter Amanda and Wendy Mkhwanaza packed for the wilderness trail in iMfolozi Game Reserve.

“I admit I had mixed feelings about this trip,” said Wendy, “I was excited because it is a dream come true, but also apprehensive.” Amanda adds “I even Googled my feelings of fear about what to expect, to make sure I was ready for the experience of a life time.”  Understandably, the young women were a little intimidated by the idea of sleeping under the stars, having no toilets, and walking near dangerous wild animals.  iMfolozi Wilderness area is a very different place to Mpophomeni!

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Amanda and Wendy had been invited to take part in a social impact documentary film ‘Sisters of the Wilderness’ which takes a fresh and unusual look at human and Nature interconnectedness and the power of wilderness to empower young people and develop a new type of leadership based on compassion and respect.   The passion project of London based, Ronit Shapiro, Founder of One Nature Films, will tell the story of a group of young women who aspire to elevate themselves beyond challenging life conditions and become a force for good in their communities. They embark on a life-changing journey, within and without, into the wilderness of Zululand where they experience true wild Nature for the first time.  “A journey into wilderness is an intense experience where one can expect to undergo a personal transformation. It can enhance personal growth and leadership development; and it is also a soulful experience that has the capacity to heal.” says Ronit who experienced it herself on a wilderness trail few years before.

“The second we met our new sisters – Andile, Nokuphila and Thembani –  all laughing at first sight, I had this gut feeling that this is going to be more than I could ever have imagined.” There was a  jolly atmosphere with much singing all the way heading to meet their guides Baba uZondi and Janet at the Wilderness Leadership School and Lihle, who told everyone to enjoy their last shower for a week!

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Wendy and Amanda take up the story:

We woke up early to do the final packing – filling our backpacks with pots, cups, food, spades and neutral coloured clothes that we would have to carry for the rest of the week on trail – all we had to survive!  Amanda was amazed at how a whole life can fit into a backpack.  Nokuphila said to Andile “Yours doesn’t look heavy, feel mine!” Andile responded “This back pack is like troubles of life – we all get a different load that is measured for each person’s ability.” Everyone laughed but we all knew it was true.  On the three hour drive to iMfolozi we sang and shared stories of our lives.

The iMfolozi Wilderness is home to one of the biggest rhino population in Africa. “I chose this location to highlight the plight of the rhino whose numbers keep plummeting due to the illegal hunting for its highly-value horn; and the threat to this unique wilderness area and the surrounding rural communities from intensive mining. This is a place which has so much potential to enrich us but at the same time it is greatly vulnerable and threatened by man’s greed and his forces of destruction.” Ronit tells the team. “You will be exposed to the elements and have to cope with emotional and physical challenges, and learn the practical skills of survival in the wilderness.”    Wendy adds “Most people don’t understand that everything we use comes from Nature – cars, clothes and food.  If there is no Nature, we won’t be alive either.  We must be more thankful for Nature and stop polluting with toxic waste and plastics that cannot decompose.”

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Just 15 minutes after crossing the border into the Reserve, the car stopped. Right beside the road there was a gentle giant – an elephant feeding in a tree. “It was so beautiful and so massive and just on left hand side there was this amazing herd of buck. I must say at this point Nature had welcomed us really well.” At the reserve offices, everyone made use of the toilet for the last time for the rest of the week, before shouldering their packs and starting to walk. Baba uZondi told us that at this moment we must leave all the burdens of the world behind.

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As we entered the wilderness we were told to walk in a straight line and be silent all the way but to keep our senses sharp. To communicate anything we saw, we would make a clicking sound to get the attention of the others.  Before long we reached a spot that was Ian Player’s favourite place – we sat on a rock beside the umthombothi tree (Spirostachys africana) and Janet told us all about Dr Player and his friend uBaba Magqubu Ntombela – their passion for the animals and how we can all learn from Nature.

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We crossed a river, feeling nervous about crocodiles, with our feet sinking into the squishy sand. Here we were able to see many other animal’s footprints – including buffalo and rhino.  Amanda thought “I can hear my foot steps and this bag is so heavy. It feels like although I am out of the world but I seem to have it on my back. I can hear myself breathing. We walked and we walked and we sat down by the trees to drink water and my back is already so sore.”

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We collected some wood as we walked so that we could make tea and supper when we decided to camp. We got settled in and made fire.  We were advised that if we needed to use the ‘bush toilet’ it was better to do this while it was still light and to take someone along to keep watch.

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Around the fire we were given instructions about the night watch – the sun had retired and the moon was now awake.  Each person had to keep watch for an hour and 20 minutes before waking the next person to take over. Baba uZondi told us that humans have a disadvantage as we can’t see as well as animals in the night. The most important thing is to be alert as each person doing night watch is responsible for the lives of everyone in camp. He told us that it was not our job to chase the animals away, just to keep an eye out and if we see animal approaching, best we wake up one of the guides.  “Lihle told use to use the time alone to think and be at one with ourselves but as she is speaking I am thinking hell no!  I was already shaking in my boots, I could hardly even hear what she was saying.” recalls Amanda. “I tried to be brave, but there were animals moving everywhere and I woke Janet a few times,” remembers Wendy. “Then I spotted some hyenas drinking and felt happy and very lucky to be able to watch these animals all on my own.”

Each day we woke early, packed up camp leaving no trace and set off through the bush.

On the second day we got to a place where Shaka and his family had lived – even finding the grinding stone that they had used. This was incredible because it was still there after all this time, untouched. We loved this history, learning about how people lived before all the technology existed in our lives.

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We had been advised what to do if we came across any animals and were excited to see some zebras and a rhino with its baby. The wind was blowing in our direction, so they couldn’t smell us but the rhino did hear our footsteps. The next thing the rhino changed direction and started running towards us, Janet said “take cover” and we quickly hid behind some trees until Baba uZondi chased the rhino away. Amanda was so surprised at how calm she felt – just wanting to see what would happen next and remember the experience.

Every time we crossed a river we saw footprints – of lions and leopards. We were scared a lot, but had to face our fears and continue. Wendy remembers “During quiet time, sitting alone, the first thing I did was listen to the wind blowing gently and the bush moving slowly – it was like the sound of water flowing. I breathed the fresh air and could hear different animal sounds.   My problems all just disappeared. I know that when you feel stressed the best way to relax is find a quiet place and relax.  This was an exceptionally quiet place.”

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Bath time in the river was very quick – just a few seconds as we knew there were crocodiles and we were scared of being eaten! We all got into the cold water at the same time.  One afternoon, after walking far from camp to find suitable soft ground to dig a toilet hole, two of the girls looked up to find an enormous elephant right nearby!  They covered up quickly and scurried back to camp.

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Then after supper it was time for night watch again. Amanda relates her experience:  Andile was first and I was second. I was awake the whole time Andile was on watch, huddled in my sleeping bag I did not want to turn my head torch off.  Although Andile was terrified she just seemed to be in control. Then it was my turn.  I was so scared that I didn’t even want to sit down.  After about 30 minutes I heard something walking in the water and although I was scared I gain courage to find out what is it so I can act. As I was looking, Andile and Thembani woke up and came to sit with me. When we shone the bush light about 15metres away from camp, two eyes were looking at us, big and shiny.  It was a buffalo so we decided to wake up one of your guides.  I woke Lihle by mistake and she said don’t worry, it is just my socks I hung in the tree to dry!  Andile kept an eye on a buffalo while I woke Jennet. She told us to keep shining the light on it eyes and it will go away.  We all ended up awake as my shift was about to finish.  Thembani spotted some eyes across the river –  judging from their height we thought it was lions, but later figured out that it was hyena.  One night Ronit mistook a pair of bright stars for eyes – it was so funny. We had lots to laugh about.

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Soon Wendy started to enjoy the nights:  When I was not guarding, I would look up at the sky filled with sparkling stars. I would imagine my ancestors and deceased family members looking down on me and say thank you for giving us light and protecting us. This made my smile every night as I did not feel alone or afraid knowing the stars were watching over me.

Every time we left camp, we cleaned up and left no human trace behind, to show we respect the environment.  Before we reached the next camp we had an Indaba using a talking stick to share how we feel. It was a very powerful session with tears and connections.

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The days followed similar patterns with lots of learning and sharing along the way. We were fascinated learning about some trees that are special to Zulu culture.  Umlahlankosi (Ziziphus mucronata, buffalo thorn) is traditionally used to fetch the spirit of someone who has died in an accident or far from home. The thorns on the branches face in different directions – one back and one forward –  illustrating the importance of looking to the future, while never forgetting the past.  We got to see the plant which the San people used to use to collect drops of dew to drink.

After a few days, we felt at home and more comfortable. We had a chance to watch sunsets each day and somehow as the sun set our troubles seemed to set with it. At night we didn’t only see the dark but saw the stars that came out, instead.

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The sisters bonded in such a powerful way. We felt free – emotional and spiritual healing.  On the last day in the wild we didn’t want to go back.  Our bags were much lighter and so were our hearts.  With blisters on our feet, sore muscles and the smell of the wild, it is safe to say this was the greatest adventure in our lives. This has helped us look the world with different eyes.

Amanda concludes “The most important lesson I have learnt is that it ok to love, it is ok to cry and it totally fine to be scared.  Just remember to never miss out on an opportunity to be home in the Wilderness.”

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For more about this project see: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sisters-of-the-wilderness-part-2-social-impact/x/14796140#/

 

imbuya

Amaranth is abundant right now as Autumn sets in.

Across the globe, many communities seek out the new growth of wild greens in Spring and Summer – a delicacy long awaited through the colder months in Europe. There is a great revival of the popularity of ‘indigenous’ greens in East Africa. Now sold in large supermarkets, served in restaurants in Nairobi, and Kenyan farmers have increased the area planted with these greens by 25% since 2011.

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Around here we call them imifino. In other places around South Africa, marogo is the common word to describe all manner of leafy greens. Jam packed with nutrients, often far surpassing that of more commonly eaten leafy greens like Swiss Chard and Cabbage. In Mpophomeni imifino is most often eaten with mielie meal, as a relish, but young leaves are great in salads, perfect to add to soups and stews or blend into your favourite juice mix.

Amaranth Amaranthus hybridus is one of the most popular greens, it grows profusely in poor soils requiring little watering or attention. There are many varieties – green or red, tall or creeping.  It is versatile and can be used wherever greens are called for in a recipe. Young leaves can be chopped into salad.

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Amaranthus leaves have heaps more Vitamin C than cabbage or chard – just 50g contains 100% of our daily needs.  The leaves are rich in protein, beta-carotene, iron, calcium, carbohydrates and fibre. Leaves are frequently dried and stored for winter use.  Seeds contain more protein than most other grains.

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Isijabane 

This is a popular way of using imfino.  While people often substitute easy to find imbuya these days (or even spinach), the very best imifino to use for isijabane is msobo and intshungu. These add a bitter taste and are perfect.

  • 500g greens
  • 1 or 2 chopped shallots or spring onions
  • 500g maize meal
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Cook the greens, chopped shallots and salt in a little water
  • Once the greens are cooked (5-7 minutes) sprinkle dry maize meal into the pot and stir as it absorbs the water. Add a little more maize meal and keep stirring for ten minutes over a low heat.
  • The finished dish should be very green and a soft porridge consistency.

If you really don’t like the idea of all that stirring you can cheat by cooking a little soft maize meal separately and then adding it to the cooked imifino.

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Mary Kleinenberg’s  Crustless Quiche

  • 1 ½ cups of green Amaranthus leaves
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • Chopper fresh coriander
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cheese grated

Steam the leaves until tender, drain and chop. Lightly fry onion and garlic, add mushrooms for about 5 minutes (do not overcook) Then add cheese. Arrange spinach and mushroom mix alternatively in a buttered pie dish.  Beat eggs and milk, add chopped coriander, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over vegetables in the pie dish. Bake at 200C for about 35 minutes, until set and brown. Serve hot or cold.

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Nikki Brighton’s Wild Green Soup

Make the most of all the greens that are abundant now in late summer. If you are lucky some of your dried beans will be ready to harvest and make this an absolute feast.

  • 500g fresh borlotti, cannellini or haricot beans – cooked. You can use dried, it is just more splendid with fresh, home grown beans!
  • 2-4 red or white onions – chopped
  • 1 head of celery – chopped – leaves reserved
  • 1 head garlic – sliced
  • 500g Swiss Chard – stalks and leaves chopped
  • 1 bunch each basil, mint, marjoram, flat leaf parsley
  • 2 kgs of tomatoes (use fresh if you can find those plum/jam tomatoes, or have masses of cherry tomatoes in your garden, otherwise use tins)
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Lots different sorts of leaves including borage, young black jack, amaranthus, lettuce, beetroot and whatever you have handy
  • 1 fresh red chilli

Heat oil, fry onion and celery stalks gently until softened and brown. Add garlic, chard stalks, chilli and continue to cook until garlic starts to brown, then add half the basil, mint, marjoram and parsley and celery leaves. Gently fry to combine herbs, then add chopped tomatoes. Season and simmer for 30 minutes so the tomatoes reduce with the vegetables. Then add the rest of the leaves and the beans. Cook to combine – not very long so as to retain some of the vibrant green colour. Consistency should be very thick. Add water to thin if you like. Drizzle with olive oil.

We should all be planting and eating this vegetable. 

Amaranthus and a selection of other edible weeds is included in the imifino section of Mnandi – A Taste of Mpophomeni. Order a copy from mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za

Join Sthembile and Ntombenhle for a taste of imbuya and other leafy greens at lunch in the garden – Handmade lasagne, ijece, imifino, salad, veggie stew and cordial.

  • Cost: R100
  • Date: Friday 10 March, Sunday 9 April or Friday 12 May
  • Time: 12h00
  • Venue: Mpophomeni Garden on Mhlongo Road
  • RSVP: Ntombenhle 063 410 4697 Sthembile 079 153 3748

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Lucia Buthelezi

Growing up in rural Impendle, Lucia remembers her grandparents growing all the food they needed – huge pumpkins, lots of imifino, sugar beans, mielies, chickens, goats, sheep and cows. “My job was to fetch the water from the river far away, carrying big buckets on my head. I was always so happy when the rain came because that meant less work.”

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Living in Mpophomeni she misses the fresh food – there is absolutely nothing fresh to buy at Sandile’s Tuck Shop near her home. Believing that everyone needs good food and there is no point depending on the government for everything, Lucia started the Silungiseni Senior Citizen’s Club in 2010, to grow food on vacant land near their homes to eat and to sell. Her own garden is full of onions, potatoes, cabbages and carrots, with a handsome peach tree in the corner. “We are going back to the old ways, we know how to hoe and use our hands, using umquba (manure), not chemicals. This will save us money and the food will also be healthier.”

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Lucia’s receipe for Preserved Peaches is featured in our cook book Mnandi – A Taste of Mpophomeni, with other stone fruit recipes.

  • 15 peaches
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water

Peel peaches and cut them in half

Remove the pips

Dissolve the sugar in the water

Boil peaches in the sugar water for 15 minutes

Test with a knife tip to check they are soft

Heat clean bottles

Pour the hot peach mixture into the bottles and seal

Serve with yoghurt, ice cream or fresh fruit 

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Gogo Zuma’s Plums

Do not cut the plums. Place them in a pot covered with plenty of sugar and stew until soft and melting. Ideal to do in the Sunstove, then you know they won’t burn.

Plum Jam

  • 4 cups of peeled plums
  • 4 cups of sugar

Mix fruit and sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved

Cook for about 45 minutes until fruit is a pulp

Cool a little while you warm up clean bottles with boiling water

Dry the bottles and pour the hot mixture into the bottles

Seal the top with melted candle wax and screw the lid on tightly

Vote With Your Fork

When we emerged from the underground station into sunlit Piazza Duomo, Ntombenhle exclaimed “I feel like I am on TV!”  The spires of the magnificent cathedral, thronged by colourful crowds and the buskers playing in each corner of the square was our first taste of Italy. Milan is not a bad place to start.

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Ntombenhle and Nikki were part of the South African delegation to the Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto event, organized across the city – the 11th such event to bring together food activists and producers from across the globe to learn and share.  For five days, Turin became the cultural capital of global food biodiversity.

We began with a couple of days in Milan to acclimatise.  Trundling bags to Ostello Bello Hostel along streets bustling with pedestrians, trams and scooters.

A friendly welcome awaited us – cold drinks, free wifi, delicious food and a lovely view from our window.  We hung out on the roof terrace planted with herbs and veggies and thought about cooking our own supper from the array of Italian ingredients provided in the adjacent kitchen. No, we would spend our time exploring and let them do the cooking!

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When Ntombenhle and Penz visited Cape Town earlier this year, they loved the Hop on Hop off Bus tours, so we hopped on and off in Milan too. What a beautiful city!   Our favourite things were the millions of chimneys on top of the buildings and the ornate balconies clinging to the sides.

We stopped off at a park for a picnic lunch and in the late afternoon, explored the canalside Navigli area. It was very hot, so ice cream (gelato in Italian) was welcome.

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Two days later, we caught the train from the impressive Milan Central Station – where a giant apple sculpture got us in the food mood. From the train window we noticed how every scrap of land was being cultivated – right up to the rivers, roads and houses. There were crops and fruit trees everywhere.

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Bound for Turin to join the seven thousand delegates from 143 countries, 300 Slow Food Presidia and 1000 food communities of the Terra Madre network from five continents –  representing a humanity that is united to discuss the great challenges which we must confront, above all the safeguarding of agricultural biodiversity, raising awareness and creating positive energy towards the objective of Slow Food: good, clean and fair food for all.

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Photo by Alessandro Vargiu from the Slow Food archive

There were about 400 delegates from Africa and 40 South Africans.  We all took turns manning the popular SA stand where we showcased hand harvested Baleni Salt, Rooibos tea, Marula Jam, Aloe honey, Zulu Sheep and Raw Milk Cheese.

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Slow Food organised our accommodation with local SF members. Ntombenhle and Nikki stayed with the Bottignol/Farinetti family in Monticello d’Alba a couple of hours outside of Turin. They had a small ‘farm’ with extensive veggie gardens, lots of fruit trees, one donkey, one goat and a couple of chickens. We had lots in common with them (besides language!). They were caring and considerate hosts and we will be friends forever.

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Trying to decide what event to attend or where to begin exploring the hundreds of stalls was a challenge. As we were in the Africa section, we started there – feeling right at home amongst our colourful neighbours. “I never thought I would see these things with my own eyes,” commented Ntombenhle, “the different foods, the national dress, listening to the foreign languages. It was amazing.”

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Naturally, Ethiopia had Forest Wild Coffee, Guinea Bissau – Farim Salt, Cape Verde showcased Raw Milk Goat Cheeses, Egypt the Siwa Oasis Dates.   Kenya had a wide range of products, including Ogiek Honey and Dried Nettles from the Mau Forest, Nzoia River Reed Salt, Pokot Ash yogurt and Lare Pumpkin.  From Madagascar – Alaotra Lake Ancient Rice Varieties and the Mananara Vanilla.  Marocco’s exhibition area showcased Argan Oil, Alnif Cumin, Zerradoun Salt, and Taliouine Saffron. Mauritania was represented by the Imraguen Women’s Mullet Botargo. The Ibo Coffee Presidium from Mozambique wants to safeguard Ibo island’s unique ecosystem where the plant still grows wild. São Tomé and Príncipe brought Robusta Coffee. From Senegal, Fadiouth Island Salted Millet Couscous – which preserves an ancient, traditional and original production line that links the earth with the sea. Sierra Leone had the Kenema Kola Nut used in drinks, Uganda showcased Luwero Robusta Coffee, the indigenous Kayinja Banana, the Climbing Yam and the Ankole Long-Horned Cattle, Tanzania the Arusha Stingless Bee Honey which is collected by a small group of beekeepers from traditional hives made from hollow tree trunk sections and hung from the roofs of houses, fences or the highest branches of fruit trees like mango, avocado and papaya.

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One hot afternoon, we kicked off our shoes with new friends from Lesotho – Mirriam and Ma-Lord.  They had produced a book of traditional food, so we had plenty in common and proudly showed off Mnandi. One of the Russian delegates we had met earlier joined us and we shared the last of the cherry brandy that she was promoting!

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Without a doubt, connecting with like-minded people was the highlight.  We were even excited to meet the other South Africans as their stories and projects were intriguing too. Representatives from rural Limpopo, to hip-and-happening Khayelitsha, from the West Coast fisheries to the inspiring food events of Soweto, inner city gardening projects, markets, indigenous food processing, foraging and free range farming.  A vibrant and diverse bunch.

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We attended workshops on all sorts of topics hosted by the Indigenous Terra Madre network. Particularly memorable was How Indigenous Food Systems Can Inspire Solutions. When it comes to global challenges such as climate change and global hunger, indigenous food systems are seldom considered. “Indigenous people are breeders of biodiversity – keen observers of nature and good innovators” said someone on the inspiring panel (made up of representatives from India, Philippines, Japan, Nigeria, Equador). The agroecological approach is just starting to be known in the Western world, while indigenous peoples have been using sustainable methods for centuries. Conclusion: “Who should really adapt?  Local indigenous systems or the modern commercial ones?”

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In the European section, our tastebuds tingled as we tasted strange micro greens and unusual herbs and flowers – purple yka leaves, sechuan buttons, salty fingers, sea fennel and oyster leaves, – produced in Holland.

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We smelled, tasted and learnt about raw milk cheeses from Ireland, Czech artisan beer, Spanish saffron, Macedonian peppers and Albania Olive oil. We were astonished at how much cheese there was.

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We made friends with Palestinians and Iranians on our daily bus trips from the conference back to the village of Monticello d’Alba where we stayed. One day, Ntombenhle struck up a conversation with the folk in the Lebanon stand and swopped a copy of Mnandi for their gorgeous book Mezze – a Labour of Love, featuring traditional Lebanese food, produced by TV presenter and food activist Barabara Abdeni Massaad. This interaction epitomised the generosity and sharing of the event.

mezzeThe local branch of Slow Food organised evening entertainment for us (although we would have happily gone straight to bed!). On Heritage Day they provided an all local supper, with traditional music and dancing in a village hall. We sang Nkosi sikelel’iAfrica and Shosholoza as a thank you.  On another occasion we enjoyed pizza in the Alba town square, entertained by the wonderful CoroMoro – a group made up of asylum seekers from across Africa who live in the valleys of Piedmont.

ntombenhle-and-naudeNikki was among the first to be seated at the Wild Edibles presentation and workshop.  It began with a short video entitled Forest to Fork which illustrated how common food creates social cohesion, how the act of going out in a group to gather food and prepare food are essential components of strong communities.

20160923_134111A representative of the Bibomen Tribe from South Western Australia talked about the six seasons in her culture, the 150 indigenous tubers she knows to eat, the tragedy of the pioneer practice of removing deep rooted trees which dropped the water table and allowed the salt to rise to the surface creating barren landscapes. She also warned of the issue of wild food becoming trendy and the decimation which can follow. A couple from Chile talked about their indigenous fruits and battles with multi-national land grabbing; a Japanese woman suggested the reason we were gathered here was because women carry the information in our bodies that is part of the earth; a Kenyan man spoke about the effect climate change was having in his country. An activist from a Central Canadian tribe began with a prayer honouring the ancestors whom she believed were with us in this group. She spoke sadly of the elimination of bison (80% of the prairies are now gone), and the degradation of her people and more positively, about the hope her workshops on creation stories and indigenous food gardening gives to young first nation people.

sage-hazelnuts-applesThe Asian section was very unusual and much of the packaging was outstanding.   Nikki tasted shiso rice with wild mushrooms at the Japanese stand and Omiki – a fermented rice and sweet potato drink made by Shamans from Yuku Island.  The Philippines had a wide variety of food, but the most exciting find was Adlai – Coix lacryma-jobi.  Turns out that this is what we call Job’s Tears in South Africa (the grey seeds used in Zulu tradition for teething rings or, now popular as beaded necklaces).  “It tasted pretty good,” commented Nikki, tucking into a bowl served with kernels of corn, adding “they were excited to hear that it grew in South Africa too – albeit invading our wetlands.”  Besides being a substitute for maize and rice, it was also fed to livestock.

img_1328The strong, successful women on the panel of the session on Women’s Roles in Farming was inspiring. Quietly, the woman from Bukina Faso told how in her culture a woman must work four days in her husband’s fields and only one day in her own garden. She told of the circles women have started, to sing their seed songs and grow strong and how they are starting to teach men about their role in supporting women.

An Indonesian woman spoke of her work to promote entrepreneurship to ensure that not only did farmers have enough to eat but extra from cash crops too. She was proud to have contributed to keeping Indonesian products alive by adding value and creating export markets. A Spanish woman related her struggles to overcome patriarchy, how she broke with tradition to become the first woman to run the family farm. “Female energy is good. I feel deep love when I wake up in the morning and see my land. We do not have to exploit; we can have respect and balance.  We can fight together for change, rather than compete.”

women-in-agricultureLate one afternoon thousands of people gathered at the corner of Corso Cairoli and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II to march along the River Po, through the centre of Turin. This was an exciting and energising experience to be among thousands of people, many dressed in traditional costumes, waving national flags and bearing banners with universal messages that we all believed in. Save Biodiversity.  Vote with Your Fork.  They are Giants but We are Millions (referring to the power of the agricultural and food multinationals). There were marching bands amongst the crowds – we were fortunate to be just behind a particularly cool one and thoroughly enjoyed the music!

south-african-group-terra-madre-marchAlong the way we met giant non-gmo corn cobs.  The groups from South America were exceptionally vibrant and showed off a wide range of products – including chocolate, chillies, corn and pumpkins at their stand – when they weren’t making music!

At the end of the march we swopped small gifts of food from home with strangers. Carlo Petrini, charismatic President of Slow Food, welcomed us a Protectors of Biodiversity.  His message “We are a brotherhood, learn instead of only teaching. Give back to others, particularly to refugees and those affected by colonisation, share what we have.”  It was incredible to hear how people across the planet face similar struggles and feel just as passionate about good food produced without harm.

carlo-petriniWe loved an inspiring workshop on Women as Seed Keepers – safeguarding food and culture.  We learnt of many cooperatives and associations made up entirely of women (farmers, fishermen, chefs) We heard experiences from Brazil, Angola and Mozambique, where governmental bodies, along with citizens and small-scale farmers, have chosen to promote policies and actions aimed at safeguarding biodiversity. Agro-ecological farming, small scale farming and Nature farming was talked about a lot, but much to Ntombenhle’s chagrin, Permaculture was seldom mentioned, even though that was what was often meant.  She pointed out to the facilitators that many of the audience understood permaculture principles, so it would be a good idea to use familiar terms rather than confusing ones.

20160923_134111The volunteers working in the delegates canteen served delicious, good, clean, fair food every day. The long tables were a gathering place for animated conversation as we met new people, shared the day’s highlights and tasted new things – barley and farro salad, couscous, carrot soup, pasta with pesto or tomatoes or chicken, cured meat and cheese, fruit, bread and so much more.

farro-saladYou never knew if you would sit beside Egyptians or Australians or make a new friend. Ntombenhle met an Indian woman who told her – ‘Don’t make excuses, know your value, it is your business, you can do it.’  Nikki recalls a conversation with an American woman who ran an event catering business which focussed on food that incorporated the various needs of religious customs, food allergies, lifestyle preferences and medical conditions without making anyone feel uncomfortable or odd.

canteenValentino Park is beautiful. A magnificent location for such an important event.  Squirrels scampered on the lawns amongst those taking a break from the frenzy of the stalls and conferences.  It provided a sociable space to escape to, but usually with meaningful conversation. Ntombenhle used the opportunity to spread her “mulch, mulch, mulch” message when chatting to others who thought mulching made the garden look untidy!

valentino-parkNikki met vegan activists from England, hearing how the movement is growing rapidly and learning how they get their message across creatively. There was an entire Slow Meat section, where farmers, butchers, chefs, consumers discussed the consequences of exploding meat consumption on the planet. “Eat less meat of better quality” was the message.

On the banks of the River Po, the Slow Fish Tent was fascinating as commercial and small scale fishers from across the globe discussed ways of making fishing sustainable. Ideas clashed occasionally. Here we met the delightful singer and activist Olga del Madagascar.

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Terra Madre was the most incredible experience, not least because we learnt that common language is not the most important thing in communication – hugs, nods, smiles and hand gestures go a long way!  Carlo Petrini suggested that the greatest gift we would take from Terra Madre was recognising the value of others and seeing the pride of the farmers.  That is absolutely true.

We were not able to see or experience everything – not even close. The event was enormous and apparently, almost a million people attended over the five days.  These photos and words capture just a tiny part. Visit the Slow Food Terra Madre site to view incredible photos which illustrate the event so much more effectively than this article.   You can also read Nikki’s personal account of her trip to Italy here.

Do join us in Ntombenhle’s garden on Saturday 10 December as we celebrate Terra Madre Day with our new friends from across the world.  11am. Bring home grown, homemade, local, organic food to share. Perhaps your favourite Mnandi recipe?

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Being an Owl Mother.

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I fell in love with birds of prey a few years ago while I was still a Game Ranging student. I don’t have a great eyesight so I was glad that I only had to familiarize myself with large-sh birds that would be easier to identify later. I soon found favorites in the Bateleur Eagle whose name means tight rope walker, the Gymnogene now called the African Harrier Hawk, the Lammergeyer also known as the bearded vulture and the common spotted eagle owl. I found that I did not want to persecute them for hunting my warm bodied cousins as I would persecute fellow human beings that do the same as the birds. In my modules I leaned of birds of the night, the Owl and the Night-jars and all the larger sized birds of prey of the day, from hawks to harriers, kestrels to falcon to kites, snake eagles to eagles to vultures and everything in between.

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Bateleur Eagles at Raptor Rescue

We fast forward to a month ago when I got the opportunity to look after a pair of barn owls, rescued after falling through a chimney at Midmar Dam. I was way more than excited, mind you I did not know of any stereotypes attached to witchcraft except for those in the Harry potter movies. I only knew of the owls full of wisdom from the movies that I watched during my childhood.

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Leftovers from owls.

It felt like I had opened a can of worms into the creepiest of worlds where witches hollow out the bodies of owls and give them an enema filled with Muthi to turn them into their own personal zombies and where diviners use the eyes of the murdered birds to grind into a mixture that leads them to seeing far into the future and through the darkness of human misery.

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But like all problems the owls are not the true culprits, we are the ones that dump rubbish illegally inviting the rats, where there are rats there are snakes and we hate the snakes as well even though the earth belongs to all those who live on it. Besides, we cannot except to inhabit the planet alone with the animals of our choice, that is against the true balance of nature and if we believe that witches commit such marvels, they should be able to commit them with whatever animal they wish.

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Pellets regurgitated by owls.

One of the strangest questions I received while spreading the, “owls are our friends” message was, “How will people tell the difference between the zombie owls and the project owls?”  This was tough to answer but I have never seen a zombie owl and neither had the person asking so it was safe to say let us speak only of the owls we have seen and know.

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Regular visitors.

The owls being of a predatory nature meant that I had to feed them a day old dead chicks. The first time I was confronted with the task, I found it quite daunting as they looked like they were still moving while I walked with them thawed in the plastic bowl.

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Day old chicks.

With more days passing and the same task repeated I grew immune. A while after their meal, each owl would regurgitate a pellet made of feathers and bones, sometimes the head of the chick would be in a pellets on its own still whole. My dogs Trevar and Sapphire tried to dig holes to gain access to the cage in the middle of the night to no avail though.

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Gugu at her favorite spot.

Now that the owls have been released, I have to admit that I do miss them. Even my mother who was septic at first warmed up to them, she was afraid of the screeching sound they make but Siphiwe and Gugu did not ever screech at night while they were in Captivity. The neighbors were delighted to have them around and kept checking on their well-being daily. Baba James Mlotshwa said he had so many rats in his yard that he wished they could circle over his house every night catching them.

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Kids at an owl talk at a Thembeni

We would like to extend gratitude to N3TC, Owl Box Project, Predatory Bird project and Raptor Rescue, this would not have been possible without them. We hope the pair breeds and more generations carry on the rodent eating legacy.

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A Taste of Mpophomeni

Our cookbook, Mnandi

has just been printed and is available in the garden! Publication is sponsored by N3 Toll Concession. All money from sales is going to MCG projects – we are dreaming up some amazing things. It is very exciting.  Download a taste – Mnandi Teaser

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In Mpophomeni, joy is a fundamental part of living. Here food is grown from the heart, meals are meant to be shared and stories are told with pride.  In this book of fresh garden food, the people with their hands in the soil and their creative customers share their delight in seasonal produce.  Ardent supporter of MCG, writer Nikki Brighton, has captured the colours and flavours – celebrating community and the environment.

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Savour Sthembile’s handmade lasagne with just picked spinach, try Tutu’s sun-cooked rhubarb stew and make Ntombenhle’s famous vetkoek or her favourite crunchy fennel and orange salad.  Customer at the Mpophomeni Community Garden, Caroline Bruce, Oaklands County Manor, shares her recipe for Sauerkraut while Kate Chanthunya of Rondavel Soap shows us how to make a salad dressing using maas.  The imifino (wild greens) section will encourage you to take a whole new look at the abundant greenery in your veggie beds.  Need a recipe to deter pests or boost your immune system? Passionate gardener Tutu Zuma says “My food forest and medicinal plant garden keeps me strong and healthy. I have never been hungry – I eat green food throughout winter.”

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Anna Trapido, author of Hunger for Freedom – the story of food in the life of Nelson Mandela: ““We are what we grow, cook and eat. Mpophomeni’s gardeners and cooks are an example of what South Africa can and should be. Through the pages of this delightful book readers will come to love and admire a remarkable and resilient community. The recipes so generously offered are not only delicious but also inspiring and insightful – each one allows a reader to taste a piece of the story.”

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Ntombenhle Mtambo, garden inspiration, is adamant that eating more plants is good for you. “Food is your doctor – the vitamins and minerals found in plants help prevent illness and promote healing. These recipes are ideal for people who want to eliminate meat from their diet for health reasons or are trying to balance their budget.”

Ntombenhle Mtambo by Toby Murphy

“The gardeners of Mpophomeni are quite simply amazing. We are thrilled that this ‘foodie’ dream of a locally-inspired recipe book has become a reality. It has been a privilege to watch this community garden project grow thanks to these gardeners who epitomise true passion for, and commitment to, growing organic produce that tastes absolutely delicious.”  Thandiwe Rakale N3TC

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We hope that Mnandi (which translates as ‘tasty’) will inspire you to take part in the magical process of growing and preparing food that is good for you and good for the planet too.  Available at plenty of shops – ask about one near to you, or order here: mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za

Keen to visit us in the garden?  Join our Vetkoek Fridays – enjoy a garden tour and delicious lunch of fresh vetkoek filled with bom bom beans and rainbow salad for only R50 per person.

  • 1 Decmber 2017 11.30am
  • 15 December 2017 11.30am

Phone Ntombenhle to book: 063 410 4697

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SunStove

Who would have imagined that solar cooking could be addictive? This may be surprising, but is true. It’s great fun and astonishingly easy to do. Sunny Winter days are perfect to put out the SunStove and boil water for tea and washing, harnessing the inexhaustible and free power of the sun. While a solar cooker works best in clear weather, a few clouds will not affect the cooking.

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The SunStove cooks rice perfectly, manages a whole chicken, hard boiled eggs, baked potatoes, stews and bread too. Not much water needs to be added, and nothing evaporates, so all nutrients are retained. Cooking with a SunStove means you spend less time ‘standing over a hot stove’ as once you have put your food in the black, lidded pot and placed in the box, it looks after itself and can’t burn. For best results, preheat your oven and move so that it directly faces the sun a couple of times. Or if you are busy, simply prepare your food early before you go out, aim your SunStove in the direction of the midday sun and come home to a delicious, warm meal!

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“I made such a nice green soup the other day – using all the little bits in the garden and I added some leftover cooked white beans. It was delicious, everyone was amazed. The SunStove does not overcook the veggies – it will cook slowly and gently.” Ntombenhle Mtambo.

We share the following recipes that feature in our book: Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni.  

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Sun Stewed Rhubarb

  • 8 stems, chopped
  • ½ cup sugar

Place in a pot in your Sunstove for the day while you potter about in the garden (or boil on the stove until tender). Lovely with ice cream and the syrup is delicious too.

Karen Zunckel’s Solar Bread

  • 1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 350 ml warm water
  • 500 g Champagne Valley Stoneground Wholemeal Flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 75 g mixed seeds

Mix yeast & sugar with half the warm water. Leave it in a warm place for about 10 minutes until it starts to bubble.

Mix flour, seeds and salt in a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture, the oil, and the remaining water, and mix well.

Put a little flour in your hands and dust the work surface too, and kneed the dough for 10 minutes, until it’s smooth.

Place the dough in the large mixing bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Put it in a warm place for an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the SunStove by placing a black pot or brick in it and positioning it to face the 10am sun. (Plan to start cooking at 10am).

Push your fist into the dough to knock some of the air out of it. Then knead it for another 5 minutes.

Put the dough into a greased loaf tin. Leave it in a warm place for another 10 minutes to rise. Cut diagonally with a sharp knife so that the crust doesn’t separate from the loaf. Brush it with the egg and top with seeds.

Then bake, turning the SunStove every half hour to face the sun.

Cook until a toothpick comes out clean, about 2 hours in summer or 4 hours in winter.

bread in solar oven

You can order locally made SunStoves (and insulated box with a clear top and reflective sides which can be hung up when not in use) from the PlanetPellet hut in the Community Garden, or from sunstove@iafrica.com.  You can order Mnandi – a Taste of Mpophomeni  from mnandisales@cowfriend.co.za