By Darina Allen
I HAVE just received a lovely book - Recipes from an African Kitchen, by Josie Stow and Ian Baldwin - from former Ballymaloe student Jane Oxborrow.
Londoner Jane has been working in the Grumeti Game Reserve in Serengeti, Tanzania, since 2004, and has fallen in love with Africa.
Food is really precious in Africa. It is also a labour of love - whether you are sowing seeds, rearing livestock, gathering wood to fuel the fire, or pumping water and carrying it back home.
African cooking has always been wonderfully sociable. In most traditional African villages, you can still see the women sitting under a tree, shelling nuts or singing, chanting and chatting as they rhythmically pound corn with a large, hand-carved pestle and mortar.
Recipes are traditionally passed down orally from generation to generation, and never rely on exact quantities. A handful, a calabash (a hollowed gourd) or a mug are the usual forms of measurement, and cooks rely on feel, taste and memory.
Author Josie Stow’s love affair with Africa and life in the bush began in 1992 when she accepted an offer to cook while on a horseback safari in South Africa. For a young girl from Suffolk, this was a daunting task: the camp had no electricity and most of the cooking was done over an open wood fire or on a small gas burner.
Despite this, she became fascinated by African culture, especially the cooking techniques and ingredients. She soon became firm friends with her assistant Anna, who introduced Josie to a whole new food world. While at this camp, Josie met her ranger husband, Fred! and the couple have since worked at a number of game reserves and lodges.
In KwaZulu-Natal, she worked for Phinda Forest Lodge and found that the local people grew their own corn, beans, pumpkins and Zulu truffles. In her time off, she visited the chefs’ homes and gardens and a two-way process evolved. While she was teaching the locals to cook in a professional kitchen, she soon saw the culinary talent the people had and was surprised that most lodges and restaurants were serving European-style food.
Josie then went on to develop the kitchens at Makalali in the Limpopo Province, near the Kruger National Park. Her friend Lori-Ann Newman came for a visit and Josie convinced her to stay. Lori-Ann was a natural cook and it was while working together at Makalali that many of the recipes in the book were created. As they began exposing the guests to African food, what they couldn’t find in the local culture they borrowed from the rest of Africa.
Recipes from an African Kitchen (Conran Octupus) is one of the most exciting and original books I have come across, yet the recipes are simple and accessible. Even though many are cooked over an open fire (I can’t wait for summer), they can also be cooked on a stove, under a grill or in the oven, depending on the recipe.
Josie Stow’s passion for Africa leaps from each page, accompanied by Ian Baldwin’s magical photographs.