If you love food like me, you may be aware of the power of those specific foods we associate with special memories and truly wonderful people. Those morsels that warm you from the inside out and make the pain and difficulties of life melt away with each taste. Those portions that briefly reunite us with folks that no longer meander the earth with us in physicality. Food that makes you whole and simultaneously reminds you of what’s missing.
I grew up in Harare in the suburb of Marlborough alternating residence between my matrilineal and patrilineal grandparents’ homes. My parents were neighbourhood friends and so conveniently, visiting both sides of the family was only a 3 km walk in either direction.Back then with those juvenile legs, it seemed a far greater distance and it was only recently that I checked the travel distance and was disappointed to learn it wasn’t the 21 km half-marathon I always told people it was.
My mother’s mother was a true creator at heart. She absolutely believed that for as long as you had breath in your body you had an obligation to yourself to create the life you wanted (lessons she recounted from her father). No matter the circumstance. She came from truly humble and rural beginnings and at the culmination of her life she had personally, significantly and permanently impacted thousands of lives, including my own.
Growing up in Marlborough with all my cousins and younger brother in this woman’s house we learned so many valuable lessons. For me the most important lesson I got from her was to take care of the planet and value all of life. I used to think she was just cheap and thrifty but now I see the wisdom of her parsimonious ways. It was never about the money but more about our responsibility to the limited time and natural resources we have on this Earth.
Part of this appreciation of life was learning from a very young age where food came from. There are no magical elves leaving us treats in the middle of the night. Meat comes at the cost of other sentient life and if you want to eat in June you better have a great harvest in February. I have memories of being in nappies sitting in the fields at the back of her suburban plot playing while the rest of my older family worked the land to secure food for all of us. Pretty soon at the tender age of 4 or 5, you would also be conscripted to the labour force with your cute little garden hoe as you mimicked the grown-ups and tried to look like a serious farmer.
I remember harvesting weeds and using them as feed for the rabbits we kept for meat or shucking poor grade maize from the cob to feed the egg-laying chickens. We all learned that we use the entire plant or animal and wouldn’t dare waste even the tiniest, or ugliest fruit from the trees scattered all over the plot.
All of us kids, grand-kids and great-grandkids learned to do every single thing around the house and in the yard regardless of your genitalia. If you were a human, you played your part and that part varied from day to day. I maintain that made me a much more complete human being today, completely self-reliant and most relevant to this article, I can cook up a storm!
Most of our lives in that place revolved around the creation, processing and consumption of food. How I miss those days I would return from boarding school and have to catch and kill my own homecoming celebratory chicken. Or harvesting, shelling, roasting and hand grinding peanuts so you could have peanut butter to take back to school. Do you remember the seasonal offerings of guavas, mulberries, mangoes, mazhanje, bananas, derere, and all other manner of produce? Produce that was literally farm fresh, harvested minutes before it was eaten or prepared and obviously also stored and dried for out of season consumption.
The best part about cooking at number 203 Churchill Drive was even though we had a fancy kitchen in the house, everything was cooked by the fire, outside in a little make-shift wooden kitchen. Teary eyes, smokey hair and warm feet in the cold of winter. Roasting maize right on the wood coals while skillfully evading the volcanic eruptions of sadza that only took one scalding to develop serious respect for them. It is truly an art form to cook in clay pots with no fancy knobs to regulate the heat but what of the flavour?! Oh the flavour is indescribable. The years of flavour developed and settled into the clay or the smoke imparting licks of yummy into the open pots.
Gogo and I bonded over our love for food and for cooking over the years. We used to bake together and even baking was relegated to the fire station from time to time. We both enjoyed fried chicken feet and absolutely love peanut butter in every single food known to humanity. PB in rice, pumpkin puree, biltong, kapenta, pumpkin leaves, chicken, madora, samp. Whatever you can imagine we most likely could put PB in it and not even flinch. These dishes are especially important to me because we would grow the peanuts ourselves and process them in different ways and so you would literally eat the fruits of your own labour and effort. There are a few flavourites on offer here at Tapi Tapi that highlight peanuts and their products and they are most definitely an ode to this glorious woman and my connection to her.
Mashakada, wild rice and peanut butter pudding ice cream
Manhuchu, dried and partly milled maize and peanut butter gelato
Nhopi, creamy roasted pumpkin (or other similar squashes) and peanut butter puree, with cinnamon and nutmeg ice cream
Gango, dry-roasted peanuts and popped maize gelato or ice cream
I hope you get the opportunity to try at least one of these flavours in ice cream form and definitely in some version of the original dishes that inspired them.