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F & D

Jugo beans: This drought-tolerant regional variation of the Bamabara nut is packed with protein, calcium and vitamin B. Variously known as Vigna subterranean, jugoboon (Afrikaans), jugo beans (English), ditloo-marapo (Sesotho), izidlubu (isiZulu and isiXhosa) and phonda (Tshivenda), these young fresh legumes can be boiled in the pod (such as the Vha Venda post-harvest snack called phonda dzo vhiliswaho). Later in the year, older dried beans are boiled with peanuts, sorghum and/or maize into a rich tshidzimba mélange. In AmaZulu households they are mixed with maize meal as isithwalaphishi. In 1593, when the Portuguese cargo ship Santo Alberto was wrecked off the coast of Pondoland, 25 Portuguese sailors and 160 enslaved Angolans reached the shore safely. During their long journey to Delagoa Bay they established contact with local people and bartered iron items rescued from the ship for food, which included izidlubu beans. Kalahari truffle: These desert truffles — variously known as Kalaharituber pfeilii, hakan (Khoe), n’xaba (Nama), magupu/mosasawe (Kgalagadi) and mahupu (Setswana) — have a rich, nutty flavour. They are less pungent than their European relatives and less expensive. Their partner plant is not the oak of the northernhemisphere truffle but the wild desert melon (Citrullus vulgaris). In San mythology, Kalahari truffles are described as “the eggs of the lightning bird” because the egg-shaped fungi only appear after the thunderstorms that accompany good rainfall. The trained eye of a Kalahari truffle collector can identify the target by way of cracks and protuberances in the soil, caused by the expansion of the growing truffles. Once identified, Kalahari truffles are extracted by hand or using digging sticks. They are traditionally eaten raw or roasted, buried in hot ash or coals then left to cool overnight, which intensifies their delicious, earthy flavour. It is said that excessive harvesting, climate change and soil erosion are responsible for the recent declines in Kalahari truffle yields. Millets: South Africa is blessed with two traditional millets. The finger millet (Eleusine coracana) form is known as mvohoho (Tshivenda), uphoko (isiZulu), osgras (Afrikaans), mpogo (Sepedi) and majolothi (isiNdebele). Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) is referred to as manna (Afrikaans), leotsa (Sepedi), inyouti (isiNdebele), luvhele (Tshivenda) and unyawothi (isiZulu). Traditionally ground into flour for porridges or fermented, both are high in fibre, phytochemicals, minerals and vitamins and can be cultivated in areas with low rainfall, high temperatures and shallow, sandy soils. Plus, their tiny grains make for great gourmet smack talk. In 1878, Zulu King Cetshwayo KaMpande (who led the Zulu nation to its 1879 victory against the British at Isandlwana) sent a message and a bag of finger millet to Natal’s Secretary for Native Affairs, Theophilus Shepstone. The king’s message stated: “If you can count the number of uphoko grains in this sack then you may also be able to count the number of my warriors.” It is impossible to list all the millet recipes but a few common favourites are thick millet meal porridge (in Sepedi, bogobe bjabupi bja leotsa; in Tshivenda, Bogobe jwa lebelebele; and in isiZulu, igqiza) and thin millet meal porridge (in Sepedi, motepa wa bupi bjaleotsa; in isiZulu, tncimbi/umcindo; in isiXhosa, isidudu; and in Setswana, motogo wa lebelebele). Mebos: Salt, not sugar, was the first fruit preservative used at the Cape. This not only reflects the high price of 17th-century sugar but also the earlier epicurean experiences of enslaved Cape Malay cooks. The word mebos probably derives from the East Asian pickled plums known as umeboshi. These plums were used medicinally at the Cape as a cure for morning sickness during pregnancy. How plums became apricots is not clear but Afrikaans doctor, poet and food writer C Louis Leipoldt (1880-1947) observed that early Cape colonists were “so fond of the contrasting flavour of salt and sweet they served powdered salt with oranges, apricots, peaches and melons”. Certainly, the modern understanding of mebos as a salty-sweet, brined then sugared apricot confectionery treat, rather than a medical cure, was present from the mid-18th century. Umngqusho: This classic, slow-cooked amaXhosa combo of rough broken, dried corn kernels (aka samp) and beans is traditionally eaten on a Wednesday. No-one seems to know why — it is equally delicious on all other days of the week. Xigugu: This Tsonga roasted corn and peanut delicacy is a labour of love to prepare. Pounding and sieving must be undertaken multiple times over many hours until a glossy, fudge-textured treat is formed. It is traditional for a Mutsonga bride to give her groom a bucket of xigugu at the conclusion of the lobola negotiations. It is said to include a potion that will ensure undying love, which we totally get — it would be impossible not to love anyone who gave you a bucket of xigugu. Oblietjie: These paper-thin, round, sweet-wine-anddried-naartjie-peel-flavoured wafers are traditionally baked in an iron pan called an oblie-yster. Vintage pans are engraved with flower or leaf patterns, which decorate the oblietjies. Because the oblie-yster was used on an open fire, it has a long handle. In recent years this pretty but cumbersome pan has fallen into disuse, and they are now generally baked like brandy snaps, in the oven, but no iron mould means no pretty patterns. With or without, the wafers are pressed into horn or cylinder shapes while warm and filled with cream. Foodie folk history has long held that oblietjies came to the Cape with 17th-century French Huguenots — legend has it that the biscuits are so named because the waffle iron resembles the Oubliette (forgotten room) circular prison pits in which Huguenots were incarcerated before they fled to the Cape. As is the case with many legends, this tragic tale is contradicted by historical fact. There are many Dutch recipes for oblietjies (in the Netherlands and at the Cape) that predate the arrival of Huguenots in South Africa.