An Accidental Ode to Potatoes

It’s potato season in the KZN Midlands.

It’s also the time of year when Terra Madre Day is celebrated. This annual Slow Food event held on 10 December, is a favourite of mine. I love the idea that we are connecting with thousands of people across the globe celebrating good, clean, fair food and diverse food identities on the same day.

The international theme of this year’s Terra Madre Day was Back to the Roots: Food & Community. I invited 12 lovely people from our own Slow Food Community of the KZN Midlands (learn more at the end of this story) to gather around my long table and share a meaningful meal. Everyone was to bring a dish showcasing their own abundance. Who would have thought that most of us would want to celebrate potatoes?

Once I realised that the table was growing with potatoes, including my own dish of purple ones grown by Chisomo Bean, dressed with stinging nettle pesto, I thought we should start with a little heap of wild greens, rather than the weed salad being part of the buffet. At dawn that morning, I had set out along the street verges to gather a variety of weeds, carefully picking the leaves from the stems before dressing them in Rosendal vinegar, Kalahari salt and De Rustica olive oil. The selection included – dandelion, chickweed, gallant soldier, red mallow, sow thistle, swine cress, slender celery, field mallow and wild lettuce. Donna thought that this was cow food, but tucked in gamely and declared them not bad at all.

I’d also pickled some fiddleheads – the bracken fern that is so enthusiastically transforming our grasslands and forest edges. Keeps its crunch for months in the jar and is super for adding a zingy pop to potatoes – particularly potatoes!

Popular plant-based Mpophomeni cook, Lihle Mavuso , had only spinach growing in her garden, so bartered with a neighbour who had a small patch of potatoes because she was keen to make a recipe she has seen earlier this season. To six perfectly sliced potatoes she added thyme and oregano from her own garden, some olive oil, garlic, and vegetable stock all topped with Indezi Farm cheddar and baked in the oven. “It was such a good day with the Slow Food ladies, I had a really, really good time,” she said.

Bridget Ringdahl thought it an utterly splendid spread and loved hearing about where all the ingredients were sourced and how they were transformed. “How many people even stop to think about where their food comes from? I was amazed at the variety and spread of potato dishes, each so unique that one never realised that 5 out of 5 dishes were potatoes. How can anyone say eating what is local and in-season is boring?” Bridget cooked potatoes grown in her back garden – splashed with beetroot, red cabbage, mint, and spekboom, doused in basil dressing to create a very colourful dish.

Megan Wood, aka Farmer Meg of Essenwood Micro-Dairy added lots of delicious dairy to her potato dish, of course. She used new potatoes from her garden with milk, cream and butter from “our darling cows” with feta she made on Monday and her own gouda that has been aging for a few months, and included some thyme and lashings of stinging nettles. She added proudly ” I also brought a bowl of beautiful cream from my girls.” Megan truly adores her herd.

I filled a bowl with mixed beans from my 2021 harvest, cooked simply and slowly in a Wonderbag. A salad of lightly dressed pumpkin stems fascinated many who had never come across this before. Calvin remembered his grandmother cooking the stems as a vegetable, but had never tried them raw. We chatted about the different ways that different cultures use vegetables – Italians adore the stems of Swiss chard – serving them braised and drizzled with oil, and much prefer eating the leaves of beetroot to the actual beetroots. Zulus too favour the leaves of radish (amangoza) but don’t bother with the bulb. Delicious carrot tops are often discarded, while pumpkin leaves are enjoyed in many cultures as much as the actual pumpkins.

Donna Hornby contributed the only non-vegetarian dish – a smoked chicken salad. Naturally, she added potatoes to her salad (!) along with mint, coriander, lemon, ginger, garlic, a drizzle of reduced chicken stock, nasturtiums, rocket flowers and fennel. She told us “I produced all the ingredients except the salt (thanks Spar), the ginger which is from a small farmer who lives in KwaMnyandu in Henley Dam in the Edendale valley, and the honey (produced just along the road from my home).
The chicken was a 7-week old Lohman rooster from the incubator that belongs to NgeZandla Zethu Sweetwaters poultry co-op, which I raised with plenty of greens and access to the garden. I slaughtered them myself and smoked them yesterday in preparation for today. The potatoes were steamed and then fried lightly in duck fat from my own ducks.”

Manisha Shah is well known in the area as a fabulous cook – inspired by the flavours of East Africa. She prepared her very own russet potatoes in an Indian-style slow dry fry. All the ingredients and spices including mustard seeds, onions, dried red chilli, coriander, turmeric were from her own garden. Manisha hasn’t yet mastered the growing of cumin, so those seeds came from the shop. To accompany the potatoes she made roti, using stoneground flour from Champagne Valley in Winterton. Traditionally, this dish is eaten with a mix of various pickles.

Luckily, JulieAnn Hamar who is an expert local fermenter brought a big jar of scrumptious cultured vegetables. Perfect with pototoes. She explained that this version of kimchi originates from Japan /Korea and is extremely popular in those countries. “I use pak choi that is hydroponically grown throughout the year by Country Bounty in Curry’s Post because Chinese cabbage is only available during winter here in Howick. Her kimchi, made with locally grown Chinese cabbage (thanks Lindiwe, Chisomo, Dovehouse) is very popular when in season. Carrots, radish, and peppers are sourced at REKO or Dovehouse. The thick, juicy stems of the pak choi and Chinese cabbage are perfect for the fermenting process encouraging the beneficial enzymes to get to work. After 5 days her ferment is a tangy-tasting side salad that aids digestion.

Julie Ann recently started making old-fashioned ginger beer and brought along a bottle to share. She also shared a few tips: The secret is to make a ‘ginger bug’ which takes 7 days. Each day the ginger bug is fed with honey (or sugar) and ginger. This creates a starter that is then added to a water/ginger and sugar mix and fermented for about 5 days. We loved it, but she admitted to being reluctant to offer it for sale as it gets quite bubbly and needs careful management when opening the bottle. Unlike the bottles of organic bubbles from Woolies that we popped with abandon!

Lindiwe Phikwane was delighted to taste the ginger beer – it reminded her of her childhood. “My granny always made this at the festive season back in the olden days, and baked cakes in her handmade oven. This was special for me because since living in KZN I have not found people making gemmer.” Lindiwe enjoyed meeting our special guest Calvin Moloto who also has family in Limpopo province, and conversing in their shared language SePedi. “It was good to get together for Terra Madre Day again, the last time we celebrated was back in 2019 at Manisha’s place.” she recalled.

Calvin is the driver of the Slow Food Youth Network (SFYN) in South Africa. He is currently studying at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra Italy. After meeting Ntombenhle Mtambo and me at Slow Food Salone del Gusto in Torino 2018, we have kept in contact via social media. Serendipitously, he was spending the weekend in the Midlands, so despite being the only man, simply had to join our table.

While in the Midlands, Calvin enjoyed the company of Manisha Shah’s family, visited Spha Mabaso and Ntombenhle Mtambo in Mpophomeni, participated in a Weed Walk along the river, and spent time at Essenwood Farm with Megan Wood and her cows. So many Slow Midlands experiences.

“Your hospitality is like nothing of this world. I have no words to describe how it feels. It’s just so amazing. People are so welcoming and everyone is ready to share their bits of love. I’m happy and proud to say I met the Slow Food Community of the KZN Midlands. I’m looking forward to building strong relationships with everyone I met.”

Back to the potatoes…

Fiona MacCrimmon wavered between bringing potatoes cooked in her hand-built wood-fired oven, or rhubarb. These are the only two plants doing well in Rosetta at the moment, she told us. Fortunately, rhubarb won the day! She stewed rhubarb and made custard using eggs from the solo layer in her flock (probably named Red) and milk from her goat named Lizzie. Fiona bemoaned the fact that while rhubarb is delicious, it is difficult to make it look gorgeous. She served it in a bright blue enamel bowl which she had bought at the old-fashioned Khubela General Dealer in Hilton which is still a lovely mishmash of clothes, kitchenware, gardening equipment, and sweeties behind a glass counter.

Sheila Berry made lemon curd with added whipped cream to turn it into lemon mousse. She shared the story: “The lemons were from a tree in our garden that I planted a few years ago. The eggs were a gift from Pam Haynes that I had kept fresh in the fridge for a special occasion. They were small white-shelled eggs with the brightest orange yolks. To sweeten the mixture I added honey that had been a gift from my next-door neighbour Sebastien Adderley who had collected it on their farm in Oudtshoorn. I added farm butter and finally whipped cream, both bought from The Grapevine. For decoration I used pecan nuts picked up earlier this year in our panhandle driveway. They come from the pecan tree next door. I served it all in a bowl made by local artist Claire Adderley. I gathered raspberries from the garden for the cherries on the top of the desert but they were watery from all the rain and not as sweet as the previous seasons. The raspberries had been planted by Erica Brown a few years ago when she lived on the property.” Sheila also brought a bottle of freshly squeezed oranges that she picked from the tree in her garden.

Super stylish Kim Longhurst delighted us all with her special contribution. Firstly, she made meringues. “I tried to create a meringue with local honey rather than sugar. It didn’t work, but I will persevere.” Kim loves a little sleuthing, so dived into finding out all about the raw, organic cane sugar she bought from Woolies. The farm and factory are based in Sao Franciso in Brazil, where they practice no burning in their fields, cut green cane and use a fantastic little parasitic wasp (which they breed themselves) to deal with the cane borer. Apparently, it has been a really difficult couple of years to put all this in place, but now they are reaping the rewards of their effort to farm in a better way. Also in the meringues were egg whites from Andre and Kait’s happy Bramleigh Farm hens, a pinch of pink salt, lemon juice (to replace the acid, usually cream of tartar – a by-product of the wine industry – needed to stabalise the egg). “All of my effort was actually to hero the beautiful cream Megan and her cows produce at Essenwood. I built the dessert around something sour and something sweet that would go well together – blueberries from lovely Shereen at Dovehouse, gooseberries picked early in the morning in our cottage garden. I did not cut back the canes at the end of the season, so they are heavy with fruit already. ” This deliciousness was topped with blue purple stars – crystalised borage flowers and fragrant pineapple sage leaves.

“What a wonderful bunch of interesting and fabulous humans to have lunch with.” Kim enthused.

Penz Malinga, who has celebrated many Terra Madre Days before – on top of Table Mountain, a few in Mpophopmeni , and Sidla Ngokudala agreed with Kim, adding “it was a Potato Fest of Note – all were delicious in their own unique way, I really loved the super cheesy bake. The wild green salad was a nice way to start the meal before tucking into all the richness.”

The objective of the Slow Food Community of KZN Midlands is to connect consumers with producers of good food, enhance knowledge, build food diversity and good nutrition.

To achieve this, we commit to:

Support innovative ways to link consumers with producers.

Manage and support Reko Markets in the Midlands.

Offer support and mentorship to producers aspiring to best practice.

Organise Meet the Producer open days – both live and online.

Organise an annual seed swop to build food diversity and resilience.

Promote conscious eating by telling stories of good producers, seeds, and foods.

Celebrate seasonal harvests, cherish traditional recipes and heritage varieties.

Our celebration today certainly achieved many of these objectives.

Links to previous Terra Madre Celebrations in the Midlands: In Dargle, All Local Long Table, Terra Madre Day You might also enjoy 12 Ways to Eat Slow.

May all the potatoes of the world be happy!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Christeen says:

    A long table of mouth watering deliciousness and the best of company! xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was fabulous! xxx

      Liked by 2 people

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