Words & Images by Crush
Once in a while you get to visit places and to meet people who really inspire your soul. A trip to Solms Delta and a fresh, winter’s morning walk through Dik Delta, the edible indigenous garden, did just that. The garden is not only incredibly interesting from a heritage point of view, but is also exciting for what can be developed from it in the future.
My two companions on my stroll through this inspiring garden were Chef Shaun Schoeman and the manager of the garden, Johan, who work closely together to develop and select the indigenous plants for cooking in the restaurant. This garden has allowed Chef Shaun to create a uniquely flavoured, South African menu as most of these plants – buchu for instance – are only found in South Africa. He has been invited to France later this year to showcase some of his dishes featuring these plants. He will be taking all of his herbs with him.
The garden is small but productive. “We want to work with ingredients which the garden can provide for us on a daily basis”, says Chef Shaun.
Shaun gained his knowledge of the plants from expert and renowned food writer, Renata Coetzee, who did research on the habits of the Khoi people and helped to develop the garden. Topsy Venter – a legend in South African food circles – was another source of information for Shaun. He spent a month working in her restaurant gaining knowledge in the use of indigenous herbs. “You can’t just ‘gooi’ any of these indigenous herbs – you need to know what you’re doing.” Shaun laughs and says, “ I was into French fine dining and had no idea about SA cuisine.”
He now knows more than most people do on how to cook with his selection of indigenous plants. “I don’t want to do fine dining. We are South African – we don’t believe in fine dining.” Bold statements like these are one of the reasons why he has been invited to cook in Calais, France.
Johan is the medicinal mechanic. “A smell of wild rosemary opens the sinuses” Johan says. It can be used in your pillowcase or in a tea to clear the sinuses or to help with asthma.quote_02“We are constantly brainstorming new ideas for the garden. One idea is to have a kitchen near the garden where, along with a coffee or an indigenous iced tea, you can buy rubs, oils and medicinal products such as teas, but the focus for now is on the new restaurant,” says Shaun.
“Many chefs are using wild herbs,” says Shaun. “Citrus Buchu one of my favourites. It is really good for desserts such as pannacotta, malva puddings and syrups.” Johan enthusiastically interjects, “It’s also great for stomach pains.”
Is very strong in flavour. It is often used in lamb dishes, marinades, sauces and pannecotta.
Garlic Buchu is too potent. Buchu is a part of the marijuana family. Citrus Buchu can be used to make ice cream.
The Nomnom fruit
The Nomnom shrubs surround the herbs in the garden with some quite potent looking thorns. Chef Shaun has made sorbets from the fruit.
Wild Sage causes a big problem with the bees but makes a really good honey.
It is very potent but is great to use with poultry. Can make food very dry if you are not careful, but is good for marinades and braising sauces.
There are different kinds of Makatang – one variety is poisonous, one is bitter and the little one is good for making preserves. The dark green melon is not edible. Makatang are used in the Kalahari as a water resource and are best left where they lie after they have been picked – they can last for up to a year.
Veldkoel or Wild asparagus
Great in salads and stir-frys. It keeps forever when pickled. It can’t be harvested throughout the year ‘normal’ asparagus.
We grow three varieties including mint (great for chocolate mousse) and lemon- scented.
Is sour in taste, is tangy with slightly slimy texture. Great as a salsa on the side with meat dishes. Can also be pickled.
Is a shrub with very beautiful flowers and is used for teas, desserts and is very good flavouring for cheese cake.
Is a liquorice flavoured bulb much like fennel. It can be scattered over salads or pickled.
Wild Garlic or Koekemekranke is a bulb.
“We did a lot of research with many different plant species – some were way too strong in flavour and some were inedible. You have to be very careful and have the knowledge as to when, and how, to use them.”
“I think we have something very strong and different in flavor – it’s South African!” states Shaun proudly. “We are from here so why can’t we focus on local flavours? Everyone has forgotten about our style. I am using it in a contemporary way with well-known European classics like Crème Brûlée and Citrus Buchu.”
“I want to tell chefs there is nothing wrong with our own indigenous produce,” says Shaun. He is part of a global movement towards foraging for indigenous, edible food as our ancestors did in the past. This knowledge has been lost to us for over a hundred and fifty years. Now, Chef Shaun and Johan are picking up the pieces and creating unique, South African flavours.