An Urban Foraging Adventure with Loubie Rusch
When I first heard about foraging I was a little sceptical. Having grown up in The Big Smoke, the only foraging I had done was in the aisles of Woolworths. Or so I thought, until I met our local foraging champion and indigenous cook extraordinaire, Loubie Rusch.
Turns out that even I, a kid growing up in Johannesburg’s tame and well-tended suburbia, had embarked on the deeply instinctive practise of sourcing food from my natural surroundings. When Loubie took me into her wild, green garden and handed me snippets of plants to taste, an array of childhood memories came whirling back. I remembered sucking on honeysuckle stalks during school breaks and chewing on the sour leaves of wild sorrel. I remembered stealing mulberries off our neighbour’s tree, fingers stained red from their juicy sweetness and picking ripe, purple plums in our garden which my grandmother would turn into jam each summer.
Foraging, it turns out, is not just an eccentric fad – it is part of our genetic make-up – something we do instinctively as children and then quickly forget as our lives speed up and we start to disconnect from our natural environment. This is what Loubie emphasizes through her work – regaining connectivity. Her talks and courses are designed to encourage a genuine shift in seeing, thinking and eating. She hopes that her work will assist people in rebuilding a symbiotic relationship of fair and respectful exchange with the earth by treading lightly, and eating local, seasonal foods.
Does this mean that we are doomed to suck on honeysuckle stalks and stolen mulberries? Certainly not. On the contrary, I am simply amazed at the variety of flavours that are growing freely in our city. Loubie’s brand, Making KOS, produces a variety of scrumptious preserves, cordials and jams that are earning her quite a name in Cape Town – Sour Fig Sambal, Spiced Wild Plum Jelly are just some of the creative recipes Loubie has devised using locally foraged plants, herbs and berries.
I visited Loubie in her beautiful home where the magic behind Making KOS happens. Inside her kitchen, there are shelves lined with books on botany and indigenous cooking. Her kitchen counters are covered with recently foraged herbs and vegetables – veldkool, waterblommetjies, wild garlic and sour figs. I am struck by her genuine enthusiasm and the infectious joy with which she plays in her kitchen, combined with a deep wisdom and understanding of nature. I notice that she talks about plants as if they are her friends – fondly describing their little quirks, moods and unique characters.
“Just look around,” she says, gesturing with pride to a few wild plants sprouting from the pavement outside, “Nature is incredibly abundant. You’d be surprised by how much food grows freely in urban environments. There is enough food on earth for everyone, but it is being wasted and distributed unevenly. We can change this by developing our knowledge of plants and eating indigenous foods. There are wonderful flavours available right on your very doorstep – we should be using them.”
Loubie’s experimental attitude towards food stems from her childhood – the daughter of two avid foodies, she travelled extensively from a young age and was always encouraged to be curious and open-minded. Her earliest memory of foraging was on a family holiday in Vermont where she remembers the excitement of scouring the coastal paths with her parents, foraging for mussels and fresh herbs which were later combined to create a family feast.
Loubie often refers to the Khoi San people and their respectful co-existence with nature and how they ate in abundance as they moved seasonally in the direction of their food. ““We are linked inextricably to our environment,” she says. “Foods grown close to where we live are easier for our bodies to digest than imported foods sold out of season. Indigenous food naturally has more in common with our physiological make-up.”
Currently, her work has a strong focus on veldkool, which looks and tastes similar to asparagus but grows so abundantly on our city streets that it requires very little maintenance. “I am working hard at encouraging local communities to farm veldkool,” Loubie says. “Not only because it has potential commercial value, but also because it can provide a cost-effective and convenient source of nutrition that grows abundantly in its natural environment.”
And for those of us who would like to give foraging a whirl, but have no idea where to begin? “Start small,” Loubie says, “nasturtiums are everywhere in the CBD – add them to salads or pesto for a peppery flavour. Num-nums are easy to find and make a deliciously refreshing cordial. Wild garlic, rosemary and sage are growing freely on the streets of Cape Town and are great for soups and stews.”
Inspired, I decided to join the Making KOS cooking course at the Side Street Studios in Woodstock. The evening kicked off with a summery cocktail of tequila and buchu lemonade served with cucumber and mint. We nibbled on French loaves and spiced preserves whilst Loubie talked us through the various foraged plants that we were to be cooking that evening – a comforting veldkool bredie and a green tomato chutney with wild garlic and rosemary were on the menu. The evening ended perfectly with dinner and wine, and a dessert of honeybush apricots with creamed yoghurt and a sour fig preserve.
Loubie Rusch is a busy lady – whether cooking, teaching, foraging or speaking at local events. She is also smart, inspired and actively committed to cultivating a green consciousness. After spending a few days in her presence, I notice myself looking around with different eyes – really noticing, for the first time, the extraordinary abundance of plants and trees that are growing in our city, and marvelling at the possibility that they could provide me with dinner.
Making KOS products are sold every second Saturday at the Oranjezicht Market.