I was privileged to have spent my childhood on a remote cattle ranch in the Gwayi Valley in Zimbabwe. My earliest childhood memories were of sitting at my Oupa Neels feet , watching him patiently peeling fruit picked from their Orchards. We loved to go collecting fresh eggs in the lucerne patch and on hot days ….we could not resist swimming in the icy cold farm reservoir.
The family homestead was situated in the sandveld , on a ridge overlooking the vast Shangani Valley. The entrance of the house was through the kitchen , you were always welcomed with the smell of soet cookies or fresh bread baking in the aga oven. Ouma could always be found busy bottling marmalades , watermelon konfyt, making butter or soap, or busy cooking the next meal for the whole family. There was always an abundance of home grown food on the table and we would all sit together as a family to eat and discuss the day and what had happened on the ranch.
My Mum Val arrived from Natal and married into the Van Wyk clan, not knowing how to cook….. and was taken under the wing of her Afrikaans Mother in Law Joey , who over time passed along generations of family recipes for us to enjoy. We lived in a thatched eco – bush home surrounded by Mopane Forests, on the banks Shangani River . Night entertainment consisted of gathering in the courtyard for sun downers and cards around the table, to the background hiss of the tilley lamps , buzzing brown moths and long legged spiders, which had us putting our feet on the table among the cards. As young children my brother Pierre and I liked to help my Dad in the vegetable gardens, one of my favorite pastimes was playing in the mud with the hose pipe… and once a week we would join Dad on the back of the Landrover for a drive to the dry dusty cattle dip, where we spent the day helping the staff herd the cattle. We learnt to ride at a young age and holidays home from boarding school were spent out riding our horses in the bush or canoeing and fishing for Bream in our local dam .
Our lives changed direction after a period of turmoil in Zimbabwe’s history and with the constant cattle and wildlife conflict with cattle born disease and predators such as lion. My Dad made the decision to start doing Safaris. Mum being a domestic goddess with a sense of humor … and a natural teacher set about training the staff . Linkwasha Tented Camp in Hwange National Park hosted its first guests in 1985. Chris and Val Van Wyk were well known for their warm hospitality , excellent fresh home cooked food supplied from the ranch and trained some of the best Safari Guides in Zimbabwe.
My love of the food and cooking and understanding of hospitality from the heart , has been a family inheritance. I have lived and worked in the Safari Industry my entire life… I love cooking and plan to share all the stories of our lives on Safari, as well as the recipes that have been passed down through the years in our family.
Author -Leanne Gammon