happy hour

30 March 2012

There may not be a sushi bar or a pub in this precinct, but the bush around here is not without its treats.

I missed out on the mopane worms over Christmas (just as well), but for the locals it was a time of plenty. They collect the colourful, rubbery caterpillars by the bagful as a much appreciated form of protein. The worms are stripped of their gut content by using the fingers as a squeegee and are then boiled in salt water. Afterwards they are either fried in a little fat and eaten as a welcome garnish over mealiemeal vuswa, or dried for later use.

On a quiet day one can hear the rustle of caterpillars chewing mopane leaves

Eggs, from which the caterpillars hatch.

A few weeks later, from January until about March, the marula trees drop their fruit for all sorts of creatures to feast on. Elephant love it (although the popular belief that they get drunk on it is largely urban legend), antelope and primates nibble on it, and thirsty folk ferment it to make a drink that has somewhat more substance than the litres and litres of water one has to drink here to keep your perspiration well from running dry.

Children playing under a marula tree

Brewing marula beer is supposed to be a simple process: Peel the 3cm yellowgreen fruit, add a little water, pulp the lot and then go and laze in the shade somewhere while nature takes its course. It starts frothing after a few hours in the tropical heat and after a day the clearer part is ready to drink. Leave it a few days longer though, and you start getting the whiff of alcohol. Which of course is why I was looking forward to marula season so much. But when I went wandering in search of fruit, clutching a large sack and visions of drums of heeby-jeeby jungle juice, I found I hadn’t bargained on the elephants. All I could find was a measly bowlful. Still, I got a little home-brew going and tasted it after one day. It was hardly sweet, in fact it tasted rather ascorbic, but it had that fermented fizzy quality that we all loved when grandma used to make wheat- or ginger beer. So far so good, I thought, and spent the next three days rubbing my palms.Sadly, while the resultant brew was certainly fruitful, it failed to make merry. Somehow the alcohol had gone AWOL from my concoction. I have since learned that I’d left it too long, given the heat around here, and that I should also have removed the stones and scooped off some the froth.

The four litres of marula beer that I bought under a tree near Bushbuckridge in SA turned out to be of a markedly better brew. Once chilled it made a refreshing drink that clearly had all its demons present. In fact, some of them were still haunting me even after the beer was finished.

3 thoughts on “happy hour

  1. At Little Muck years ago I took it a bit further with a borrowed “stookketel” but I also got it wrong, the result could be used as paint remover but not to drink..

  2. We had a very meagre mopane worm crop this year; and as for the marulas – I think there is too much competition for them around here! But thanks for the recipes.

  3. Maybe I’ll stick to 2M if I ever visit. I saw that doccie The Elephant, the Emperor and the Butterfly Tree (filmed in Tuli) and was fascinated at how the locals harvest and prepare the mopane worms.

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