This story was first published in the October 2017 issue of SA COUNTRY LIFE.
🕒 6-minute read
At first glance, Roushanna Gray’s living and working environment at the Cape of Good Hope is harsh and unforgiving, but this passionate, wild-food forager loves sharing her edible treasures
If provenance is the food world’s Holy Grail, then Roushanna Gray’s Veld & Sea classroom is a temple to the movement. Veld means field in Afrikaans but a more accurate description is wild, untouched vegetation.
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This is especially true of Cape Point, the most southerly area of the famed Cape of Good Hope, where Roushanna and her family live. Part of the Table Mountain National Park, and home to one of the most biodiverse, indigenous plant kingdoms in the world, this protected reserve is characterised by a treacherous coastline, a landscape carpeted in fynbos and wild winds.
You are truly at the mercy of the elements here. Whether you visit in winter or summer, rain or shine, it is an unrelenting environment featuring a rocky coast that has claimed many passing ships over the centuries.
Some 400 years ago, when Jan van Riebeeck and the Dutch colonists settled in the Cape to grow produce for the passing sea trade, they relied heavily on the local populace for guidance on where to source indigenous edible offerings.
Crops failed, the weather didn’t play ball and relying on local knowledge was essential to their survival. Much of this information has been lost over the centuries except for a growing group of enthusiasts like Roushanna, who are intent on rediscovering and sharing their often delicious and always fascinating findings.
A family of green thumbs
The rustic home she shares with her husband, garden landscaper Tom, and their children Tai and Rubi is on the same property as the Good Hope Nursery, founded by her mother-in-law, indigenous gardening icon Gael. Plants and trees that you would be hard-pressed to find in commercial nurseries are the order of the day at this bastion of local flora. Among waterwise, pro-indigenous gardeners, it’s become a beacon of planting in accordance with the Cape climate.
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In recent years, people have made the effort to visit this far-flung nursery, some 60km from the city, for another reason – Roushanna’s sellout Veld & Sea wild-food foraging expeditions. Like any chef worth her salt, Roushanna is on a continuous quest to discover new edible opportunities and, in her case, wild-food flavour marriages.
For those lucky enough to attend her Veld & Sea experiences, it’s a journey that yields many treasures to share. Scheduled a few times a month on the weekends, and during the week by appointment, the half-day experiences involve fascinating missions to gather wild food from the fynbos-covered slopes above the nursery, and to pick flowers and herbs from the family’s veggie garden. There are also forays to nearby rockpools to gather mussels and whatever other offerings the ocean might yield that day.
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After a morning of hunting, gathering and absorbing fascinating morsels of information from Roushanna, guests return to the Veld & Sea classroom to prepare a feast featuring their bounty. “The entire experience is dictated by the seasons and the moon phases that determine the tides,” says Roushanna. “I devise a menu according to what is prolific at that time of year and we go out looking for these and other edible elements essential to the different dishes on the menu. After that, we come back and break into groups to prepare for lunch.
“It’s a really interactive experience and people love discovering that plants they’ve never heard of, as well as quite alien things like seaweed, are so delicious.” Roushanna gives us mouth-popping, peppery nasturtium pods to sample while we chat. In the winter months, pungent pine ring mushrooms are the prized harvest while, in summer, delicious delicacies from nearby rock pools, and nutritious sea vegetables, offer a taste from the ocean.
Luckily for Roushanna, there’s a wealth of information for those interested in wild-food foraging. The internet, local experts and both historical and recent books yield regular fascinating discoveries for this intrepid hunter-gatherer who says she learns something new every time she ventures out on a walk.
“When I first moved here I had no idea what I was doing, I went off into the veld and picked a pretty bunch of flowers, and came back to proudly show my family only to discover I had picked some rare endemic flower. Now I only pick what I know grows prolifically and does not suffer from being cut back a little,” she says.
For added flavour, colour and for medicinal uses, Roushanna has planted a variety of edible flowers in the family’s vegetable garden, and workshop participants are given equally interesting insight into the further layers of flavour these can bring to many dishes. From pansies with their grassy fresh taste, to sweet and spicy cornflowers and piquant calendulas, many flowers, we learn, can bring fascinating and mouth-watering depth to food while adding beauty. “We eat with our eyes as much as we do our mouths,” says Roushanna, as she adds delicate white coriander flowers to a salad.
There also are plenty of edible flowers that make excellent drink partners. “Chamomile is known for its calming properties and is wonderful in a honey syrup, to which you can add gin and tonic or bubbly. Pelargoniums come in an array of delicious flavours like rose, lemon and peppermint and the leaves make a refreshing and uplifting iced tea.”
Although it is these nuggets of information that workshop participants take home with them, there is so much more to be had from attending a Veld & Sea day. Unplugging from technology and returning to an ancient way of sustenance, if only for a short time, is immensely gratifying. “Gathering is part of our DNA, we’ve just forgotten about it,” says Roushanna. “I’m glad I can help people rediscover the joy it brings.”
Roushanna and her team offer seasonal foraging classes, workshops and events throughout the year.
Courtesy of Bureaux.co.za
Words Vicki Sleet
Styling Sven Alberding
Photography Warren Heath