This is a story about an edible landscape. Of our origins. Of our relationship with the sea. I’ll try and get my facts straight, but I am very caught up in the romance of it all…
Once upon a time, long long ago – between 123,000 and 195,000 years ago – the world went through a harsh climate change. A great Ice Age wiped out all human existence.
All human existence?
Because at the tip of dry and arid Africa, along a little strip of the Southern coast, there was a small group of about 600-700 people living, surviving and thriving on the indigenous edibles around them.
This would help explain the fact that humans have less genetic diversity than other species, which initially sparked the idea for researchers that humans were once reduced to a small population.
In this cold glacial period, ice sheets covered large parts of the earth lowering the sea level. There were intermittent warm periods where the sea level rose again, and this is when the Pinnacle Point caves in Mossel Bay were inhabited. In colder times when the sea receded, other caves were used which are now covered by the sea.
These Palaeolithic ancestors of ours lived in caves about 2-5kms from the sea. They were sustained by a unique, stable diet of nutrient rich shellfish full of Omega-3 fatty acids foraged from the intertidal rock pools as well as plant food from the abundant vegetation around them. Protein came from the land animals they could catch, but more importantly they had a steady supply of shellfish including brown mussels, periwinkles, alikreukel, abalone and the occasional beached whale. Carbohydrates came in the form of various underground tubers, roots, corms and bulbs foraged in the veld.
Fascinating research by an international team headed by palaeoanthropologist Curtis Marean from the Institute of Human Origins of the Arizona State University, show that this is where Early Modern Man evolved. Professor Marean says: “We found that the people who lived in the Caves approximately 164,000 years ago were systematically harvesting shellfish from the coast; that they were using complex bladelet technology to produce complex tools; and that they regularly used ochre as pigments for symboling. This is some of the earliest evidence for modern human behaviour.”
This year the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University at the George Campus hosted 35 scientist at the Palaeoscape 2014 Symposium. Organised by distinguished Professor Richard Cowling of the botany department at the NMMU, there were many speakers including Professor Curtis Marean, Professor Tim Noakes of the Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Cape Town and human ecologist Jan de Vynck.
So we were honoured, very excited and a little nervous when we were invited to cater for the opening dinner of this Symposium. One warm and clear Saturday morning, we began our wild food adventure. Led by the amazingly knowledgeable Jan de Vynck, we foraged for Indigenous edibles plants, snorkeled off the harbour and collected shellfish from the sea. It also happened to be hunting season, but unfortunately we had left our rock hunting tools at home (joke), so we bought some excellent Kudu and Ostrich steaks at the local butchery.
Please note that this was a purely scientific research exercise. The underground roots and corms that we found are not sustainable forms of foraging, they grow in some of the most endangered coastal zones already under threat due to urbanization and these plants in the wild should be preserved.
Here is a photo diary of our incredible edible adventure.
A HUGE thanks to Ranald McKechnie, Rayne Eaton, Martina Polly, Jamie Keenan and Tom Gray for being my foraging/surfing/catering/adventure crew.
Digging for tubers
Ren finds a beauty – Pelargonium lobatum
To the coast
Urban foraging for wild cress
Alikreukel and periwinkles
Shellfish ready to be steamed
Trachyandra divaricata flower buds
Strelitzia nicolai seed flour
Ferraria crispa and Dasispermum suffruticosum
Wild food chefs – that’s how we roll.
Creating Strelitzia nicolai seed and Tulbaghia violacea rolls
Trimming the Tetragona decumbens
Oxalis pes-caprae mayonnaise
Pizza with Ostrich, wild cress, goats cheese, Emex australis pesto and Pelargonium lobatum shavings
Salvia africana-lutea infused Ferraria crispa on a bed of wild cress
Alikreukels with Dasispermum suffruticosum on a bed of steamed Trachyandra, Sarcocornia and Tetragonia with Porphyra capensis seaweed butter
Preserved green Searsia glauca berries on the right
Periwinkles in a Tulbaghia violacea sauce
Pelargonium tubers on show
Wild Atlantic Nori butter – Porphyra capensis
Strelitzia nicolai seed and Tulbaghia violacea rolls
Honeybush cupcakes with cream, wild berry jam and Carissa macrocarpa berries
Explaining how to eat the periwinkles
Describing the methods of cooking
Queue for dinner
We hope you enjoyed this. We had so much fun creating this dinner, from forage to finish. Our relationship with the sea and veld blooms in our continual wild food experimentation which always turns into a social occasion or educational experience. Either way is usually delicious.
For more info on our wild food catering, sustainable Coastal foraging and Forage Harvest Feast courses, email firstname.lastname@example.org