Baking in the Bush

Botswana

Botswana national natural symbols

Honeymoon time is over and I am back with you to share a great cooking experience I had during our holidays. We went to Botswana for my first Safari trip and it was wonderful. I could write pages about the animals and the scenery we saw and post hundreds of pictures, but this blog is about food really so I will try to stay focused and not babbled on about mating Leopards, baby Hyenas and pack of Wild Dogs…Maybe just one thing that might be of general interest… each country has a national flower, bird and animal. Botswana chose very well and is represented by the Lilac-breasted Roller, the Waterlilly and the  Zebra, and there is good logic behind it because you actually see these symbols within the country, less can be said about Lions and Britain…

Food in Africa was in average really good, but what really got me excited was to have warm freshly-baked bread and cakes in the middle of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Forget about cans of baked beans and raviolis from your previous camping trips, this is all about gourmet cooking in the bush.

IMG_3813

Pula’s stove

I couldn’t believe it when I saw this warm fluffy bread waiting for us for our first lunch. I asked if the chef had baked it here and apparently yes. I immediately asked if I could have a tour of the kitchen. It took 2 days for the staff to feel comfortable for me to wander around their side of the camp, even though it was 30 metres away from our tent. Finally Pula, our chef, was ready for me to look. I was given the grand tour and instantly regretted not to have taken my camera with me. I needed excuses to visit again so I waited until we moved camp. New campsite, new kitchen and new set up: time for me to inspect again.

Pula's oven

Pula’s oven

It turned out Pula, which means Money and Rain in Setswana, is a passionate cook and wants to cook in a big lodge one day. He also wants to go to cookery school and have a real diploma. I asked if he needed any help and he said to come back the next day. Armed with my camera, I arrived the next day for my first bush cookery class. The plan was to make a lemon drizzle cake for our afternoon snack. Yes, a lemon drizzle cake in the bush, with elephants constantly trying to get closer to the acacia trees protecting the kitchen from the African sun.

Elephant shaking an Acacia tree

Elephant shaking an Acacia tree

Elephants love Acacia pods, also called Elephant Chocolate, they come and shake the tree with their head to get the pods to the ground and satisfy their craving. Incredible to watch but nothing could take my mind off Pula’s bush oven: A big hole probably about 50cm deep, lined with hot coals at the bottom, and a metallic box on top. The hole must be larger than the box to allow air flow and provide even baking. He would also add some hot coals on top of the box to give a nice colour to the cakes and breads. IMG_4774

  Ingredients:

  • IMG_47791 and 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnut
  • 3/4 cup of milk
  • for the drizzle: 85g caster sugar and juice from 1 and a half lemon

Grease a 25cm cake tin with butter or cooking oil. Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl. Combine the eggs, lemon juice, zest and oil in another bowl and add to the flour mixture. Add the walnuts then the milk slowly. Mix well and pour into the tin. Cook in a bush oven for 50/55 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. I think the temperature from that bush oven reaches 130/140C, but we didn’t have a thermometer to check. When the cake is cooked, leave to cool for 10 minutes in African heat and make the drizzle by mixing the sugar and lemon juice together until dissolved. Remove the cake from the tin and prick the warm cake all over with a skewer then pour the drizzle over the cake. Keep under a mosquito net to keep  hungry flies away from your sticky drizzle, and keep an eye out for baboons! They run, jump and swing so fast that your cake will be gone in the bat of an eyelid! IMG_3812

The next day, I was supposed to learn how to bake Pula’s fluffy bread. But after a long morning I felt asleep after lunch and woke up, very ashamed, to see the 2 beautiful breads already baking. Time for me to go on a camping week end and try it on my own without Pula’s tips! I will keep you posted!

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6 thoughts on “Baking in the Bush

  1. Looks amazing! I have read about the baking in a fire pit method and am really considering trying it out here in Mozambique. We don’t have an oven so that’s our only option at home! Your story of baking in the bush has really inspired me to give it a go even without a thermometer to check, and to try making cakes in it as well as just bread!

    I’m also planning on building a pizza oven to go in the garden – something like this http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/may/04/build-wood-fired-cob-pizza-oven. Most of the fresh bread rolls you can buy in the market here is made in ovens like this, so I reckon with a little adapting we could build a really good pizza oven!

    • Go for it Andy, good idea! I was so impressed how much Pula could do in this oven, pizza, cake, bread, traybake and even cauliflower cheese! Ali can’t wait for a bigger garden to have a go at making a pizza oven too, but from that article the oven doesn’t look so big! I might send him to do that wood oven course after all…

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