Into the Wild … for party decorations

I was chatting to a friend in America a while ago, telling her about my average day on the farm here in Livingstone, when she suddenly piped up: “Annabel, you sound just like a Bush Martha!”

Combretum seeds contrasted with mupitipiti seeds make for a terrific coffee table arrangement.
Combretum seeds contrasted with mupitipiti seeds make for a terrific coffee table arrangement.

Trust me, I’m no Martha Stewart. I’m worse than useless at sewing and knitting, and you wouldn’t want me anywhere near a cake you’re decorating. But I do love cooking, I do love gardening, and I do love foraging. Here, in this rich, prolific environment, I not only go into the wild for food, but also for home decorating and for flower arrangements. And it is to the bush I’m turning for a shindig, a birthday party, we’re throwing on Saturday night at Camp Nkwazi, a neighboring safari lodge on the Zambezi River.

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We’re using these puffballs of small prickles in the flower arrangements at the party. Their straight firm stems provide excellent lines to follow …

It’s a perfect time of year to collect dried seedpods and wild flowers. While the seedpods decorate the ground around the trees’ trunks, wild flowers in the canopy above are starting to bloom all over the farm. Right now our house is filled with scented wild jasmine to welcome our first guests for the party, who have traveled to Livingstone all the way from Virginia in America.

Four-winged Combretum seeds, which are my good friend and artist, Elaine Danckwerts, turns into butterflies for teaching underprivileged children arts and crafts.
Four-winged Combretum seeds, which my good friend, artist Elaine Danckwerts, turns into butterflies for teaching underprivileged children arts and crafts.

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m into North African-inspired cuisine at the moment, so it won’t come as a surprise to learn that the food for the party is mostly Moroccan. Hummus, marinated olives, spiced nuts. A lamb tagine with sweet tomato jam; another with chicken, prunes and almonds. Handfuls of fresh mint, dill and basil mixed into couscous, served alongside plates of spiced carrots, cumin-laced beets, sliced oranges and pickled radishes, and masses of mixed-leaf salad. Most of it made with ingredients from Livingstone. Most of it fresh out of the garden.

Teak seedpods, which I plan to turn into lampshades soon.
Seedpods, which I plan to turn into lampshades soon.

This evening our out-of-town guests will be joining us for a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. As the boat navigates through the current, around the rocks and pods of half-submerged hippo, we’re likely to see elephants, baboons, and different species of antelope, drinking and bathing in the twilight. The riverine birdlife differs in almost every way from the birdlife we have in the teak woodland around our house. While we’re sipping our iced G&Ts on the boat, waders, skimmers, ducks, and geese will be flying up and down the river searching for a place to roost. Then, just before nightfall, we’ll return to Camp Nkwazi, where most of our guests are staying, to sit down for a supper of fish and chips, and lemon meringue pie.

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Dried Mukwa, or Fried Egg, pods that are all over our lawn at the moment.

Tomorrow we’ll be decorating the lodge’s reception for the dance party with wildflowers and seedpods, like the ones illustrated, that will be lit with loads of burnt orange and taupe candles. Simple. Zambian. Cost-effective.

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These hardy, unbreakable acacia thorns will be used to display our Date & Coconut Balls, one of three finger desserts.

I’m turning 50 next week, just two days before Zambia turns 50, too. Between my birthday on the 22nd and Zambia’s birthday on the 24th, Hindus in Livingstone are celebrating Diwali, their Festival of Lights.

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Seeds from the Pod Mahogany tree, which we use to decorate candle holders on the dining room table.

It’s party-time … please raise your glass!

Annabel Hughes is an award-winning chef and blogger, and the creator of “bush gourmet” cuisine.

0 Comments

  • Happy birthday Annabel , the plans sound perfect……the food yummy…….there is always time for a good forage , I love foraging on the beach and infact do it rather a lot . Jacarandas just about in flower here plus frangipani leaves emerging …enjoy xxxlizij

    Reply
    • Hello Liz … thank you so much! I LOVE Jacarandas … and have seen them, along with the frangipani, opening all over Livingstone. It is an abundant time of year, for sure. Foraging on the beach is such a different experience to foraging in the bush, but as you say, just as enjoyable. Love to you from landlocked Livingstone! xo

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  • Annabel, Catherine (my sister) advised me to follow your blog and i am so pleased she did. Your photos are absolutely amazing and i love reading about all the different ingredients you are using that are so different to what we use here in London. Your food looks amazing. I am looking forward to seeing photos of your party!

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    • Hi Molly … thank you so much for your kind comment. Knowing what a maestro you are in the kitchen, I accept it as high praise indeed. You’ll probably be surprised to learn that when your message came through last Friday I was sitting next to Catherine on the sunset river cruise. I asked to her hold on while I read what had come in, and then turned to her with a huge grin and announced, “it’s a comment on the blog from your sister, Molly!” We were both floored. Lots of love to you … and photographs of the party will be following soon. xo

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  • Oh Annabel, I took part in Kenneth Kaunda’s independence celebrations in the Lusaka stadium. Goodness me, yes 50 years ago !! I wish we could be there with you to celebrate your special day xxx

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    • Oh wow, Hellie! That’s amazing … I had no idea you were in Zambia then. Both Chris and I wish you could have been here with us, too. We had a truly wonderful party on Saturday night. If I recall correctly it is also your birthday around now, isn’t it? We both send you so much love on your special day. Massive hugs … xo

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  • Lovely ideas. Growing up in Zimbabwe we used all sorts of pods and grass seed heads at Christmas for our decorations, often sprayed silver or gold (not very eco friendly now)

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    • Thank you so much for stopping by my blog, Martine. Our family did exactly the same with pods for Christmas. It was an economical and attractive way to spruce up the holiday decorations, wasn’t it? All the best, Annabel

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  • HAPPY HAPPY CELEBRATIONS, another lovely blog and great photos that make me homesick! Enjoy it all and sorry we cannot be there. The food sounds absolutely delicious.

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    • Thank you, lovely Louise! We so, so wished you could have been with us, too. The food was delicious … and the party was such fun. I’ll be thinking of Birdwoods Gallery as your huge Holly Hospice approaches. Best of luck for it all … xo

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  • love your writing and hope we get to see images of the decorations and food !

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    • Thank you very much for your kind comment, Nikki. I’m so enjoying this new vocation, which helps! I will, indeed, be posting photographs of the decorations and food, so watch this space. All the best to you, Annabel

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  • Happy birthday, Bush Martha!

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  • The prettiest necklace I ever owned was made out of muzhanje (sp) pips , painted in bright colours made by one of mum’s friends, Nicky Waller!

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    • How lovely, Shaunagh. I also clearly remember the beautiful lamps your mum made out of gourds. After she gave one to little brother Paul, I wanted one so badly! Thanks for stopping by the blog … lots of love to you, Annabel

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  • I got back to the UK this morning to read your blog and it was all 100% as you described! The decorations were amazing, so simple and so creative. The food was absolutely delicious all weekend and I was SO impressed by how much your garden has grown and what great produce you have. And your photos continue to be fabulous! It was such a great celebration and so special to be with old friends. Much love, Kate x

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    • Oh, Kate! Thank you for this kind, kind comment. The party was such fun … made all the more so by your presence. Thank you for traveling all the way from England to celebrate with us. So glad you are home safely! Lots of love, Annabel xo

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