My name is Annabel Hughes Aston. Home is a corrugated tin box built on a concrete slab thrown under an old Mongongo tree on the Zambezi River escarpment, twenty-three kilometres upriver from the resplendent Victoria Falls in Zambia.
The tin box — a deceptive architectural wonder — is the creation of my husband Chris who, in an earlier time on his farm, was forced to build a place in which to live in 20 days. Its simplicity and openness allows for unfettered access to the natural world beyond. I find it inspirational. Mostly. There are no doors. The corrugated iron walls are articulated to allow for air to pass through unencumbered. And the rain during the wet months. And the heat. And the bugs.
I arrived on Chris’s farm in February, 2013. From America via England via Zimbabwe. Though my work as a journalist-activist took me to London and Washington, D.C., I am African: born in Kenya, educated in Zimbabwe, and now living in Zambia. I was away from the African continent for 14 years. It feels good to be back.
When I finished high school in the 1980s I was sent to England to be taught how to cook, but today I have little use for the consommé-cum-thermidor techniques I learned back then. Later, in Virginia where I lived in the United States, I uncovered a heartfelt enthusiasm for gardening, and am now fortunate to live in a climate where nearly everything grows. Since returning to Africa I’ve also been learning about wild food, a subject in which I became interested while completing the Virginia Master Naturalist program in 2011.
Each of these elements have led me to create the “bush gourmet” cuisine for which I have won two awards after introducing it at The Elephant Café in Livingstone, including the Luxury Travel Guide Awards’ Boutique Restaurant of the Year for 2017 (Africa & Middle East) and Zambia’s Best New Restaurant in 2016. These elements also led me to start my own food business in 2018, more of which you can learn about at my Annabel Hughes Aston website.
I started this blog in the hope of sharing with you what it is like to live — and cook and garden and forage — in such a unique environment. I want to share what it is like cooking in an open kitchen with a big Mongongo tree in it. I want to share stories about growing a garden that flourishes in semi-arid Kalahari sand and is watered by the Zambezi River. I want to share what it’s like living with Chris on a Zambian farm where the biggest pests are elephants, in an area with people who have been subsisting off the land for centuries.
For an in-depth look at our life in the Zambezi Valley, please click here to read my feature article in the April-May, 2015 issue of The Cook’s Cook magazine, published by the New York Times food writer and recipe tester, Denise Landis.
For an updated version of my life in the Zambezi Valley, please click here to read my commissioned story in the March 8, 2017 issue of Vanity Fair Italia.
I am enjoying sharing your adventure vicariously, Annabel. Love your site!
Thank you, Jody! Love to you …
found your delicious food and blog through Georgie K my sister in law….absolutely loving it and hope to eat some butternut ravioli soon! Frances (Kenya)
Thank you very much for your kind note, Frances. I have seen your gorgeous paintings in the Knaggs and de Villiers households, and am a great fan of your work. Do let me know how the ravioli turns out. It’s delicious! All the best, Annabel
thanks Annabel lovely to meet you!
Do you have Marula trees where you live? I remember as a kid my mom was making Marula jelly but left it a little too long bubbling on the stove. It had become toffee, so she poured it into baking trays. I was the most popular child in school because of my Marula toffee and my mom had parents calling her all the following day asking for the Marula toffee recipe.
I love amd miss guavas. Live in Spain now and reading your guava jelly recipe brings a flood of memories. I have just started making fig jelly with a twist. More a sweet and sour version that goes so well with cheese, lamb, pork and chicken.
Hi Gillian … thank you for the inspiration! We do indeed have Marula trees here, just not as prolific as I remember them in Zimbabwe. I love working with wild food, therefore when the Marula trees are fruiting I will try and make jelly/toffee out of the berries. What a great idea! Your fig jelly sounds delicious, too. I adore figs. Two little fig trees are doing their best to grow here in our hot, dry earth. I follow their progress with all the enthusiasm of a helicopter parent! Thank you, too, for following my blog. I look forward to staying in touch. All the best, Annabel
I’m so far behind on my commenting, but wanted to let you know that I’ve been so enjoying your site. One of the best things about reading blogs is being transported to somewhere one has never been. Just fascinating! I have loved so many expat African memoirs that I’ve read over the years (Alexandra Fuller, Elspeth Huxley etc.). And, now I see that you’re not an expat at all, but the real deal. Plus, with food!
Thank you for your interest in my blog, Michelle. After so admiring yours, with its singular recipes and pithy feedback on all things food, it’s a real compliment. I know a number of those authors about whom you write. Africa makes for good stories, not least because often when you leap, to paraphrase that well-worn Buddhist saying, the net does NOT appear! All the best to you … Annabel
[…] About […]
[…] About […]
wow. Somehow I missed your about page. You’re quite brave!!! Shouldn’t you at least surroung your home with thorny bushes like the Masai? What a beautiful place you live.
Where we will live IS beautiful, made more so by its simplicity. Unlike in the Masai Mara, however, a lion sighting around here is very rare … and plus, we have four dogs to alert us of anything untoward! Two of the dogs are so huge they look like lions! All the best to you, Annabel
It would be great if you would e-mail me
Love the new lay-out! Well done to you & Karlien! x
Thanks, darling! xo
Hi Annabel – I was at school with you at Marlborough, and am also passionate about the bush, food and writing! This is a lovely blog and I look forward to reading it. Wishing you all the best! (Laura Taylor, nee McLean – was in same class as Heather Enderby, Bridget Hale, Kate Spencer, etc!)
Hi Laura … thank you for your kind comment. How lovely to find an old Marlburian passionate about similar things! Do you blog? If so, please let me know where it is. I look forward to staying in touch. Much gratitude for reaching out. Annabel
I don’t blog, although I set one up years ago! You have inspired me to pick it up again and run. Or just trot along… but blog I will!
Take care and will let you know how I get along.
History and your past are catching up with you. (Another Marlburian) Lovely to see what you’re up to. We’re not too far up the road, (kasabushi. wordpress.com )and next time I’m in Livingstone, would love to catch up.
Oh wow! I’m not sure I can picture you, Andy; it was, after all, about a century ago we were at school, haha! I look forward to perusing your blog, and to catching up with you when you are next in Livingstone. Thanks for getting in touch. Annabel
[…] About […]
I am a master gardener and a “foodee” related to chefs and farmers in America. I am currently working as a US Peace Corps volunteer posted in Zimba, Southern Province. I am interested in your work on many levels. What are my chances of meeting you and visiting your farm?
Best in the New Year,
Hi Linda … thank you so much for reaching out to me. I am always happy to meet up with fellow foodies, particularly those who love to garden, and are set on helping Zambians! Please get in touch via my Contact page with all your details and suggested dates, and we can then make a plan. Happy New Year to you … Annabel
Hello Annabel and Chris …so very excited and delighted to hear about you. My husband and Chris are friends via our fishing camp up the river from you. Shackletons. I am so inspired and happy to see what you are doing. I think the Elephant Cafe is just incredible. Your food is sensational and just love everything about the blog. I really would love you and Chris to come and visit us when I am back in Zambia. (Live between Cape Town and the bush). You are so incredible. So very happy for Chris that he has you in life too…… Hope to meet soon. When are you going on instagram. Have to share all your photos with everyone out there. Lots of Love Sherie. Would love your email and phone number so Howard and I can connect.
Hi Sherie … thank you for reaching out and for this super-kind note. We would love to come and visit you at Shackletons when you are next up here; much gratitude for the invitation! You can find me on Instagram at annabelhughessavannabel. 🙂 I’m very grateful for your interest and support! All the best to you, Annabel
Hi Annabel. Hope one day to get back to Africa and come and sample your cooking. Your set up looks amazing.
Often think back to my 6 months in Zim which without doubt was one of the best times in my life.
Lots of love
Nick, Nick, Nick! How lovely to hear from you after all these years … and I’m so thrilled you found my blog! 🙂 We did have such a lovely time in Zim back then, as I did with you in Devon when I travelled to England. Would love to hear your news, and otherwise look forward to your returning and to feeding you when you do! Lots of love, Annabel xo
Looking forward to meeting you.
Lorna Clark gave me your email address but it did not go through. So thought this would be the best way to contact you
We will be in Livingstone Aug 10th until Aug 13th staying at Royal Chundu Katombora Island Lodge.
All the best Janice Kunkel
Looking forward to meeting you, Janice! Safe travels!
Wonderful site. By the way, Annabel, did you receive my email?
Thank you, Luckson … we have since been in touch, and I will let you know when I am home! Much gratitude for your interest!