A Party on the Farm (+ Slow-Roasted Duck with Wild Sourplum Sauce)

Karen Blixen wrote in her classic memoir, Out of Africa, “There is a particular happiness in giving a man whom you like very much good food that you have cooked yourself.”

It was around this premise that I planned a party for Chris’s 60th birthday in early January. The party was my gift to him. A gift that I hoped would illustrate my gratitude for being invited to live with him here on his farm — a place at once dynamic and challenging; a place filled with grace — at a time when I’d been emptied of light and hope in my own life. A gift in return for his championing my creative process via the mediums about which I am passionate: the garden, the kitchen, the bush, and the written word.

“Food is a language,” Chris said to me once, and to him, language — with its rhythms and nuances and complexities — is central to our very existence.

A party on the farm.

Chris's 60th Dee pic 1

Chris's 60th Woz pic 6

Also central to Chris’s life is his family. When I first suggested we celebrate his forthcoming entry into a new decade, Chris balked, a reaction triggered by an age-old default setting from deep within: a terminal case of self-celebration aversion. I balked back at his balking, obstinate, resolute, womanish. In the end he had little choice but to succumb, yet Chris had the final word: “I want to celebrate with my family, with those friends who feel like family, and those who’ve been good to me here in Livingstone.”

In response, every member of Chris’s immediate family — seventeen in all — traveled to Zambia to celebrate his birthday. They flew in from Australia, the United States, and England. It was the first time ever they had all gathered together in one place. Some of his friends, meanwhile, traveled to the farm from South Africa, Kenya, the Congo, and Zimbabwe. There were sixty guests in total.

Chris, surrounded by his children and siblings, looking at a book of family recipes, made for him by his sister, Dee.
Chris, surrounded by his family, looking at a book of photographs and recipes made for him by his sister, Dee, for his birthday.

A friend asked me recently how I did it. How did I plan a party for so many people, feeding them all from my small, open-air kitchen in the middle of the bush? There were four key components: a dedicated team of helpers in the kitchen and garden; a commitment to using our own, or locally-grown, fresh produce; the recipes of Yotam Ottolenghi; and innumerable lists. In addition, the decor, the lighting, and the bar were taken care of by other family members. 

List upon list upon list ...

While I began prepping the food for the party five days in advance, I had started planning my vegetable garden as soon as I knew the party was “a go.” Weeks before, we planted all the seeds that we knew thrived through our wet season — aubergines, butternut squash, courgettes, beans, fresh herbs, salad greens, etc. — crossing fingers our timing was right for harvesting for the party. (In truth I was winging it because I’d never done this before.) Serendipity made sure we succeeded: every fresh ingredient in the recipes I used, besides the citrus and green apples, came from our garden or the bush.

Chris's 60th Butternut AH pic 8

I began by walking through the garden, making a list of what fresh produce we had available. I counted forty-two ingredients I could use garden-to-table, and found another fifteen or so I’d preserved or frozen earlier in the year. I’d already ordered duck, pork belly and ground lamb, as well as all the dairy products, from local producers, with the idea of adapting most of my recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks, NOPI and Plenty More.

Chris's 60th onions

Below is what we prepared and served at the party. What we never prepared for was the heatwave in which we had to cook. It was merciless!


  • Aubergine Baba Ganoush with Fresh Herbs, served with homemade ciabatta bread.
  • Courgette Baba Ganoush with Danish Blue & Goat Cheese Yoghurt, served with roasted pine nuts & homemade ciabatta bread.
  • Mixed Nuts & Mixed Olives.


Mint and chillies were key ingredients in so much of what we prepared.

Adelina roasting the butternut over charcoal.

Limes, given to us by our friends, the Orrs, were a key ingredient in many of my dishes.


  • Slow-roasted Duck with Wild Sourplum Sauce (see recipe below).
  • Roasted Pork Belly with Apple & Walnut Salsa.
  • Lamb Meatballs with Minted Yoghurt & Spinach.
  • Orange, Nsumo & Mixed Radish Salad with Fresh Herbs & Orange Blossom Dressing.
  • Roasted Butternut Salad with Chilli Tahini Yoghurt, Fresh Mixed Basil Paste & Dukkah.
  • Parsley, Lemon & Cannelini Bean Salad with Za’atar.
  • Quinoa, Lima Bean & Fennel Salad with Fresh Lime & Pomegranate Seeds.
  • Mixed Green Salad with Baobab, Red Onions & Star Anise.
  • Curry leaf, Lemon & Cinnamon Basmati Rice.
  • Homemade Ciabatta Bread.


Our spring onion crop was almost entirely depleted, but with a little assistance they grow back quickly.

Adelina Banda preparing our black radishes, a seed gift from one of our neighbors.

Chris's 60th - Quinoa

The prepping for the food started five days before the party.



I used a variety of spices in many of the dishes.

Dark chocolate for the ganache.

Filling water bottles with filtered water during the party. Photo credit: Dee Slater.

Recipes for some of the dishes I cooked for the party will be posted in weeks to come. Below I give you my recipe for the Slow-roasted Duck with Wild Sourplum Sauce about which I felt most proud.

Wild Sour Plums, foraged from the bush on our farm.
Wild sourplums, foraged from the bush on our farm.

Slow-roasted Duck with Wild Sourplum Sauce

Yield: 6-8 servings (I trebled the recipe for the party)

Notes: Any fruit that makes your mouth pucker, like cranberries, sour cherries, and wild hibiscus will work with this recipe.


  • Cup-for-cup measure, equal parts wild sourplums and granulated sugar *Quantities will depend on how much you forage. I filled a large saucepan with fruit and rendered about a 750ml-bottle and a half of syrup.
  • 2 large red onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 handful fresh rosemary, sticks removed, and finely chopped
  • 1 golfball-size knob of ginger, finely chopped *I finely chop these last three ingredients together 
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons runny honey
  • 1 large duck, excess skin removed, cleaned and dried thoroughly
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon duck fat


Chris's 60th Additions to the Wild Sour Plum syrup AH pic 10

Chris's 60th Wild Sour Plums AH pic 24


  1. The day before, rinse the wild sourplums well in cold water and drain. Mix the fruit and the sugar together in a heavy-based saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the fruit has softened and browned, and the juice has thickened to a syrup, about two hours. Remove from the heat, strain the fruit out of the syrup, cool, and set aside until ready for use.
  2. In a separate saucepan heat the coconut oil and add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent, about five minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary and ginger and cook until the flavors have released, about three minutes.
  3. Add the sourplum syrup. Bring to the boil, and then turn down to a simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, about 30 minutes. Divide into two batches and set aside.
  4. Sprinkle the duck inside and out with salt and pepper. Using one half of the sauce as a marinade, coat the duck inside and out, transfer it into an airtight bag, and place in the refrigerator overnight. Be sure to turn the duck from time-to-time to make sure it is evenly marinaded.
  5. Preheat the oven to 150/300 degrees. Take the duck out of the refrigerator and bring it down to room temperature. Remove from the bag, and pierce the skin all over with a paring knife, being careful to avoid piercing the meat. Place the bird breast side up on a rack over a roasting pan in the center of the oven. After roasting for 45 minutes, take the bird from the oven, turn it over to the other side, and drain any fat that has collected in the roasting pan. (There will be lots of duck fat which you should keep and refrigerate for later use.) Return to the oven for another 45 minutes and repeat this process, turning each time, until the duck has roasted for about three hours.
  6. In the final half-hour of roasting the duck, heat a tablespoon of duck fat in a small saucepan, add the leftover marinade and boil vigorously, about 1o minutes. Add the other half of the wild sourplum sauce to the marinade, and continue to cook over a medium heat until the sauce has slightly reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
  7. Remove the bird from the oven, cover with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes. Carve the duck, laying all the pieces neatly on to a serving plate. Spoon some of the sauce over the duck, pouring the remainder into a bowl to be served on the side.


Chris's 60th dinner AH pic 5

*Photograph credits also included Warren & Dee Slater.

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.


  • How fabulous! Looks yummy! You certainly did your man proud….and what a feat, not only in the bush, but in a heat wave! Bravo Bella…I’m sure a splendid time was had by all! xox

    • Thank you, dear Bridgey … it was a lovely party, reflecting exactly the intention that was set from the start. Happy new year to you … and so much love. xo

  • It all looks marvellous Annabel, what a lovely gift. I adore the Nopi book, inspirational and so beautifully produced.

    • The man is a genius, Margie. And we are fortunate to find/grow so many of the ingredients Ottolenghi uses. Thank you for your kind comment. Wishing you all good things for 2016. Annabel xo

  • Annabel, you and your dedicated colorful team are remarkable. I love reading all about what you get up too. I’m so glad to see you had at least one fan!

    • Thank you so much, Carrie. Although it was hard work, I so enjoyed putting it all together. BTW, we had a lovely lunch with your brother and his family at the end of last year. What a small world it is! Love and all good wishes for 2016! Annabel

  • Wow!! Fantastic achievement – congratulations to you and the team! What an occasion. Hope the heat has passed now.

    • Grazie, Georgie! The heat has passed and we’ve just been blessed with some lovely soft rain this morning. Thank the Lord! x

  • Annabel, it all looks so amazing. Was thinking of you all so much – plenty of fun times had by all but no bigger treat than this wonderful birthday celebration. What better combo – family, friends and great food. Surely Chris realised all he did was provide the excuse for the family to all get together – it wasn’t all about him!! The heat just gave you a reason to have another drink!
    Our love to you all. Mandy xxxx

    • Mandy! You and Johnny were missed! Your ears must have been burning … Thanks so much for your lovely comment. It was indeed a perfect combo, and how blessed we were that people flew in from far and wide. The heat did indeed give us all an excuse for pouring another drink, haha … I’m relieved (on all fronts) to pass on that it rained today! 🙂 Lots of love to you from all of us. xo

  • Seriosuly amazing Annabel the wow wow wow factor keeps multiplying……your a 2 legged star in the bush. Love Tortoise xox

    • Thank you, my special friend. Can’t wait for you to get here so that we too can break bread together in the bush. xo

  • What a feast and what a feat cooking in that heat. Well done for a delicious spread of fabulous food. Going to try several of your recipes.

    P.S. Sent your seeds about the 20th Dec. Airmail from the Uk. Hope they arrive.

    • Thank you so much on all fronts, Gillian. The seeds haven’t yet arrived, but as I said to you before, the post takes months. I cannot wait for my little care package … 🙂

  • What a triumph Annabel, and probably having many people to stay too…. it looked amazing and I am sure everyone loved it. Hope it has rained since! xxx

    • Thank you, my friend. Yes, nineteen mouths to feed (with the help of Chris’s siblings) alongside a big ‘do’ is an undertaking, to be sure. Still, the party turned out just as we hoped it would. Lucky us, it rained today. What a gift after a very intense heatwave! xo

  • Annabel…your stories and recipes just keep inspiring me. Thank you. What a wonderful meal and expression of love! Happy birthday Chris xxx

    • Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful and kind comment, Hellie. Wishing you all good things for 2016! Lots of love … x

  • Hi Annabel A great event.
    Food and recipes outstanding.
    Mike P.

    • Ah, Mike. Thank you. And happy new year to you. I hope it’s a fun one!

  • There is always music amongst the tree’s in the garden, but our hearts must be quiet to hear it…you certainly do. Well done Annabel on preparing such a memorable feast. So much love xxx

    • What a lovely, poetic comment, Di. So much gratitude to you. Your support and interest mean a great deal to me. Lots of love … xo

  • Wow… What a visual and textual feast too for your readers. Fantastic! Thank you xx

    • Much gratitude to you, Steven. And wishing you more wonderful adventures for 2016! xo

  • Wow, sounds and looks amazing. I’d love to have the recipes for your two bean salads, they make my mouth water 🙂 I love your blog Annabel, you inspire me in my kitchen.

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment. I’ll be posting my recipes for the bean salads in due course, but do bear in mind that they were both inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes in his book PLENTY MORE. It’s a cookbook I am very happy I purchased (in Australia)!

  • Wow you are amazing , a true inspiration .

    • Much gratitude, Leigh … I hope we’ll see you here one day. As well, I hope you also had a wonderful birthday celebration! xo

  • […] household, I turned my bounty into a wild sourplum syrup. I have used it in savory dishes like my Roast Duck with Wild Sourplum Sauce. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been experimenting with the sourplum syrup in ice cream. […]

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