Bill here. This is Soup and Stew (not poop and spew, although it would be an honest mistake). They’re Senegal Parrots. They are the catalyst for dragging me from my absence from Chrissie’s blog since… since they were eggs.
In the first instance, what got my interest to share was this…
The picture is what the parrots eat – or at least what they spread all over the verandah. I reckon, as a meal, it would look pretty good as the continental breakfast in a two- or perhaps three-star backpacking pad anywhere in the tropics, although the chillies might be a bit rough. As for the dirt … I haven’t been at a backpackers in a long time and, although tastes change, the fact that dirt is free and beer costs money has to count for something. What is relevant to this post is that everything the parrots eat comes from within about 20m of our house. In fact, they are also showing enormous interest in eating the house, and you can’t get much closer to home than that!
Secondly, I have a passing interest in the slow food/local food movement. ‘Does-an-orange-really-have-to-come-from-California?’ doesn’t make a lot of sense from my past, and is a decadent nonsense from my present.
Thirdly, I live on a mine site where, with a few exceptions, there is an element of Groundhog Day – the overwhelming feeling that you’ve tried it all before – a statement that counts for the menu in particular.
Finally, in Ghana, there is an endless, seemingly effortless abundance of edible things. Most are recognisable – some are not. Some mainstream – some more challenging.
To bring these four points together, I’ve listed the potential ingredients that can be plucked, butchered or harvested from within 100m of our front door (Sceptics, I’ve tried to include the house in each photo as proof that the food is truly ultralocal). Ultimately, my question is “what would you make?”…
First, meat options. There are several and they include:
West African Dwarf Goat. Seriously. These charismatic little guys don’t exude the same revolting stench of your average non-stunted Australian goat – they internalize it all and save it up for the taste! Goat is not very high on my list of things to eat. The guys here reckon that if you can stick it for three days, you won’t notice anymore. Goats have their advantages. If we opened the front door, I’m sure they’d walk into the house and climb into the oven without complaint in a self-sacrificial act akin to the weird pig-man at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Beef. A slightly migratory option that patrols the site, occasionally wandering within 100m of the house and therefore fair game. Be warned, these are a stringy and gristly versions of what you might be thinking – there is a reason that a lot of meat in this country is stewed. Clever disguise with flavour and thorough cooking is pretty much essential. I think it’s because, without reliable refrigeration, meat here not hung, but is eaten straight away. But I can’t be certain.
Chickens. Bless their little pea-hearts and their matching pea-brains. The undisputed champion meat source of the entire world! And in a spiteful twist, they lay eggs – which go really well with pig. It’s a bit like how fighter planes and warships shoot decoys to attract missiles and save themselves, the chickens fire out eggs to make me think of bacon. As our current brood of chickens have found the grain under the house and will routinely break into it, there are extra points for any recommended meal that involves 30 chickens and requires a slow painful death. Particularly for the rooster…
Guinea Fowl. These are presented as a theoretical option, because as far as I’m aware, it’s not actually possible to catch a guinea fowl. However, they look tasty, and that counts for a lot!
Snail. Hmmm. They stick close to the ground and concentrate all the worst earth has to offer to tastebuds. However , like Vegemite, it’s an acquired taste. Once eaten, the taste clings to your tongue like an octopus to a rock and you suffer a taste a bit like truffles (assuming the truffles are mouldy and growing in night soil).
Until recently, options also included Goose and Daikur (Antelope). But they have excused themselves from the menu by means of either relocation or decomposition.
There are also coke-addled, super-fast squirrels and a Jurassic Park menagerie of huge (not terrible) lizards. The realisation is that squirrels and lizards must taste like crap – otherwise they’d be skewered on satay sticks on the side of the road like a lot of other animals here – which they’re not.
Fruit and vegetable options are a bit more esoteric.
100 billion mangos. There are two seasons of mango every year. They grow heavy and yellow at the top of the tree and every 5 minutes at night you’re reminded of this fact as they crash of the corrugated iron roof and then splud on the ground.
Pawpaw (papaya) hangs heavy-breasted from spindly trees (I know – I’ve got to get out of here!). They smell and taste like vomit – sure – but other than that their culinary appeal is somewhat more limited. None of us are fans.
The chilli plants here are happy plants. They form a cornerstone of a lot of the food. There is no shortage and they fruit prolifically.
Bananas are, I’m told, a herb. Now there is always the chance that the banana trees around our house are actually plantain plants. They are indistinguishable in everything but taste and the size of the mature fruit. I’m sure there is (or at least should be) a smutty schoolboy joke about bananas from everywhere else and plantain from Africa – and relative proportions – but as yet I’ve not endured it.
Oranges grow in the garden of the next bungalow next door, well within 100m of our house. A lemon tree is also available. And a grapefruit tree. These all look pretty similar to me. All of them go OK with gin, but the gin only helps if you enjoy it before your day starts.
I had never seen an avocado tree before I came to Ghana. For the first year I was here I didn’t realize what I was looking at. For the uninitiated, these are very attractive (how kids draw them) trees that, when in season, have about five hundred avocados ripening at any given time. And they are fabulous with lemon! It begs the question: As someone who has spent some time thrashing through the jungle, why have I never seen an avocado farm here?
Cassava (identified by its red twiggy appearance) grows wherever a cutting is planted or dropped. It is a bit gluey-textured and a bit fruity. Maize plants also grow so close together that they are collectively maze. Maize/Corn here is not sweet, but is pretty bland. It’s a cornerstone of local cooking. Both maize and cassava are in good supply in the small field across the road.
Strangely, the only picture of food taken in this post that is actually inside the ‘farm’ attached to our house is the one of Chillies. Chrissie assures me, however, that basil and asparagus also grow in abandon in the farm, despite its effective abandonment since March (when the gardeners hung up their thumbs).
Tomatoes, pineapple, garden eggs (West African eggplant) and watermelon also seem to grow in the region in profusion, but not within 100m of our place.
Despite the warm certainty of knowing what will be on the table on Thursday September 14, 2016, I’d like to think there is some great challenge I can set Sly the cook (henceforth Iron Chef Ghana) to make from within 100m of my house.
Meat; beef, chicken, guinea fowl, goat, +/- goose, and (wretch! vomit! spew! Batman) snail.
Non-meat: Egg, banana, plantain, chilli, mango, orange, cassava, maize, avocado, garden egg (eggplant), grapefruit, basil, asparagus.
Optional extras: Tomatoes, watermelon, pineapple, squirrel, lizard… and what the hell, cat and parrot and dog and tortoise.
Extra points for: Lots of mangos – all the chickens.
Who’s cuisine will reign supreme?
Your time starts now!