Thursday, October 13, 2016


Sweet Peas pesto coming up…                                                                                                                                         UHG
I remember as a young boy feeling a panicky surge, as I imagined toppling into the lions’ den at the local zoo. That zoo has long since been closed, the decaying structures are reminders of a bygone era, yet live evidence of it still exists. Himalayan Mountain Tahrs roam our city’s majestic mountain. The story goes that some of these goats escaped from the zoo and headed for the hills. They now thrive on Table Mountain. In fact they are so prolific that culling programs have been established to eradicate them, but with little success. The expression, ‘horny as a Billy Goat,’ jumps to mind.

It's no coincidence that Stone Pines have that Italian vibe about them                                                                             UHG
Sweet pea shoots climbing a Pine           UHG
Does that not scream, 'Zoo Pesto', or what?   UHG
At about the same time that my imagination was running wild wrestling lions, I also discovered that inside certain pinecones were delicious little nuts (in the late seventies few South Africans knew about such ‘Italian delights’), but getting to them was epic. Trying to crush the cones by heaving rocks onto them, or violently throwing the cones onto the pavement, proved not only dangerous, but ineffective too. Should you try either technique, I suggest wearing a helmet and a gum guard, or you can simply leave them out in the sun or next to a few winter fires and patiently wait for them to naturally open, but when you are 12 years old, patience is not an option.

Sweet Pea shoots against the backdrop of decaying lion cages and Pine trees                                                            UHG 
Mid to late summer is flower and pod time                                                                                                   Lauren Biermann
Yum                                                                                                                                                                    Lauren Biermann
A few years ago a friend pointed out that the rambling purple flowers clinging to the neglected zoo fence looked like sweet peas. Lo and behold… it was so. What a discovery they have turned out to be. From early spring they develop delicious tender shoots, mid summer brings with it their yummy purple flowers together with little pods similar to mange tout, these finally turn into actual peas, which when scorched by late summer, dries and twist the pods into little springs that fling their seeds about; ready to shoot up the next spring. All their forms are great for salads, garnishes and pestos.

There they are... a pair of nuts, nestled beneath each scale (It's not what I mean, you dirty buggers)                        UHG
Just the right weight behind each blow is the trick; too soft, they don't crack -  too hard, you crush the kernel      UHG
The old zoo grounds are also peppered with Stone Pine Trees, the very trees that produce those elusive pine nuts, which are made even more scarce by the competitive Grey Squirrel, who don’t suffer our incompetence when it comes to getting them out.

Surely, Zoo Peas + Zoo Nuts = Zoo Pesto… I gathered the ingredients for such a dish, so I could document it for this blog. As luck would have it my friend and one of my foraging partners Jocelyn just so happened to call me on that same random work day suggesting beer and a lazy afternoon. So it came to pass… that I had the privilege of photographing the executive chef of one of Cape Town’s most prestigious hotels (The Table Bay) make ‘zoo pesto’ while sipping beer and nibbling a lunch of foraged goodies... all in my little garden.

Ready, set… grind                                                                                                                                                                 UHG

       Ingredients (in more or less the correct amounts)

-                     Sweet pea shoots (the tender tips); x 2 handfuls
-                     Pine nuts; x 1 ‘vertical grab’ (thumb and four fingers)
-                     Indigenous mint ; x 3 sprigs
-                     Lemon; x 1 little squeeze or better still Cape Sorrel leaves and stems; x 1 generous pinch
                       Indigenous garlic chives (Tulbaghia); x a few strands
           Cheese (a hard one. In this case a mature local cheddar); x a grating of        
                      Olive oil; x a glug or two
-                    Seasoning salt and pepper (preferably foraged Brazilian Pepper)


Chuck in all the ingredients into a mortar or pestle (I never know which is which) and get grinding. You’ll probably need to add a little at a time to make space. Oh, add the olive oil and seasoning last.

Joce goes the nuts                                                                                                                                                                    UHG
Joce doing what she loves and does best                                                  UHG
Lunch                                                                                                                                                                                   UHG
So it came to pass… and  'Zoo Pesto' was created                                                                                                              UHG

Disclaimer – There is some debate as to the toxicity of wild sweet peas. I have done a fair bit of research on the subject and feel there is little evidence to substantiate these beliefs. I’m alive, kicking and gagging for more zoo pesto, I trust Jocelyn is too… no news is good news. 
Don’t just take my word for it though. Check it out yourself and make your own educated choice.

Thanks to Jocelyn Meyers-Adams for her skills and the beer. Also, thanks to Lauren Biermann for her great pics.

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