For the past “view” days, many folk, seeing me clutching an attractive, square “bastard-sized” (as we say in printing: 214mm x 214mm: as opposed to A4 or A3) coffee-table book, has asked if I’ve finally finished and published my opus major.
Well, no (to my son’s disgust) I haven’t started it! But I’ve edited local journalist Angus Shaw’s memoirs, which he’s threatening to call Mutoko Madness, despite my protests that it is too parochial!
As the coffee table book is “Dusty Road… a taste of farm life and living in Zimbabwe” … my nom-de-plume’s Dusty … and I edited a best-selling, award-winning local farming and tobacco magazine (when we had meaningful farming and tobacco!), it took some convincing casual observers I was Not The One!
Author is Sarah Lilford; one of Zimbabwe’s most successful outside caterers and events organisers, a third-generation Zimbabwean and member of one of this country’s blue-blood “landed” extended families.
Landed, that is, for many decades before the lunacy of the so-called land redistribution “programme” was launched under Zanu PF’s greedy politics of envy policy and a rag-tag bunch of penniless so-called war-vets (Sarah amusingly calls them wovets) snatched a century’s worth of toil, investment, heartbreak and hope.
Sarah was born a Lilford (think century-old Lilfordia School and, much later, great-uncle “Boss” Lilford, who helped — Sarah says — found the Rhodesian Front with £100 000 seed capital). She’s related by blood, marriage and close friendship to many of the great and good in agriculture in this country for generations.
Names such as the Browns (Strath’s clan); the Campbells, also of cricket fame; Strongs and Wyrley-Birches appear in family trees at the start of this lavishly illustrated book and are dropped into many of its 260-odd glossy pages like tasty currants in one of Sarah’s puddings.
Mentioning as many monikers as possible is an old secret of successful publishing; Sarah goes to town on nicely name-dropping many of the former farming families, certainly in the northern region.
Among people whose farms I used to visit (or see at the sales floors) and named are the Moores of Trelawney, the Vincents, Pealls, Bentleys, McGraths and Reynolds, Storrers, Swire Thompsons, Hydes, Leareds and Fraser-McKenzies.
This is an unusual work. If keen on local history (one of my passions) her observations on opening up the land to agriculture, trials and tribulations involved in producing the various crops and livestock, which made us — once — the breadbasket of Africa are fascinating.
Though a child at the time, she describes Police Reserve Air Wing operations; lambasts China’s rape of our previously unspoiled acres and writes with much pathos and humour about the dreadful days of shortages and hyper-inflation.
You think you struggled during Gonoism? How would you have liked to have handled huge wedding receptions, company launches or five-day fancy dress parties, when there was no food or drink in the shops, prices rose thrice daily and the dollar was devalued every fortnight?
Ms Lilford is miffed about the wovets stealing her inheritance (half a 7 000 acre farm in the Horseshoe Block close to Sipolilo/Guruve: Wasn’t it once called Chipuriro?).
She’s entitled to be. We all should be; driving past once productive commercial farms with lands untended, weeds rampant, broken down tractors and equipment, roofs missing from tobacco barns and homesteads without windows.
Where, literally, hundreds of thousands of acres of commercial and seed maize, tobacco, chilies, paprika, citrus, granadillas, forestry and coffee once grew, there are now thin patches of scruffy undernourished mealies . . . and blackjacks for Africa!
Gleaming pedigree herds of beef and dairy cattle have been replaced by moth-eaten, tick-ridden scrub mombes. Expensive irrigated, air-conditioned greenhouses for export flowers are tumbledown termite-eaten wrecks.
It’s a travel book. We visit Victoria Falls, Lowveld, Eastern Highlands, Zambezi Valley, Mozambique and Umhlanga with her and cruise on a Kariba houseboat, Vunduful, her family owns jointly.
Her Brown cousins have run the air rally for ever. Sarah has a private pilot’s licence and we fly with her to cook at luxurious Chewore and Rukomechi Safari Camps.
We also accompany a teenage and 20-something Sarah exploring and winning initial culinary spurs at Loch Melford Hotel and Inverurie House, Scotland.
On to Switzerland: (In telling us about lovely Swiss cheese the history of our very own, now long lost, Vumba cheese, developed by Hugh and Tuffy Boswell-Brown, on the Mozambique frontier and distributed by their son-in-law Gary “The Cheeseman” Davidson is recorded).
After Alpine skiing, she walks the docks of Antibes in the south of France, before working her passage running a tiny galley on a yacht plying the coasts of France and Italy, Greece and former Yugoslavia.
She visited friends, stayed and worked with relatives and cooked in Canada, US, New Zealand, Australia (thumbing where girl hitch-hikers often disappear!) and Thailand.
I wasn’t sure how old Sarah was, until I revisited her family tree; I’d already spotted — with a start — her late mum (who died of cancer in 1989) was about three months my senior.
Sarah has just turned 42; my goodness, what a full life she’s enjoyed. But it’s some of her family stories full of joy, warmth, happiness, pride and occasional tears, which makes this book special.
Above all this is a cook-book: a Zimbabwean one.
She’s catered in some of this country’s most exclusive safari camps; handled the still talked over Millennium Party for hundreds at Trelawney Country Club, did the Total Eclipse of the Sun Beano and wedding parties for — among hundreds of clients — family of (President) Robert Mugabe and (Prime Minister) Morgan Tsvangirai.
It has well over 80 superbly photographed mouth-watering recipes of local dishes. There’s a useful index of recipes and food ingredients: from Amarula ice-cream to warthog pie with mushrooms and glossary of local ethnic and slang terms.
This highly collectable book (ISBN 978-0-7974-4704-2) first published in January 2012, (US$40 retail), is on top-quality glossy stock, hard-back with dust jacket and is already being reprinted in Mauritius: a pity because I think a second impression should be minus three wee howlers I pedantically spotted and plus an enhanced index, including names of all people and places mentioned.
Dusty Road (the name of Sarah’s Chisipite home and label on her biscuits, pickles, jams etc), is written and published by her and available at: email@example.com or WillowBean Restaurant, Rolf Valley.
By Dusty Miller