KwaZulu-Natal: Circa turn of the century…
It was a difficult safari. The vegetation was dense and green. The rainy season extending very late this year. Two of us were in pursuit of a pair of Nyala worthy of the adjective “trophy”. They seemingly were on holiday at an undisclosed location. Our daily marches had yielded nothing but wet clothes, run-ins with various ill-tempered Jumbo’s and more than a handful of reptile encounters in the armpit high riverine habitat.
The red pepper ticks were in the midst of a population explosion that yielded results in the ounce per leg category nightly, despite our best efforts and applications of all repellants known to man. Gaiters capping boots and socks soaked in various concoctions, and liberal dousing of pant legs would do nothing to deter the hungry hordes. My friend Con and his lifelong tracker Eric were in shock at the severity of the infestation. It seemed everything from ticks to jumbo were thriving.
One evening Eric stayed with the truck after dropping us several miles distant. He would pick us up at the pre-arranged spot near the end of a long waterway. Nearing our destination in the fading light Con picked up movement and we heard one very ticked off bull elephant. Our attempts to radio Eric were met with silence. as we gingerly approached downwind to about fifty yards from the vehicle our hearts raced. Things were not normal at all. Both windows were down, and the truck was empty. Two large tusk holes penetrated the tailgate along with one more in the passenger door. Rifles at the ready we approached. The darkness near total, we found no Eric. Con called out softly as the bull was still trumpeting nearby and sounding like he was getting nearer. My wife picked up a small sound from within the cab of the truck and peered in. Eric was there, contorted over and around the right-hand steering column, brake and clutch pedal all under the dash in a manner that would do a python proud. We hastily dug him out and proceeded to make a hasty retreat, while radioing Park headquarters for a rescue pickup.
The bull had recruited fifteen or so other elephants and was searching for us, en masse, as we made our way downwind along the roadway for better than a mile. Waiting and listening in total darkness to the jumbo’s tirade while hoping for the Park vehicle to speedily arrive.
Eric shakily relayed his tale. He was relaxing in the drivers seat when the bull approached silently from the rear. Next thing he knew the bakkie (truck) was lifted almost off the ground while the angry elephant screamed his displeasure at the situation. The bull tusked the passenger door while reaching his trunk through the open window to find Eric, now intertwined around anything he could find. Unable to get a good grasp on the tracker, the bull moved to the rear and drove his two tusks through the tailgate, pushing the parked truck several yards. He then moved to the drivers open window and tried in vain to pull the terrified Eric from his twisted frozen position to no avail. It took several hours after returning safely to camp for all of us to sooth a clearly terrified Eric. The next day we retrieved the vehicle at first light.
The only joy to be found was in camp. Her name was simply Happiness, and it suited her personality to a “T”. Standing six foot one and a solid two hundred twenty pounds of hard muscle she commanded the kitchen like the professional she truly was. Every evening meal was a thing of wonder, but the real treat was our morning toast. Ok. I know it sounds a little strange, but you have never had Happiness’s Wheat Bread? She would make, and we would consume, two loaves daily. We would eat them in our lunch, on the dinner table, and especially in thick cut, well-toasted slices in the morning, slathered in butter and topped with jam. We washed it down with hearty dark coffee. Two slices an inch and a half thick, crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, and the honest best expression of the bakers art in the world.
Happiness gave up her recipe grudgingly, but her fondness for my devotion to the fruits of her labors finally won her over. When you wish to try it for yourself please follow the recipe below. Oh, and please think about the woman who crafted this simple daily bread in a wood fired oven as you enjoy every bite. Note: NOT gluten free!!
Happiness’s Wheat Bread:
1 cup brown bread flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
500ml of buttermilk
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 heaped teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Combine flours, add buttermilk and honey, then add salt and bicarbonate of soda. Stir until well combined. Spoon mixture into two, well greased loaf pans. Bake at 180C for one hour give or take a bit, depending on your oven. Let cool for ten minutes, turn out on baking rack. Let cool before slicing. Thick slices are the best!