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Hand-made craft and piri piri chicken at Old Stables

FARMERS’ markets are thriving in Harare, and it’s not just because people like to buy farm-fresh, locally grown food, browse hand-made craft or stock their vegetable gardens with seedlings direct from the farm. They also love to socialise, and to remind themselves that there’s a world outside their living rooms and beyond the garden gate.

Thelma and Evidence display beautiful gudza at The Old Stables Farmers Market.

A tall, dark man was the first person to walk through my front door on New Year’s Day this year, but there hasn’t been much traffic since, and the prosperity and luck this event should have brought is yet to materialise. So all the more reason to wear a mask, observe social distancing, and visit the farmers’ markets, as they open one after the other in Harare.

Last Saturday, George and I visited The Old Stables Market at the Borrowdale Race Course. The world and his wife had the same idea, and while people continued to arrive, others were leaving, triumphantly clutching canvas bags of green beans and bananas, long legged wrought iron storks, home made cakes and bottles of pickles and jam.

The gates open at 8am, so start the morning with a sweet, strawberry filled crepe made by Chef Raphael, from Cafe de Paris in Churchill Avenue. If the crepes are sold out, try a galette, made with a mixture of wheat and buckwheat flour and filled with gruyere cheese, ham and spinach.

Stroll on and check out the ‘luxury comfy sleepwear’, Liesje’s home-made dog treats, and trendy shibori indigo hand-dyed cushion covers and tote bags by Jista. Browse through Jinks’s Antiques for a Christmas gift for the funky millennial or the sophisticated aunt in the family, then continue to Emerald Seedlings to buy flourishing organic parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme seedlings, all essential for your kitchen garden.

As lunchtime approached, George and I were drawn to Ant Berens’ Mongolian BBQ braai, and to Kungfu Kitchen’s crispy pork, chicken and prawn dumplings. Finally, we joined a long queue at Tinkabell Restaurant’s corner, for “Portuguese peri peri chicken done the right way, on a charcoal braai”. Spiced in a most delicious marinade created by owner Jasmine Fonseca, the chickens were grilled to a turn, production scarcely keeping up with demand.

Live music is often a feature at farmers’ markets, and while we waited for the chicken to come off the braai, pitch perfect singer Roy Freestone entertained the crowds with old favourites like The Green Green Grass of Home, and Sweet Caroline. At one point, when Roy was in mid-song, a dust devil blew up, lifting Roy’s shade umbrella into the sky. It grazed the heads of two shoppers, and gathering momentum, carried away the tarpaulin shade over Tinkabell’s kitchen, before descending to the ground. Undeterred, the veteran crooner finished his song, never missing a beat.

Before leaving the market, we visited Aauwenna Arts and Crafts where entrepreneur Thelma Boettrich and her niece, Evidence, showed us an impressive collection of sisal and tree bark products. These indigenous barks have been used in the making of beautiful mats and floor coverings, hats and hand bags. Most impressive was a huge woven gudza, a type of blanket used by many people in rural areas, before duvets became popular. A work of art, this gudza showcases the traditional skills which might have been lost to Zimbabwe without the assistance of artists like Thelma.

Thelma, who comes from Biriiri in Chimanimani, explained how bark is stripped off twigs from the musasa, munhondo, mupfuti and muunze trees, pounded in a mortar and made into the strings that are then woven and made into artifacts and household items. Over 30 women in Chimanimani have been shown by Thelma how to process the raw materials, and trained in the weaving of goods that are then transported to Harare to be marketed.

The fallout from Cyclone Idai is still being felt in Chimanimani, and in addition to the groceries and solar lights Thelma recently sent to her ladies in the workforce, were a number of blood pressure monitors, essential to keep a check on their wellbeing.

You can visit Aauwenna Arts and Crafts Gallery in Highlands, where Thelma, who is also an accomplished cook, will soon be opening a cafe serving traditional meals.
As we continue to work from home while reducing the number of social events to a bare minimum, weekend visits to a farmers’ market can become a welcome fixture in a boring routine. At The Old Stables Market, where you’re required to wear a mask, temperatures are taken and hand sanitiser is provided at the entrance. So maintain a respectable social distance from all the friends you’re likely to meet at the market, and enjoy the day out. A matter of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff
Comments to: cmalakoff@gmail.com