The Dad’s journey to Africa: the beginning

Last week, had he still been around, we’d have celebrated my Dad’s 90th birthday.  This year, for some reason, his birthday was an emotional day for me.  Nineteen years ago, we celebrated his birthday with him.  It was the day The Husband met him.  They struck up a firm friendship.  Instantly.  Little did we imagine, then, that it would be his last birthday.

This is a little of his story.  I plan to write a second installment, but it’s taking a while.  Not sure why, but probably because I have to be in the right space.  In my head, heart and soul.

James Donaldson Cameron, known as Jim, was born at home, in Auldburn Road, Glasgow, the fifth of five children, in a house like the one below.  He told many stories of the things that happened in the kitchen, including having his tonsils taken out and, somewhere along the line, a gland was removed from his neck.  TB, he said, and that procedure was also performed in the kitchen, on the table.  It left him with a scar and a depression (we called it a hole) just below his ear that in adulthood would inevitably fill with shaving soap sometimes missed in the face-drying process.  Much to the delight of his children.

Back to Jim’s childhood and the allotment.  He worked there with his father and his brother, George:  tilling the land, growing  vegetables, getting frozen hands and fingers picking, among other things, Brussels Sprouts, peas and beans, pulling and eating fresh neeps* and carrots straight from the earth before hurling newly-dug tatties** into the coals of a fire they had built to make a billy can of tea.  The allotments must have given way to the green belt across the road, and were where the seeds of decisions he was to take as a young man were sown.

George, the first-born, of John and Mary Cameron, was followed by three girls, Ruby, May and Belle (not necessarily in that order).  The Dad would laughingly tell that he was lucky to have been born a boy:  the new bairn*** if another girl, was to have received the same treatment as unwanted kittens.  Drowning was averted:  James Donaldson arrived at 1.05pm on March 16th, 1929.

Ten years later, war broke out and, as I’ve mentioned before, the young Jim was evacuated to a poultry farm where they reared broilers.  A very unhappy time in his life:  he was a wee boy with small hands.  It was his job to draw the slaughtered chickens.  Although he ended up being sent home after about six months, it had an indelible impact on the youngster.  Roast chicken – actually chicken of any description – rarely featured on menus I remember from my childhood.  He only ever ate chicken when he had to, and to be polite.

After finishing school, Jim was conscripted and went to Egypt as a member of the Royal Airforce (signals).  Returning home, he didn’t know what he wanted to do and spent some time working in gardens or parks in Glasgow.  I’m not sure.  I wish I’d paid more attention, but I do remember his telling me that one of the men with whom he’d worked, encouraged him to study horticulture.  The Dad was concerned that he’d be much older than his fellow students.

Jim described himself as a late bloomer:  eventually, he was persuaded to follow his dream, and in 1951, at the ripe old age of 22, he headed to London to start his apprenticeship at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

By all accounts, he did well.

The writer of that reference goes on to describe The Dad as “a hard worker with a quiet personality”.  Jim’s own telling of his youthful antics belied this, evidenced by one of the few photographs I’ve managed to find of his time at Kew.  I another, which I’m still looking for, was of him in a pond in one of the hothouses, tending to giant water lilies with leaves that must have been a metre in diameter.

Who knows what was in that barrel.  Beer, I am sure is what they want us to think, forgetting about the bucket of something sure to be unsavoury, about to be dumped over the poor sod!  That said, The Dad was a good sport and game for anything and rarely shying away from a challenge.  I wish I’d been able to ask him about this picture.

To finish his apprenticeship, in late 1953, the 24-year old Jim headed north of London to the Essex city of Colchester where he worked in the municipal parks and gardens.  His favourite story of that time was of his local pub, also frequented by a shepherd and his dog.  The publican, with nary a prompting, would always draw a pint for the shepherd and a half pint for the working hound!

*  neeps – turnips
**  tatties – potatoes
*** bairn – baby
**** Wee Granny – Little Granny:  My paternal granny was always known as Wee Granny because she was short, and my maternal grandmother, Big Granny.

Next:  The Dad goes to Africa

© Fiona’s Favourites 2018



Thai – African Style

Twelve or so years ago, when Thai cuisine was viewed as a relatively novel ethnic cuisine, and one which we enjoy, we happened on a very useful publication from Australian Women’s Weekly.  Page 32 has recipes for red, green and massaman curry pastes.  This last, I have made often, although, I confess, not for a while.

This is for blog pal, Peggy, who I’m sure, is familiar with Australian Women’s Weekly, and who also shares fabulous recipes – tried and tested – and all from page 32.

But I digress.  One of our favourite summer suppers is based on the beef salad in this book.


I have made this with beef, and not, I might add, with rump, but rather with a hunk of stewing steak which when rare, and cut across the grain, works just as well.  Some (i.e. The Husband) would say it’s better because it’s more flavourful.  That said, we have this salad most often with ostrich.

No, contrary to popular opinion, The Husband doesn’t starve when I’m away – he’s a dab hand in the kitchen.  His photographic evidence.

At the time we discovered aforementioned book, ostrich meat was cheaper than beef.  That’s changed. For two reasons: flocks took a serious knock with the avian flu pandemic, but more importantly, ostrich is a not a “red” meat:  like chicken, it is lean.  Which brings me back to The Husband who, as regular readers know, is a dedicated, salad-eating carnivore who has been both a beef and poultry farmer.  Early on in our relationship, my suggestion that we have ostrich was met with, “Why would I want to eat ‘big chicken’?  Chicken isn’t meat!”

He and the local boere* are of a mind:  chicken is amper vleis.* * 

To cut a long story short, he was persuaded to try it – at least once – and although not immediately a convert, was game to try it again.  Preferably disguised as something else.  This salad does exactly that.

What I do

Having followed this recipe to the letter, I discovered that the inclusion of the chopped herbs in the dressing, which is actually the basting sauce, was a mistake.  If you’re searing the meat on a smoking hot, cast iron griddle, the herbs (and garlic) char.  The salad ends up full of unsightly, unpleasant-tasting black bits.  Instead, I combine the first four ingredients for the dressing-cum-basting and reserve the fresh coriander and mint, and depending on my mood, either leave them whole or chop them to add to the salad when I assemble it (not always in the dressing).


On this occasion, I decided to serve the meat separately from the rest of the salad.  The sliced, seared ostrich was presented on a bed of coriander and mint, with a mixed salad.


Where I’ve needed to include a starch, I’ve also served this on a bed of rice noodles, making it a great summer supper.

* farmers

* * almost meat

African Slow Cooking: North and South

100_3236It was cold this weekend – perfect weather for a slow cooked stew.  Stews are a fantastic, nutritious way to use inexpensive cuts of meat – and they are usually the most flavoursome.

On Saturday, after the market, I decided to make a traditional South African bredie.  A bredie is, essentially, a stew that was made by the Boer folk, and depending on the variation you make, also includes some Malay influences.  The Boers were descendants of the Dutch colonists, and who trekked to the hinterland of South Africa;  the Malay folk were slaves and religious exiles sent to Africa.  Much of the food in South African homes is a fusion of our rich history, so here is how I made a butternut bredie.

Butternut Bredie

You will need an appropriate quantity of lamb or mutton stewing meat (I used neck), one or two onions, a  green pepper (or a chilli if you like a bit of heat), a clove of garlic, a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger and a stick of cinnamon;  butternut – cut into cubes or chunks and potato, similarly prepared.

100_3238If you are using a slow cooker, place half the raw vegetables along the bottom, reserving some for the time being. Sauté the chopped onion, pepper/chilli, garlic and ginger, and then seal the meat in the same pan.    Put the meat on top of the vegetables in the slow cooker and then deglaze the pan with a little water or stock to make a gravy.  Add the remaining vegetables and then pour the liquid over that and put on the lid.

“Fire up” the slow cooker and leave it alone to develop into a wonderful rich bredie – a good few hours.  The vegetables will be tender and the meat will be soft and fall off the bones!100_3239

A note about the fat:  for those who are Banting, it’s not a concern.  For those who don’t like it – there was much less fat than I expected.  Don’t shun fat – that’s where the flavour comes from!

Serve, either with or without rice or pap and other vegetables.

And now, this, for my first ever follower!

Moroccan Lamb Tagine

This is a Jenny Morris recipe – from the Giggling Gourmet newsletter, what seems like a million years ago, and which I’ve made successfully, often – also in the slow cooker.

Chris, I’ve put in brackets my substitutions for the “unusual” ingredients, and it serves 4.

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 small lamb shanks
1 Spanish onion. chopped (white or red)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons grated palm sugar (molasses sugar)
4 teaspoons fish sauce
4 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 kaffir lime leaves (lemon or lime leaves)
2 cups chicken stock or water
2 potatoes, unpeeled and chopped

If you are doing this in the oven, preheat to 160°C.  Heat the oil in a frying pan over a high heat.  Add the lamb shanks and cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until they are well browned. Remove the lamb and place in a baking dish/crock for the slow cooker.  Reduce heat and add the onion to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute longer, then add the chilli powder, turmeric, cumin, cardamom and cinnamon. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the sugar, fish sauce, chopped tomatoes, lime leaves and stock, and bring to the boil.  Remove from heat and add potatoes and sweet potato to the baking dish/slow cooker with the lamb, and pour the sauce over the top.  If using the oven, cover with foil and bake for 2 hours, or until the lamb falls away from the bone.   For the slow cooker, put the lid on and leave until you’re ready to eat and the lamb falls away from the bone.

Serve with steamed couscous or rice.

Two different African stews, one from the North and the other from the South.