Once again I’m lucky enough to be in the African bush, this time with new friends. We have been doing well against what one of them has dubbed ‘the Gold Standard’ – our shower curtains, which feature sketches of a variety of the larger local mammals. The only ones shown that have so far eluded us are the cheetah and the leopard.
But this blog isn’t about animal sightings. We also took our guests to the Kruger National Park for a few days and that involves a trip north through the mining town of Palaborwa, and that involves driving past the Amarula Lapa, the home of Amarula Cream liqueur - self-styled 'Spirit of Africa'.
This is marula country. The marula is an indigenous tree which produces a plum-shaped tart fruit, much prized by elephants. The area is outside the national park, so the locals can harvest the fruit for Amarula without competition from the pachyderms. The tree is sometimes called the elephant tree; elephants love the taste of marula fruit and will go to great lengths to get it during the season. A local legend goes that Hare helped Elephant find water during a terrible drought, and was rewarded with a tusk. When Hare planted the tusk in his garden, it grew into a beautiful fruit-bearing tree, which he could enjoy in time of famine. The elephant has since sought out his lost tusk by devouring masses of the fruit during the marula season. Seems a bit of an Indian-giver. And it doesn’t explain why elephants are even more partial to orange trees to the disgust of local farmers when elephants occasionally sally forth from the Kruger National Park.
The Spirit of Africa is a South African invention, but it's something of a take-off on Bailey’s Irish Cream. I don’t know this for sure, but my guess is that the liqueur was the brain wave of someone trying to cash in on the success of Jamie Uys’ seventies movie ‘Beautiful People’. In the movie a herd of elephants approach a stand of marula trees and discover that the fruit they love has fallen from the trees and fermented. Undeterred, they wolf down the alcoholic fruit and soon are staggering and clowning about to the delight of the audience. Hmm. The adult animals weigh between three and five tons, so would have to consume a great deal of alcohol to get tipsy. There was a great deal of controversy at the time, with suggestions that the marula fruit had been laced at best and that the elephants had had brandy in their drinking water at worst. The producers always insisted that everything was entirely unstaged. Either way, elephants, Africa, and marula had become associated with alcohol and fun. Reason enough to create a new drink.
The liqueur is made from sugar, cream and distilled fermented marula fruit, and there is now an upmarket version – Amarula Gold – where the distillate is aged in oak barrels for three years. Frankly, I don’t know if it matters much. With all that cream it’s pretty smooth anyway. Sweet, yes, but I have to say it slides down pretty well after a good evening, and it works with chocolate, too. As for the marula, it does give an interesting flavor and one can enjoy many sips working on an accurate description of the taste. Also, since the alcohol level is only 17% (pretty well the same as port), it’s not too challenging on that front either. It’s become one of South Africa’s most successful export alcohol lines, so you can probably taste it from a big local bottle shop and won’t have to come all the way to Palaborwa. If you see it advertised, you may well see Alek Wek languidly sipping it. The ‘African supermodel and humanitarian’ was recently appointed as ‘the new face of Amarula’. The elephants have to shift over, it seems.
Too sweet for Kubu, though. He prefers a full-bodied red wine or a chilled sauvignon blanc.
Michael - Thursday