One of Londolozi’s most iconic trees is coming into fruit, and it is from that fruit that memories of a tot of Amarula in a morning coffee or a slice of “specially laced” cheesecake on Varty Camp deck are made possible.
The marula tree (Scelerocarya birrea), protected in South Africa, will fruit from now through mid-March, and will delight a variety of bushveld birds and mammals, especially elephants, which are often seen at this time of the year reaching up into the marula’s branches as well as rigorously shaking the tree in order to get at the ripe (but not over-ripe) fruit.
So, without further ado, here are five bits of information that you might not know about the marula tree, and, as a bonus, we have included Londolozi’s signature Amarula Cheesecake recipe at the end.
1. Elephants “drunk and disorderly” in the bush
Let’s get the big myth out of the way. It is widely accepted that animals cannot get drunk from eating marula fruit that has fermented on the ground, nor do they attempt to. A handful of documentaries made in the late 1970s and 80s claimed to show animals “intoxicated” as a result of gorging on over-ripe marula, but these films were called out as quackery, with one being accused of soaking marula fruit in alcohol in order to get the “drunk and disorderly” money shot.
2. Amarula liqueur does contain marula fruit
Yes, marula fruit is an ingredient in the incredibly popular Amarula Cream liqueur, although we are not sure how much fruit per bottle is used. The distilled fruit is matured in oak barrels in Stellenbosch for 24 months, and the final product also contains “proper” cream. Interestingly, all of the fruit used to make Amarula comes from an “orchard” located in Phalaborwa in Limpopo Province.
3. But… Amarula doesn’t really taste like marulas
Ripe marula fruits, which can be safely consumed by humans, have a white flesh, similar to the flesh of litchis in texture. If you think they taste like Amarula, sorry, but you’re in for a surprise. The fruit has a subtle citrus and nut flavour, and there is little reward – in terms of quantity – for each fruit skinned. Marula fruits are not everyone’s favourites, but they are pleasant enough. Just a reminder: now is the time of the year to try one.
4. A Londolozi Tracker was born under a Marula tree
Marula trees are sometimes called “marriage trees”. The large, umbrella-shaped canopy is perfect for special occasions and meetings that require a large amount of shade, or protection from the elements. In fact, Renias Mhlongo who has worked at Londolozi for more than 20 years was born under a marula tree (special occasion indeed!), and the tree in question still stands today. Perhaps as a result of the reverent occasions that usually took place under the marulas, in most communities in South Africa, a person will have to seek out special license to fell a marula.
5. Stuck in the bush without coffee?
If you’re ever stuck in the bush without coffee, you can burn the skin of the marula fruit and then boil it in water to make a substitute (or so they say). According to Shangaan wisdom, if you have the flu, boil the bark of the marula tree and then drink the water. By the way, the marula fruit is rich in vitamin C, potassium, calcium and magnesium. (As a side-note, a drop of Amarula in your real morning coffee is a treat well worth the indulgence when on holiday. On safari, this is accepted as a “cultural experience” and thus immune to any “tut-tuts” that would normally accompany pre-noon drinking).
6. Londolozi’s Amarula Cheesecake
Ever since Kent Robert’s “gin bomb” dinner, held late last year, we have had requests to share Londolozi’s Amarula Cheesecake recipe.
For the base:
- 1 Box Nutty Crust Biscuits, finely crushed
- 100g Butter, melted
For the “spirited” filling:
- 1kg Good Quality American Cream Cheese
- 3 Eggs
- 4 Tbsp Corn flour
- 1 ½ Cups White Sugar
- 500ml Cream
- Vanilla Extract
- 300ml Amarula
For the topping:
- 1 Tin Caramel
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees centigrade
- Mix the crushed biscuits and melted butter and press firmly into a large spring form tin
- Mix together the cream cheese, Amarula, eggs and sugar until smooth, add the cream, corn flour and vanilla essence. Keep mixing until smooth and fluffy
- Pour mixture into the tin
- Place the cake tin into a bain-marie of water and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes
- Remove from the bain-marie and cool completely
- Pipe the caramel over the cooled cheesecake