The fertile Levubu valley with its subtropical crops like avocados, bananas, litchis, guavas and macadamia and pecan nuts is often described as the fruit basket of Northern Limpopo. The Levubu valley runs east to west along the southern foot hills of the Soutpansberg mountains going east between Louis Trichardt and the Kruger National Park’s Punda Maria gate and is well worth a visit.
The Punda Maria gate is 140 km from Louis Trichardt. The Levubu commercial farming community with school, church and co-op is 50 km from Louis Trichardt and 20 km from Thohoyandou the capitol of Venda land.
Litchis in festive season
Gilbert Packers are about 20 km from Louis Trichardt on the R524. The Gilberts and Hugos farm litchis, macadamias and avocados. Their orchards can be seen from the road and their Litchis are harvested from about end of November to mid-January each year. A group visit to Gilbert Packers Pack house can be arranged through Madi a Thavha mountain lodge – in packing season only.
A Ňanga is an herbal healer in Tshivenda
Herbal healer Elvis Mavunga prepares his indigenous medicinal plants in Gilbert Packer’s former fruit stall next to the road. Elvis is well known among locals and plant lovers. Botanists often consult with him when it comes to the local names and medicinal properties of indigenous plants in Northern Limpopo.
Elvis has a warm and outgoing personality and gladly welcomes visitors. He is sometimes out in the field to collect plants to use in his medicine powders or teas. His clients normally come and sit with him on the floor for consultations – and on the floor grinding, talking to anyone passing from the stoep, is where one will find him most of the times.
Elvis received this calling from his ancestors through dreams as is the tradition in Venda culture and has been involved with the healing properties of indigenous plants and minerals of Limpopo for most of his life. He says he is a Ňanga (herbal healer in Tshivenda language) not a Lithwasane (spiritual healer) but says he belief in the inter-connectedness between everything and that he can feel this connection people has with the earth and Mother nature.
Royal Macadamia packers and farm stall
Driving further east on the R524 following the slopes of the foothills of the Soutpansberg the road cuts through commercial farmland with macadamia nut, avocado, pecan nut, litchi, banana and mango orchards. Royal Mac, one of four macadamia pack houses in Levubu, is situated about 10 km from Gilbert Pack house on this road.
Royal Mac has a little shop adjacent to their pack house with a variety of macadamia nut products; from whole nuts in a couple of coatings like caramel or spicy peri-peri to nut chips for muesli and cookies. Their macadamia flour can be used by gluten intolerant people and make for a delicious substitute for wheat for all Banters out there.
The shop also sells healthy, cold-pressed Macadamia oil at factory price. With its high smoke point and nutty flavour Macadamia oil is a healthy option for stir fries, baking or deep frying and salad dressings. Macadamia oil has a smoke point of 413 degrees F (210 C). The smoke point is the temperature at which fats and oils begin to break down and nutrition and flavour degradation occur. Macadamia oil contains up to 85% monounsaturated fats and has a shelf life of around 2 years. (Don’t miss the Macadamia Clementine cake recipe at the bottom of the article!)
Royal Mac stock other products made with macadamias like nougat from Tzaneen and they have a variety of local preserves, pickles and jams and other nuts such as Pistachio, Cashews and Almonds. They also bag the hard macadamia shells to be used as mulch in gardens or locally as gravel for roads. One even see embedded macadamia shells in cement stepping stones going towards the shop. The shop is not open on Saturdays and Sundays.
Levubu Dried fruit family business
Levubu Dried Fruit in the heart of the Levubu farming community , is where one would like to go next.
Ida took the family business of drying subtropical fruit of the valley over from her mother Emmie Cloete. The Cloetes have been one of the first pioneer families who ‘tamed’ the Levubu valley during the 1930’s. In those years, it rained a lot and they even tried to plant rice on the banks of the Levubu river.
On this farm one can see how fruit like mangoes, pineapples, guavas and bananas of the season are dried and packed. Some fruit like guavas gets sun-dried while other must dry indoors. Ida and André often show visitors their farm and one can buy dried fruit in small packs or in 1 kg bulk bags at the factory. They employ 40 plus people permanently.
From Levubu Dried Fruit one continue east through more subtropical orchards passing the heart of the community with co-op, church and the Primary school. At the next T-junction, you turn right towards Vuwani where you will find the Flower bunch a nursery about 600 m on the left where one can have coffee.
Witte Beetge is one of the biggest Palm and cycad farmers in South Africa. His daughter Marli runs The Flower bunch nursery. From the Flower bunch in Levubu the options are many; either go north towards Tshakhuma’s local fruit market (again on the R524) and visit well known sculptor Mischak Raphalalani or go south back to Madi a Thavha via woodcarver David Murathi at Mashau and Elim where there are many other artists and crafters of northern Limpopo.
Clementine cake with Macadamia nut flour, wheat free and easy.
This cake has Clementine citrus as a primary ingredient. Its origin is roughly based on an orange cake recipe developed by the Sephardi Jews. In popular culture, the cake played a minor part in the plot of the 2013 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. (Wikipedia).Clementine cake keeps well, even gets better after a few days. It is a damp, dense and aromatic flourless cake which can be served as a pudding with cream or with tea.
- 4-5 Clementines (about 375 grams total weight)
- One can use naartjies/limes/small oranges
- When you use lemons, increase the sugar to 250 g
- 6 eggs
- 225 g sugar
- 250 g ground almonds/macadamia’s
- 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
- pinch of salt
- After removing greens & markings, put the whole Clementines in a pot of water -with skin and all.
- Bring to the boil and cook for 2 hours, covered with lid.
- Cook on low heat to prevent burning. About an hour.
- Drain when cool, cut each clementine in ¼’s and remove the pips.
- Then pulp everything – skins, pith, fruit – in a liquidizer.
- Butter and line the bottom and sides of a 21 cm Spring form tin.
- Preheat oven to gas mark 5/190°C.
- Beat the eggs. Add the sugar, almonds, baking powder and salt.
- Mix well, adding the pulped oranges.
- Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 1 hour, when a skewer will come out clean.
- Cover it with foil or grease proof after about 40 minutes to stop the top burning .
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool, on a rack, but in the tin.
- When the cake is cold, you can take it out of the tin.
- You can slightly anglicize it, by adding a glaze made of icing sugar mixed to paste with lemon juice.