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Springbok versus gammon: And the winner is …

19 December 2023

It was a Christmas eat off, with a hungry alien plant invasion manager in one corner and a famished cultural and nature guide in another.

Wendy Maduwa faced off with Howard Geach in the place they both love, the privately owned Greater Cradle Nature Reserve – a 9000 hectare UNESCO world heritage site that is home to two active paleoanthropological digs, Gladysvale and Malapa.

And the man responsible for cooking them their favourite festive fare was Chef Sam Ramokoka, executive chef at both the Cradle Boutique Hotel and the exclusive new eco hideaway, Riverhorse Lodge in the Cradle of Humankind.

Having cleared acres of invasive alien species like Blackwattle, Pompom weed, Pyracantha, Bugweed, Jerusalem cherry and Pampas grass, 27-year-old Maduwa – who has a Bachelor of Social Science with an Honours degree in Geography and Environmental Science from the University of Pretoria needed to celebrate.

Geach, who launched the Malapa Human Origins Tours at the Greater Cradle Nature Reserve nine years ago, agreed.

They issued a challenge to Chef Sam who came up with a pan seared Springbok fillet dish for him and a festive favourite honey glazed ham recipe for her (see recipes below).

Said Geach: “The Greater Cradle Nature Reserve offers so many experiences in a truly beautiful landscape, including hiking, driving or just sitting around a fire. Seeing 60+ endangered Cape vultures on an antelope carcass within sight of the Johannesburg skyline is always a special experience. As is seeing herds of 120+ eland or blesbok on the grasslands.”

As he guides visitors, local and international, across the Reserve, he says they are fascinated by humans long journey to modernity. “The story of the evolution of us really brings a perspective of time and life that few other experiences can. A recurring comment from guests is that the experience has given them an entirely new perspective of who they themselves are. There is so much layered into the landscapes of the Cradle that it represents a national treasure for education, for conservation, for science and for recreation and tourism.”

Geach started guiding around 1979 while a student at Wits, said his interests include geology, palaeoanthropology, stone age, iron age, wilderness education, history, art and the power of tourism to contribute significantly to the SA economy. Gauteng and North West have all of these attributes and I endeavour to interpret the wonderful stories in these provinces to guests to the best of my ability.”

For conservationist Maduwa, the preservation of this pristine piece of nature Geach is referring to is paramount.

She said: “I chose this career path because I have always had a passion for addressing environmental challenges and promoting sustainable practices. I also consider myself a humanitarian because of all the community engagement work that I do in both my personal and professional life, I found that human geography and environmental science allow me to feed into my passion by simplifying complex environmental concepts and making them accessible and understandable to people from various backgrounds.”

Chef Sam said he considers it a privilege to work in the pristine natural Reserve. He said he chose the Springbok for Geach because he is often inspired by the herds of plains game he sees as he drives (to supervise the kitchens) between the Cradle Boutique Hotel and its upmarket luxurious sister hotel, Riverside Lodge.

“Howard takes people on Origins Tours through the Reserve where they, too, see all kinds of buck as well as giraffe warthog and zebra. It seemed a fitting dish for him.”

He chose the glazed ham for Maduwa because he said: “It’s such a traditional Christmas dish, and Wendy has such lovely old fashioned values – like kindness and a sense of fairness and a dedication to helping others.”

Maduwa is also responsible for community service initiatives on the Reserve.



Pan-seared Springbok fillet served with creamy polenta & cranberry and red wine jus

Springbok loin fillet (or beef if you prefer)

Slice the meat into fillets and then rub with olive oil and salt and pepper or use your favourite spice mix and leave until the meat is at room temperature. Braai the meat till tender on hot coals or sear in a hot pan. Do not overcook as the meat will become dry. Chef Sam’s tip is to baste it with butter as you fry it. Leave to rest

Creamy polenta


  • 1 cup (250ml) instant polenta
  • 4 cups (1 litre) water
  • 1 tsp (5ml) salt
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • 60 to 100ml cream (optional)

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan; pour polenta slowly into boiling water, whisking constantly until there are no lumps. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until polenta starts to thicken. When polenta is too thick to whisk, stir with a wooden spoon. Polenta is done in about 15 minutes when texture is creamy and the individual grains are tender. Turn off heat and stir in the butter and cheese. You can also add 60/100 mls of cream. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes to thicken.

If you use regular polenta you will have to increase the cook time.

Cranberry and red wine jus


  • 1 TBL butter
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 150ml red wine
  • 1TBL tomato paste
  • 500 ml beef stock
  • 2 TBL Cranberry sauce
  • Chopped thyme and rosemary

In a pan over a medium heat, melt the butter and gently fry the onion for 3 - 4 minutes until soft. Pour in the red wine and allow the alcohol to cook off for 3 minutes. Add the beef stock and tomato paste and bring to the boil and then let simmer. Once the gravy is smooth and glossy, add the cranberry sauce and whisk to dissolve the cranberry sauce into the gravy. Add the chopped herbs and serve with your springbok steaks and polenta along with vegetables of your choice.


Honey and Mustard Glazed Gammon  with an apple gravy


  • 2/3 kg boneless gammon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stick, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp cloves

For the glaze

  • 1 TBL English mustard
  • 3 TBL honey
  • 2 TBL brown sugar

Put the gammon in a deep saucepan. Add the bay leaves, onion, carrots, celery, peppercorns and cloves. Pour over enough cold water to cover the meat, then bring to the boil, cover with a lid, and lower to a gentle simmer for 1 hr 15 mins to 90 minutes depending on the size of the gammon. Turn off the heat and leave the ham to sit in the liquid for 30 mins.

Remove from the liquid  and leave to cool until cold enough to handle. Peel off the thick layer of skin on the gammon to reveal a layer of fat. Discard the skin and score the fat in diamond pattern with a sharp knife.

Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan. Put the ham in a roasting tray lined with foil. Mix together the mustard, honey and sugar in a bowl, then brush half over the ham. Roast for 15 mins, then brush with the remaining glaze. Return to the oven for a further 15 mins or until sticky and brown. Leave to cool for 10 mins before carving into thick slices topped with apple gravy.

Apple gravy


  • 2 TBL butter plus extra butter
  • 1 large apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1 cup (250ml) beef stock or use the liquid the gammon was cooked in
  • Salt and pepper

Heat 2 TBL butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the chopped apple and sauté until caramelised. Remove from heat; add brandy. Cook over medium-high heat for 2 mins. Add stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Using a blender or an immersion blender, puree apple mixture. If a thicker gravy is desired after it's reduced, whisk 10ml cornflour into 2 TBL cold water. Add to apple mixture; bring to a boil, whisking until thickened, about 2 minutes. Whisk in remaining butter and add salt and pepper to taste.