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A Karoo roadside braai

Saddle chops with kerrieboontjies and curried onions

Thoughts turn to braai when you’ve been driving for five hours, with three more to go, and your friends in Cape Town are texting you saying it’s hot, hot, hot in the middle of winter beneath the lovely mountain.

Koppies in all directions. Lowslung mountains with milky purple coats. Verges of tufted fynbos, knobbly Karoo herbs and an occasional scrunched Coke can. Ry-gos interrupt you with an enforced break for a stretch and a waft of the cigarette smoke from the rally dudes in the logo-spangled 4×4 in front. Giant trucks grind past, blowing you back into your car as the blanket-wrapped marshal lady steps out of her booth and moves the Stop sign, waving you to go.

And I’m looking left and right, glancing with raised eyebrow at the occasional poignancy of a beautiful semi-desert creature having become roadkill, its only crime having misjudged the speed of a mechanical beast.

A theme for tonight’s braaied supper forms in my head. A Karoo Roadside Braai. No no, we’re not going to cook some of that roadkill. In any case, it’s already half-cooked from the sun beating on its leathered flesh and the fumes of overladen bakkies and logistics trucks and diesel-spewing buses lending it a smoky flavour for the circling black and white birds of prey to savour.

No. I’m thinking of the bits and pieces of things in jars and brown bags we’ve picked up along the way, at a roadside stall here, a padstal there, and maybe a butchery or two. Oh, and from our back garden at the Tuishuise in Cradock where we had picked plump, perky lemons to take home.

From the Kamdeboo Padstal at Aberdeen, a depressed town 50km from Graaff-Reinet on the road from Beaufort West, we had bought a jar of ‘Norman’s Nectar – pure Karoo honey’ made by a farmer, GA Featherstone, from just outside the town. The honey is beautifully, sensuously herbaceous, infused as it is with the sweet sap of many Karoo plants growing at your feet in this sunbaked bush.

From Granaat, a farm deli in the main drag in Laingsburg where we always stop for a jar of this or that, we bought a jar each of kerrieboontjies and kerrie uie (curried beans and curried onions). At Granaat, the nice lady always remarks, ‘Are you on your way back to Sutherland?” even though every time we go we tell her (again) that we left Sutherland three years ago and are living in Cape Town. Still, she remembers us, and that’s always a nice thing to happen in a country shop. From the butchery next door to Granaat I bought enough saddle chops for a hungry driver.

We did not pass Sutherland, obviously, but I did have in my larder at home a bottle of Erwin Coetzee’s Sutherland Karoo olive oil from his farm Bobbejaankrans, which he and his wife Alta sell in their superb Hantam Huis shop in Calvinia.

All of this came together on a plate later on, after I had hugged the cats, poured a glass of wine and got some coals going. There was no point in doing anything to the kerrieboontjies (curried beans) or kerrie uie (curried onions), as the point of buying them had been to have instant (cold) vegetable accompaniments available after a long day’s drive.

For the lamb saddle chops, which must be cooked quickly on scorching hot coals over a high heat and left to rest for a few minutes if you would like them tender, I mixed a good dollop or two of the Karoo honey with the juice of a Cradock Tuishuis lemon and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil made in the lee of the Verlatenkloof Pass mountain in the Sutherland Karoo, which had found its way to Cape Town via Calvinia. That’s a lot of Karoo roadside.

It’s a lovely way to end such a long journey, especially for the driver. The stops at the various farm stalls give your body a break, freshen you up and perhaps make the journey a little safer for all of you. And these farm stalls are a treasure trove of all of the things that contribute to what we might call Karoo Kuisine.

Some of these shops are better than others. When you visit them, use the labelling of the bottles and jars as a guide, because what you should be looking for is the preserves, jams and relishes made by the local tannies in their farm or townhouse kitchens, and the meat raised by local farmers. I find myself drawn to the labels that are less ‘done’, if you see what I mean. The simpler the better, or you might end up with something you might just as well have bought at Pick n Pay.

And at some of these shops you may find a wine section or a range of local liqueurs, muscadels or witblits, to ease the driver’s tired body at the end of the day.

But if a Karoo Roadside Braai – done in your own back garden at home – sounds like too much hard work after a day’s drive, hey, just buy a packet of biltong and a bottle of witblits and chill out until you fall asleep.

First published in Weekend Argus 2011

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