Heritage food: my take

In South Africa, in September, we celebrate our combined heritage.  Like so many countries, we are a bit of a melting pot but in South Africa heritage is also the site of much contestation.  However, I won’t go into that, except to say that Heritage Day precipitates two things.  One is a public holiday and the other is South Africa’s shared love of gathering around a fire on which a meal is cooked.  Yes, the barbecue.  In South Africa, though, it’s the braaivleis* or shisa** nyama*** that is virtually universally traditional.  Needless to say, when this particular public holiday spawns a public holiday on a Monday, Sunday Supper needs to reflect that.  I had already been thinking about the menu, but had not come up with anything firm, when early in September, I get this direct message on Instagram:

“Are you by any chance doing lunch/dinner on Sunday 23 September.  Can you recommend a place to overnight in McGregor! Thought we would come and test your kitchen and catch up??”

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather.  Ms Jolly Hockey Sticks, Dr Groundwater and I had all been – yes, you guessed it, again – at university together.  All of us in the Geography department and she and I in the same residence.  Other than bumping into her at a local market well nigh 20 years ago, and hearing Dr  Groundwater elucidate about the drought and his speciality on a local radio station, I had seen neither of them since those days; other than her following my Instagram account, we are not in touch.  The accommodation part was easy and within a couple of days, The Den was booked for them.

In addition to their advance booking for Sunday Supper, dear friends, Mr & Mrs Gummi, from Cape Town, had asked to book our Little Room and yes, especially so that they could be here for Sunday Supper.  Now, there is something you should know about Mr Gummi.  Not only are he and The Husband dedicated carnivores and bosom buddies who hail from the same part of the world, but Mr Gummi is a former restauranteur and chef.  We met him – and them – in his restaurant.  Now, it’s one thing having a casual braai or a dinner around the table in one’s home, and quite another when, so to speak, the boot is on the other foot:  there is just a little pressure.

Back to the menu.  Of course, it needed a heritage theme reflecting both South Africa and our Scottish roots. It is not practical to do a “common or garden” braai with my kitchen constraints and given that Sunday Suppers now have a set format of starter, main and sweet.  Two things that had been part of last year’s menu would feature:  the starter which had consisted of a paté made with local fish, and the sweet.

The final menu:

The two patés:  I cannot give you specific recipes for either, except to explain what they consist of and how I make them.

Angel fish paté

This is a paté usually made with a smoked fish (snoek) which is a rather coarsely textured, very bony, oily fish.  I prefer to make it with angel fish – the flavour is more delicate than the heavy smoked flavour of the snoek.  Either way, both fish are readily available if one has access to fresh fish or the sea.  We have, for years used the same fishmonger and on our most recent trip, stocked up.  Funnily enough, angel fish is one fish that benefits from being frozen.  Don’t know why.

I make the paté with fish that’s is left over from a main meal – usually done on the braai – cooked over hot coals, on the skin, not turned and basted with a mixture of olive oil, butter, parsley, garlic and lemon juice.  The Husband reckons he only knows how long to braai the fish for because I make just the right quantity of the libation.  I’m not so sure, but I’ll take it!

The cold fish is separated from the skin and flaked into a bowl into which a spritz of dry white wine is added, followed by a dollop of cottage cheeses, salt and pepper to taste, and finally, in this instance, wild garlic leaves and either chives or green onion tops.

All this is combined until the correct consistency is achieved – without mashing or puréeing – adjusting the quantities and the seasoning as you go along.  If you are in South Africa and using wild garlic (Tulbaghia), be judicious with the quantities.  It is very (the actual word begins with an “f”) strong and it develops over time, especially when combined with dairy.

Stash it in the fridge until you are ready to use it – either in a single receptacle or in individual dishes – depending on what you’re planning to use it for.

Homemade maaskaas (cottage cheese) paté with wild herbs

Making cottage cheese is easier than you think.  In South Africa, you can buy cultured soured milk.  I have, when I could get really, proper (how’s that for English) full cream milk, soured it and made cottage cheese from that.  Full fat milk is getting harder and harder to come by, so at the suggestion of a friend, cheated and bought the maas.  I treated it exactly the same way:

Put a colander into a large bowl to catch the whey and then line the colander with muslin.  Dump in the maas and tie up the muslin.  The whey will drain out and you will need to pour that away if it fills quickly (on to your pot plants or into the compost because it’s actually full of goodness).  It will need to hang for at least 24 hours, but better for 48 and you will have cottage cheese of the most fabulous creamy consistency to which you can add the flavourings you want.

The process followed for my first ever batch of cottage cheese. The first of many

For this supper, I added wild garlic and suurings known in English as wild sorrel.  I grew up eating these sour little leaves and flowers – in the Eastern Cape they are mauve and where I live, in the Western Cape they are yellow and flower in abundance in spring – especially this year.

Wild herbs picked from my garden: Oxalis, Tulbaghia and Portulacaria Afra (also known as spekboom or the jade plant)

A bit like the angel fish paté, adding the seasoning and flavourings is a matter of personal taste, remembering the caveat about the wild garlic leaves, and which applies just as much to conventional garlic.  When you’re happy, either serve immediately – the flavour is better at room temperature – or store until you’re ready to use.

Angel fish paté, maaskaas with wild herbs served with crostini

Springbok loin on the braai

The second course consisted of Springbok loin which had been rubbed in a mixture of spicy plum jam, Worcestershire sauce and olive oil to which I added a teaspoon of crushed coriander seed, a crushed clove of garlic and about a dessertspoon of fresh, grated ginger.  Having marinated for about 4 or so hours, the loins were braaied (grilled) over hot coals until they were medium rare, and then removed and allowed to rest.

Braaied Springbok loin

Some will say that this is too rare but remember two things:  venison is well matured which makes it dry and easy to overcook and secondly, as I have to keep it warm and avoid overcooking as I have to wait for diners to be ready for their main course, I elect to take the meat off when it’s under-done and allow it to rest.

Braaied Springbok loin served with roasted cauliflower and carrot, baby potatoes and spicy plum jam

In terms of quantities:  Springbok is a small animal and one loin serves about two people.

Fiona’s Scottish Milk Tart

The dessert, when I served it for the first time last year, was an instant hit and has become a regular feature of Sunday Supper menus.  It consists of the filling of a traditional South African melktert (milk tart) served with a side of Scottish shortbread in either a lovely little glass or, more prettily in my mother’s Royal Albert coffee cups.

Recipes for both the shortbread and the milk tart to follow in due course.

By all accounts, it was a menu and a meal that was a success!

Post Script

  1. Thanks to Buffalo Creek wines for the award-winning wine that was served with the meal.
  2. Special thanks to Ms Jolly Hockey Sticks and Dr Groundwater for coming to McGregor just for Sunday Supper, heading back to Pringle Bay the following morning, and to Mrs & Mrs Gummi for both visiting and their gracious patience!

* direct translation is “grilled meat” and usually shortened to braai pronounced “bry” – like “fry”

** shisa, according to an online dictionary, means to heat or to burn

*** nyama in many of the Nguni languages, including isiZulu and the one I am most familiar with, isiXhosa, is meat

There it is – until next time

Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

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