This Christmas we did our twenty-first turkey together our Weber kettle braai. It might be the last.
Twenty years ago, before I met The Husband, I lived in a little cottage in Cape Town. My kitchen was grandly equipped with a TV grill (who remembers those?), a borrowed electric frying pan and a counter-top two-plate oven and stove combination. That year, I moved out of the house I had shared with the ex-husband-to-be, leaving a kitchen I loved. Except for the “moaning minnie”, more usually known as a lazy susan, in the corner cupboard. Anyhow, as usual, I digress.
Back to my little cottage of which I have fond memories but no photographs – no digital cameras then, let alone cameras on brick-sized mobile phones – so your imagination will have create its own pictures from my recollections. Even though my culinary exploits were seriously restricted by the limitations of the equipment at my disposal, I managed to have more than the odd dinner party. The menu, however, could never include a Sunday (or any day) roast of a size that might feed five, let alone the proverbial five thousand. As Christmas approached, I realised that I had a problem. A big one: the turkey.
I was determined that my first Christmas as a happily single woman would not only be in my home, but that, come hell or high water, it would include a turkey. Homecooked.
Bear with me as I digress. Again. Necessarily.
Another challenge I had to confront, also of a culinary and entertainment nature, was a complete dearth of the accoutrement required for a braai (barbecue). Sacrilege in any self-respecting South African’s home. For the odd occasion when I did want to braai, I was able to borrow from longsuffering and supportive friends and pay in kind, i.e. with a space in which to braai, eat and party. We had lots of those. Of course, I got to clean up; a happy trade-off.
I needed both an oven large enough to accommodate a turkey. And a braai.
Discovering the Weber
My first real memory of the Weber kettle braai goes back to the late 1980’s, early 1990’s when I still lived in Johannesburg. It was being touted as the new, next best thing. Especially for roasting whole chickens. In those days I lived on my own, and truth be told, rarely ate meat. That, and living in an apartment with a very small balcony, meant that space – especially outside – was at a premium, all of which conspired against the braai. I do, however, remember an excellent meal with a friend, not long before I moved away. Yes, it was the ubiquitous chicken and again, yes, it was in a Weber. Not long after that, I left Johannesburg for the Eastern Cape to join the-then-not-, and future-ex-husband-to-be. Thenceforth, and ‘till my new life as a gay-divorcee-to-be, and the turkey conundrum, I hadn’t encountered the Weber again, or given it even a passing thought.
Fast-forward five or so years and I had to make a plan. I was already self-employed and those who know anything about self-employment and consulting, know that it’s neither glamorous nor lucrative, particularly when your clients are non-profits in the post-school education and training sector. Add a dose of starting-from-scratch, and there not much in the budget, so when a project on which I had been working suddenly yielded a windfall – in November – the shopping list of essential nice-to-haves included one Weber kettle braai. After all, a turkey is just a big chicken, isn’t it?
So, I went shopping: it had to be the big one, i.e. the 57cm job. Duly purchased, it came home and was assembled and instantly tested. It was beautiful and it worked.
The acid test would be the turkey and, lo and behold, it worked.
The next twenty – years….
Not long after that, I moved into another cottage and of course Weber came along. It became the preferred cooking mode for braais, roast chicken and, for The Husband and I, a particular leg of lamb. It was his first visit to my home, introduction to my parties, and the cooking of that leg of lamb, his first introduction to the wonders of the Weber.
That happened in December 20 years ago, but neither the month, nor the Weber saw a turkey even though it was safely ensconced in the deep freeze.
Therein lay the rub. Said turkey had to be addressed: it could not live in the deep freeze until the following Christmas. As it happened, somewhere between that leg of lamb and Easter of the following year, The Husband and I had become “an item” and we decided that the turkey had to be dealt with. It could not, as an erstwhile friend had suggested, that January, be a late Christmas celebration. It just couldn’t be. The notion made me feel ill. That Christmas was one I shall never forget; it had not been just sans turkey, but it was sans my mother, and had been spent with my grieving father.
I’m not sure if you have noticed that the average size of turkeys has shrunk over the last twenty-odd years which, my former poultry farmer husband confirms, is a function of the market and the demand for more tender meat. Anyhow, that turkey 20 years ago was still of the larger variety and when there are just two of you, a lot of turkey can be bit too much of a good thing. So it had to be shared. Over Easter, the weather in Cape Town is usually nothing short of spectacular. It’s not too hot and although the South Easter can howl, it’s less likely then, than in late spring and early summer. It’s a great time of year to entertain outside (and visit Cape Town and the Winelands) and as my “new” cottage was as spatially challenged as my previous one (and current kitchen), most entertaining had to be al fresco.
Invitations extended, our attention turned to the turkey. As anyone who’s cooked a turkey knows, it’s not just a case of taking it out of the deep freeze to thaw; it cannot thaw too quickly – it’s fowl after all and can attract all sorts of nasties. This means that one lives with a dead turkey for quite a while. We decided that said turkey would be marinated in, among other things red wine (of course!) which meant it would have to be turned and cosseted. In the process, The Husband (then not) named that turkey, Fred; thenceforth, every turkey that we have cooked, has been named Fred and cooked on the Weber.
That was the beginning of The Husband’s epiphany. It was not long after this that he became not just a Weber convert, but a Weber advocate. In the next two decades, the main course virtually every celebration, not to mention innumerable gatherings as well as meals for just the two of us, have been cooked on that Weber. Fish and fowl, animal and vegetable.
Weber moved to six houses with me, five with him, and from Cape Town to McGregor. It has lived under cover, in the elements and now in its advanced age, in the shed, protected from the heat, hail and other elements that McGregor endures.
In 2018 we did two Christmas turkeys because we did a Christmas in July as part of our Sunday Supper offering. There have also been years that we have done more than one turkey over Christmas – as a contribution to someone else’s meal. Every year since 1998, bar 1999 when my mother died, a turkey has been prepared in the Weber and eaten at our table – shared with waifs and strays, friends and family, and friends who are family.
Although we have now built an enclosed braai (room) which is used at least weekly, our now very delicate and well-worn Weber is still used for every roast that we do – not just turkeys and chickens. Roasts for Sunday Supper are always done on the Weber and our guests always comment that the smoky flavour adds so much to the meal – which includes the gravy which is made in the drip tray which I deglaze with various liquids.
The advanced age and delicacy of Mr Weber means that he may have to be pensioned off. Bits that can be replaced, have been replaced; legs have been riveted back on. Sadly, though, his belly’s wearing thin as are some other vital bits.
To get a replacement, we may have to hock the house! The first one cost just under R700 and when I looked at the Weber website, a new one will cost more than R4,000. Mr Weber will continue receive tender loving care until we have a stash of cash for a replacement.
There it is – until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
All photos (other than otherwise stated) including the photos of photos are my own.