Story and photos by Lucinda Frye
Diverse and indigenous cuisine brought by the many ethnic people to St. Maarten from all over the world piques our interest. To this end, we are on a quest to find where it comes from, if it is used for celebrations, if it is exotic to some but everyday food to others. Anything to do with keeping the body and soul nourished with that which is produced from good old terra firma, is what makes the world go around.
The drive from Knysna to Arniston was pretty uneventful. Back along the freeway past the Wilderness, Sedgefield and George, we continued south along the coastal road, stopping only for lunch at a “pie” shop! My goodness –these pies were incredible! Chicken, chicken mushroom and venison were our choices.
We had made arrangements to stay with friends in Arniston and duly arrived to find their new holiday house was just beautiful; built out of stone with a thatch roof – typical of many houses in South Africa. The thatch is made from reeds, usually with wooden beams and no ceiling. Yes, creepy crawlies do live in it if they can get in, but that is part of life in Africa.
Lying on the shores of Marcus Bay, just north-east of Cape Agulhas, Arniston is a tranquil little fishing village also known as Waenhuiskrans (wagon shelter cliff) after a large low-tide sea cave – eroded in such a way as to resemble the structures used by settlers to house their oxen and wagons.
Numerous shipwrecks abound on this jagged coastline. “The Arniston sank here in 1815 after the ship, already laden with wounded soldiers on the way from Ceylon to England via Cape Town, decided to cut away its three anchors and run ashore due to heavy winds having destroyed its sails. It broke up on the sharp rocks of the Arniston Reef and only six of the original 378 passengers lived to tell of the disaster – one of the worst in South Africa’s history.”
The houses of the fishermen are just so quaint. Some of these white-washed wall, thatched roof homes are more than two centuries old and a national monument in its entirety.
The next day, we did what we had made the road trip for – scattering the ashes of two brothers who are now at peace. We did this on the rocks in front of the family holiday home at Cape L’Agulhas.
Agulhas is at the most southern tip of the African continent. It is bleak and windswept and it is here that the two oceans meet – the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. On fine days, this is a wonderful place to be as the rock fishing and shellfish abound. The rock pools are magical places for the young and old to explore. On not such fine days, one tends to gather around a large open fire either inside or outside, around the corner from the wind and have a “braai” (barbeque).
Having had our little ceremony, we headed down the dirt road to the very tip of Africa, past the southernmost light house. We were delighted to see something we did not know about – right at the centre of where the two oceans meet is a plaque, and right in front is a huge relief map of Africa. Walking over the relief map was intriguing. We tried to work out the rivers and mountains we know, and the ones we did not know – it is surprising to realize one did not know how long, how big, how high, rivers, mountains and lakes really are. When one visits these places, one tends to hone in on one area!
On the drive back to Arniston, we stopped in at Struisbaai. This is where there used to be a large fishing village too. The longest of white sand beaches stretches along towards the craggy cliffs of Arniston. Scrub, fresh, salt-laden breezes and the smell of fresh fish are still noticeable although the large industry has dwindled.
Back in Arniston, we were treated to a braai of freshly caught tuna – finely sliced as sashimi with the trimmings – and a couple other cold-water fish. A keen fisherman, our host also minced up some Alikreukel (very like the West Indian top shells) and perlemoen (abalone) caught on the nearby rocks. As it was winter, a huge fire was in the fireplace, and as wine country is nearby, of course, there was plenty of red wine!
We went foraging for porcini mushrooms, too. I have only done this as a child in Rhodesia. Then, as now, I felt a little concerned we would get a poisonous one in the bag, but we all survived the dish of decadence put before us without mishap. Foraging took place on a friend’s farm in the Bredasdorp area.
The first big construction in the town of Bredasdorp was a Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1838. The town was named after Michiel van Breda, the first Mayor of Cape Town, who was also known as the father of South Africa's merino sheep industry. Yes, this area of the Overberg has plenty of sheep farms and other wild life.
Having spent a few days enjoying the delights of Arniston, we then made our way back to Cape Town, where the wintery weather was in full force. The drive back was uneventful with a stop at our favourite farmstall. This place has grown and modernized; it has not lost its overall character, but now the fruit and veggies are not displayed in huge, open pine boxes – sometimes modernization can go the other way. Opposite the farmstall is one of the huge apple farms found in the region.
Unfortunately, there is a “not so delightful side” to many areas in the Western Cape, for it is here that many from countries up north and around the South African country have deemed it better to live in the Cape than where they hail from. There is no housing available, so one sees mile upon mile of squatter camps – tin shanties, cheek by jowl, with possibly no running water, rows of latrines along the boundaries and electricity taken from the powerlines nearby. However, each of the tin shanties has one or even two satellite dishes on the roof.
Here the Africans still live with their African traditions and on our way back, we saw a number of events taking place that are normally held in the bush rather than on the roadside grass of the freeway: A couple of white painted young men (part of the coming-of-age ritual); groups of folks dressed in white flowing robes holding a church service – one we saw appeared to be a baptism where the candidates were being dunked in a stream. Wherever you go in Africa, the sounds, sights and smells sink deep into one’s very being.
Go out and catch a fresh tuna (longfin is divine).
Cut it up (can slice thinly) – the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat.
Arrange prettily on a platter alternating with firm white fish, if you caught that too.
Sprinkle a few sesame seeds over and some chopped spring bits.
Serve with soya sauce and wasabi.
Like West Indian Top Shells, these need to be collected off the rocks.
Soak in a bucket of fresh water until ready to prepare.
Boil in a little seawater, drain and tip them out or pick the meat out of the shells and remove the tail-end bit (if you prefer).
Cut off the “trapdoor” shell.
Serve sliced with lemon and garlic butter.
Alternatively, this is usually cooked in a cast iron pot over coals, but is perfect for stovetop too.
5 cups cleaned and minced alikreukel meat
2 cups onion – chopped (soak in some cold water for 10 mins)
3¾ TBL garlic – chopped
⅔ cups butter
Good splash white wine
1 cup double cream
Good pinch salt
Melt butter in pot.
Add onions, garlic, pinch salt, and cook that slowly about 10 minutes.
Add white wine and reduce by half.
Add minced alikreukel and then the cream.
Simmer 15 minutes until the cream has thickened slightly.
Take the pot off the heat, add a dollop of butter and stir very well.
Adjust seasoning with salt, freshly cracked black pepper, lemon juice and lemon zest.
Serve with rice.
Traditional Melk Tart
Puff Pastry, bought or homemade
750ml full cream milk
About 6 peach leaves or 2½ ml almond essence
2 cinnamon sticks
3 eggs, separated
Preheat oven 395° F.
Line pie dish with puff pastry, chill.
Heat milk, peach leaves or almond flavouring.
Add half the sugar and cinnamon.
Heat to boiling point.
Mix rest of the ingredients, except the egg whites, with a little more milk and stir quickly into the milk mixture as soon as it starts to boil.
Cook until the mixture is thick, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat.
Beat egg whites until stiff, fold into heated milk.
Spoon into prepared puff pastry crust.
Bake 30 minutes until brown spots begin to form on top.
Sprinkle top lightly with cinnamon or cinnamon sugar.