Cooking outdoors on an open fire is an integral part of life here at the southern tip of Africa. In fact, it is part of all societies with a frontier history. All over Africa it is commonly the poor that still uses large volumes of wood, mainly because it is the only form of cheap cooking fuel still available to them. And although it contributes to deforestation, its seems hypocritical to force them to use much more expensive types of fuel.
The more affluent segments of our society are gradually moving toward more sustainable forms of cooking fuel for their recreational barbecues or “braais” as they are commonly called here. Charcoal and “bushblocks” made from invasive bush harvested from grassland areas are but two examples.
The fact that we have such nice sunny weather all year round, does encourage us to get out and cook on open fires. Our family usually get together on a Sunday to cook and catch up with each other.
Although meat is usually in abundance, this bread is usually the star when we make it. You could this in an oven, but it is more fun outside. You could also use white bread flour, and drop the olives and rosemary if thats not your thing, but this is how we do it. We like to eat it whilst hot with home made butter and mom’s home made fig jam. Use a good quality cast iron pot or Dutch Oven. If you do not have drippings, use good quality butter or olive oil.
Cooking on an open fire is not an exact science, and it is difficult to assess and regulate but if you do this on a regular basis, you develop a feel for it. But be aware, it keeps you on your toes, much more so than you trusted convection oven.
1 kilogram Brown Bread Flour
10 grams Yeast
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Sugar
2 ½ tablespoons Rosemary, Finely chopped
200 grams Black Olives, Stones removed
3 tablespoons Drippings or Butter
850 milliliters Luke warm water
1. Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add drippings and rub through with finger tips.
2. Add the water and kneed until a soft dough is formed. Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and let it rise until double in size.
3. Cut the destoned olives in half. Set aside about one-quarter to use as decoration on top of the bread and chop the remaining three-quarters into rough chunks.
4. Once the dough has doubled in size, knock it down and add the chopped rosemary and chopped olives. Mix through. Shape balls of dough roughly the size of a tennis ball. Arrange these in a well-greased cast iron pot. Make sure that the entire bottom of the pot is covered. Add the remaining olives on top of the dough balls, and a few twigs rosemary if you like. Cover with tight-fitting lid and put in a warm place until the dough had proofed to double the original size.
5. If you are going to bake the bread in the oven, you need to preheat your oven to 200 ℃. Then add the pot and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.
6. If you are going to bake the bread outside on an open fire wait until the coals are nice and hot. Make sure that about half a spade full are spread out underneath the pot. The pot should be elevated to about 15 cm above the coals. Add a small amount of coals (about half of the volume you have underneath) on top of the lid and spread these evenly. Keep an eye on the bread, you do not want to burn it. If you see smoke from
the pot, something is burning. Cook over low heat for about one hour. Test with a skewer after one hour to see if the bread is cooked through. It should come away clean without any doughy bits. It should have a nice brown crust.