Like so many others, our family gathers every Sunday for lunch. Under a tree in the sunny backyard, we gather to eat, have a glass of wine, joke, laugh and gossip. On the odd occasion, we even irritate each other. But come next Sunday, we all gather, however brittle from the last encounter, with rehabilitated enthusiasm, to do what we do best: braai rib.
It is my genuine belief that if one would stich together all the lamb and mutton ribs that we as a family have barbequed over the years, one would end up with a floating vessel much, much larger than the original biblical one. It would be big enough to safely float, not only with two of each species on board, but a few extra Dorper sheep as well. Just for us to braai.
Ever since some family member got violently ill from drinking the cooked fat of eight obese galjoene many years ago, we generally avoid fish. For a while, we cooked our chicken in Coca-Cola, until someone pointed out that Coke is really, really bad for you. So we stopped eating chicken too. Just in case he had his facts all mixed up.
In my braai-obsessed family, I am the reprobate. The one who has lost his moral compass. The good-for-nothing, who denies Namibian sheep their natural salvation by not braaiing them. Make no mistake, I love to cook and eat our woolly friends, it’s just … I am not really big on the braai thing. I find it rather boring. I do believe that we are all born with a finite number of braais embedded within us, and when you have fulfilled your quota, well that is it. No more.
During the sunny summer months, my contribution to the Sunday family meat-fest is limited to breads and salads, and called upon only when spongy gums indicate that a scurvy outbreak among the family is imminent.
Come winter, however, everything changes. We all migrate from the tree and the backyard into the kitchen and dining room. Gone are the wood and the smoke. Out come the family china, chips and cracks and all.
If summer is carefree and jovial, winter is careful and contemplative. It is the season for shifting our focus inward and slowing down life’s tempo.
It is reflected in our produce, our cooking and our eating.
As if out of nowhere, beans and legumes find their way to our plates. Mainly as soups, but also in slow cooked stews and bredies.
Bredies with tomato, green beans, lentils and pumpkin are among the family favorites and they are cooked the Cape Malay way. With ginger, garlic, cardamom, cumin, chilies and cinnamon sticks.
Soups are made from sugar beans, lentils, split-peas, squash, pumpkin, turnips, potatoes and leeks. To these we add fatty sheep’s tails, hambones, marrow-bones and smoked pork specks for extra comfort and flavour.
Mom bakes her potato-yeast bread, which is dense, large and very, very comforting. I’ll make corn-bread, flat breads and walnut and sultana breads.
In cast-iron pots with orange lids we’ll braise ox-tail, cheeks and brisket. Roast root vegetables with rosemary, thyme or oregano and a little honey. And no one will crave for asparagus or rhubarb, as their time is over.
The demand for curries will be high this winter – just as it was the year before, and the year before then. Made with shanks, shoulder, butt, flank and neck, these will be cooked long and slow. The kitchen will be full – of happy faces and joyous conversations. And I’ll be guarding the pots closely with wooden spoon in hand just in case someone’s curiosity gets the better of him or her. Someone will be rolling out the naan and puris whilst another will wash the rice. Freshly roasted cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon and fenugreek will be roasted and pounded into a garam masala that will warm the blood and tongues of everyone. And will finish our curries with coconut cream and fresh coriander and ever more chilli.
Our winter table will also be dignified with Mexican Moles. Chicken, pork and duck will be smothered with these thick colourful sauces: mole poblano, mole rancheros, mole coloradito and mole verde.
Only on the odd occasion, will we return to the backyard and the fire. This time though we pot-roast the leg of a young springbok, stuffed with smoked lardons, fresh rosemary, thyme, garlic, and sweating in sweet sherry and juniper berries.
As a rule, we do not bicker, complain, gossip or squabble during winter. It does not fit with the need for comfort, warmth and companionship. We sit close together and talk low, slow and not too much. And most of all, we don’t braai, eat rib or make salad.
I did not attend this past Sunday’s family feast. Instead, I focused on this, the last summer salad. Lime-cured beef salad with pear and sprouts. And I thought about Southeast Asia where this dish originated and where they have no real winter. Are we not lucky with bredie and broth?