Early winter brings great joys and memories of childhood. Like memories of pomegranates, of which well-known South African poet Ingrid Jonker wrote, “laughter is like a split-open pomegranate.” Laughter was ours as we threw the ripe-red stoep-polished fruit against the cellar wall to crack it open so that we could extract the juicy red sweet sour pearls, the juice of which dribbled down our shirts. These same pearls together with faggots of apple mint my mother added to the remnants of the roasting tin in which the Sunday leg of lamb had been roasted to be scraped together with the caramelly burnt bits to make a delicious dark gravy with its soury minty flavours.
In the farmhouse kitchen it was the time that the pudding steamers are brought out after their summer rest, large white china bowls with burnished tin lids that clipped on top. Bowls were spread with butter and dusted with flour before being filled with a buttery sponge mixture studded with dates or figs or, more simply, scented with lemon and poured on to a pool of equally buttery lemon curd. Or cocoa sifted into the flour and poured over chopped dark chocolate which oozed down the side of the pudding when it was upended.
Then came the warming comfort foods - and for my father what became known as “Meneer se afval”. We would go to fetch meat for the house and also for the farm workers from Spekenham in Bellville and come home with a parcel containing eight sheep’s trotters, a head sawn in half and a cleaned sheep’s tripe. My mother had a wonderful housekeeper called Maggie who would painstakingly clean the trotters and the head, all of which would be placed in a large, enamelled, cast-iron casserole with onions, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns and other seasoning and be covered with cider called William Tell, which was made in Elgin in the '50s and '60s. A luting paste was made from flour and water to seal the lid of the casserole. It was then gently placed in the cool bottom oven of an ancient Aga stove, the door slightly ajar, to work its magic overnight. I am not sure whether it was the smell when the casserole was opened, usually during breakfast in the kitchen the next morning, or the sight of my father eating the sheep’s eyeball which put me off tripe, but it was an important part of winter on the farm - it happened every week!
Things have changed somewhat - we don’t have the Aga any more. But we still turn out a pretty mean autumn lamb casserole.
Autumn Lamb Casserole
2,5 kg lamb shins, cut into 3 cm slices,
4 Tbs Morgenster Extra Virgin Olive Oil,
4 Tbs butter,
3 red onions, roughly chopped,
4 fat cloves garlic, finely sliced,
125 ml brandy,
375 ml red wine,
3 Tbs tomato paste,
3 Tbs apple or quince jelly,
50 ml sherry or red wine vinegar,
750 ml beef stock,
25 g flat leaf parsley, chopped (weight to include stalks),
2 large sprigs thyme,
2 large sprigs rosemary,
2 bay leaves,
6 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into wine cork sizes,
sea salt and freshly milled black pepper.
Make the seasoned flour by adding sea salt and freshly milled black pepper to the flour, seasoning it really well. In a heavy ovenproof casserole, heat the olive oil and in it melt the butter. Dip the lamb pieces into the seasoned flour and shake off the excess. Brown the lamb over medium heat on all sides. Do not overcrowd the pan. Set the pieces aside until you have completed the browning. Add the onions and sauté until it just starts to colour. Slip in the garlic and stir-fry for a few minutes. Add the brandy and immediately set it alight to burn off all the alcohol. Now pour in the red wine, raise the temperature and reduce the red wine by half. Stir in the tomato paste, jelly, sherry vinegar, beef stock, parsley and herbs. You’ll find during the cooking process the herbs will cook off the stalks and you can remove the stalks before serving. Return the meat to the casserole, add the carrots and season well with the sea salt and freshly milled black pepper. Bring to the boil and then bake in the oven at 180°C for 2½ hours. Taste the sauce and readjust the seasoning and serve with Basmati rice and a green vegetable like runner beans.
Now a great dish of lamb like this needs a good wine to go with it - a red preferably - which will match all the flavours of the herbs and the garlic and onions in the sauce.
Some reds which we have enjoyed recently and which would go perfectly with this dish are the Morgenster Lourens River Valley, the 2003 vintage of which has just been released. A deeply delicious blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet franc, so silky sweet on the palate, with beautiful ripe fruit that's still young, a finish of fine-grained ripe tannins and singing gently for quite a while. True liquid velvet from Morgenster, and if you use their liquid gold - the Morgenster Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Estate – in the recipe, you will complete the circle. Onderkloof Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, elegant with all the smells and tastes one expects from Cabernet - haunting thread of oak on the nose follows through to the aftertaste (try the Onderkloof Pinotage too - sappy, warm mulberry flavours with whiffs of choc-mocha and smooth blood plums). Mark and Christine Stevens of Mountain Oaks in Slanghoek grow organic wines and almonds and all manner of organic produce. Christine manages to tease such a depth of colour out of her Pintoage grapes, resulting in a wine which is deeply coloured with smells of cigar and sappy-ripe blackberries, sun-warm and just picked from a hedge. The thread of quality second-fill oak runs through the senses from the first smells to the last tastes.
I don’t have my mother’s cookbook any more to winkle out a steamed fruit pudding, but I do have a fabulous steamed fruit pudding recipe which was given me by Maggie Pepler of Stellenbosch which we have used for years and with great success even in our restaurants as a hot winter pudding for boys.
Maggie’s Steamed Fruit Pudding
185 g sugar,
185 ml water,
125 ml white vinegar,
100 g glacé fruit (50 g cherries, 50 g other fruit such as green figs or currants),
250 g butter, softened,
125 g white sugar,
250 g dates, finely chopped,
250 g flour,
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda,
1 tsp vanilla essence,
250 ml milk
Butter a glass bowl or pudding mould of 2-litre capacity. Have ready a piece of foil, with a fold down the middle, large enough to cover the top; butter it well. Have ready a piece of muslin to tie over the top of the bowl, with string. Have ready a large pot of water on the boil, with a trivet in it on which to stand the bowl. Dissolve the sugar in the water and boil for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and pour into the base of the bowl. Add the chopped cherries and fruit. Cream the butter well and add the sugar. Beat well for a few minutes. Add the chopped dates and stir them in. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Add the egg and vanilla essence to the milk, beat well. Stir the flour mixture and milk mixture alternatively into the date mixture. Stir well and pour over the fruit in the bowl. Cover with the prepared foil and muslin and steam for two hours. Turn out on to a plate with sloping sides to accommodate the juice. Slice and serve with warm vanilla custard.
Wine suggestions: This kind of dessert needs a sweetie. Stellar Organics - Dudley Wilson makes great wines that happen to be organic - have a stunner called Heaven on Earth Vin de Paille if you are lucky enough to lay your hands on some. Or at really great value the Swartland Winery produces two Jerepikos, a red and a white. The red is made from Pinotage and has smoky fynbos tomato bush and dark treacle overtones; the white is a Chenin all raisins and Bluegum honey. For a real treat the Ridgeback Natural Sweet Viognier has some refreshing fruit acids which will be a perfect counterpoint to the pud!
Well, let me scrub down the old oak kitchen table. I'll keep my notebook and pencil handy so I'll have lots to talk about next time. Please visit my website www.noshnews.co.za – there's a mine of information there about books, wine, places to stay and good food. Or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Till next time, eat and drink well.