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Tales of the Karoo platteland and a recipe for all-day venison: take a sneak peek into Tony Jackman’s foodSTUFF

foodSTUFF

The cookbook as memoir, or memoir as cookbook? With foodSTUFF, maverick food writer Tony Jackman presents us with a refreshingly original take on life and food.

He relates every heartache, every joy, and does not shy away from imparting the pain of loss of a family member or his troubled relationship with his father.

The stories of his journey towards adulthood are counterbalanced by rich tales from his life. foodSTUFF has many meaty recipes, spicy poultry dishes, some of Jackman’s eccentric signature dishes, and desserts he likes to spoil his friends with.

Jackman, known in particular for his article “Sliced & Diced” in the Weekend Argus, invites you into his world, from humble beginnings in an English working-class family to an illustrious career as an unapologetically eccentric South African foodie, playwright and author.

foodSTUFF tosses together tales from a rich, nomadic life with masses of meaty recipes (Obies oxtail potjie, beef fillet with melted French Brie, parsley-crusted rack of lamb); spicy poultry dishes (tamarind duck curry, chicken coconut curry); a handful of signature dishes (spanspek soup, bacon-and-beer braai bread); and the desserts with which Jackman likes to spoil his friends (the chocolatiest chocolate tart ever, lemon syrup cake, pears in Chardonnay Pinot Noir with a Parmesan wafer).

Get a taste for Tony’s book with this excerpt and recipe…

The T-shirt was black and bore an image of tall buildings, the Empire State at the centre. The legend: ‘I lost my heart to NYC.’ This tiny main-street fashion store was an odd place to find this wayward item of clothing, for we were not in Manhattan but in Calvinia, Northern Cape, South Africa.

As if to illustrate the irony, a blowsy woman pointed to the T-shirt my wife was eyeing and declared, ‘NYC? What’s NYC?’

Yep, you’re in the country now, and not everyone who lives here has ventured much beyond Nieuwoudtville, the world’s flower capital, 70 kilometres away. If you think this is a swipe at local habits, the truth is that the more you travel, the more you find that there are people everywhere, NYC included, who choose to keep it local and aren’t overly interested in anything beyond the highway that leads out of town.

When we lived in West Sussex we knew a woman who had never been to London, barely 100 kilometres away. We met a horse-and-cart driver in Kilkenny, Ireland, who had never been to Dublin or Galway. Nor did he want to. Many Yorkshire folk, members of my family included, either never go to London or, like my cousin Molly, went once and vowed never to go back. And local is, as we like to say, lekker, whether local means Brooklyn, Midhurst, Bradford or Calvinia.

So when in New York City, Rome, wherever, I like to do things the local way, and when in a place like Calvinia I seek out the local meat. There’s an annual meat festival here to celebrate the top-class lamb from this sheep-farming region of the Hantam Karoo. This is the western reach of the vast plains that sweep much of the interior of South Africa, and in March it’s hot and still, with a Karoo breeze picking up late afternoon to cool your evening around the braai.

On that morning, we left the local fashion boutique and wandered into the butchery next door where beautifully prepared cuts of meat were set out in a bank of fridges. The pork and beef are brought in, I was told, but the lamb was all local.

There were legs, shanks, slabs of rib, and lambs’ necks.

The last time I’d cooked lamb’s neck whole, I’d underestimated the cooking time or, more truthfully, run out of time. And there’s no point in cooking lamb’s neck at all if it isn’t allowed to become fall-off-the-bone tender. It’s impossible to gouge the meat out of the knobby bones if it’ even remotely tough. But when it is super soft – as it should be – you can pick up the bone and suck out the juicy contents. A bib would not be out of place.

Next door to the butchery was an old-fashioned bottle store with a wooden counter where an old feller, looking the worse for wear, packaged up the bottle of Tassenberg red I’d selected. Around the corner there was another bottle store where I bought a bottle of red fortified wine labelled Travino Matador, which the shop assistant said was a red muscadel. According to the label it was wooded, which immediately intrigued me.

At the Hantam Huis, which for years had surely been the best country store in the land, we bought a jar of tomato konfyt. They made the best breakfasts anywhere, complete with top-end boerewors and skilpaadjie (caul-wrapped lamb’sliver) and wonderful stoneground porridge served with fynbos honey.

Just outside the kitchen door of the house at which we were staying was a well-established rosemary bush, which I had partially denuded on earlier visits, and some sprigs of this, combined with the Tassies, the wooded fortified red, and some fresh garlic and ginger I had bought, became the makings of a slow-cooked pot-roasted lamb’s neck that I left to simmer away for the rest of the day.

My base was the Boekehuis, a very old Karoo house with creaking floors and the presence of spirits unseen.

You’re alone in the house for a week and when you climb into bed and turn out the light, you pull the bed sheets up over your chin and open your eyes wide like a child who’s been warned about the tokoloshe. There are curious scurryings of what you hope are tiny birds’feet on the corrugated-iron roof. The walls make hushed, mysterious noises.

It’s all strangely welcome, because this is a house to write in and it sharpens you up, a creaky house where I wrote two plays and where my wife wrote her novel. Where David Kramer has spent long days and nights writing, where Helen Walne wrote her searingly honest The Diving about her brother’s suicide and where many great South African works first found their pages.

It’s a house in which you can write of dark and uncomfortable things.

The Boekehuis is part of the life’s work of formidable and elegant Alta Coetzee and it is my favourite house anywhere other than the homes in which I have lived. It’s a house where you welcome the drawing in of the night so that you can light a fire in the old black kitchen range and put a pot on. Where you open a bottle of aged Cabernet Sauvignon and glug-glug-glug it into a glass, where the wine goes to your head as you pore over your research material to absorb what will turn into words the next morning. Where once, after I had finished a draft of my first play, Alta’s one-of-a-kind doctor-wine connoisseur husband Erwin cracked open a bottle of Cristal to toast my work. So here’s a toast to Alta and Erwin Coetzee and their benevolent charity to writers. I might sommer drink the whole bottle.

ALL-DAY VENISON

Whether you’re in the Hantam Karoo, the Klein Karoo or the Moordenaars Karoo, if you don’t hunt game you need a mate who does – someone who lives on a farm or shoots buck in the wild
to sell the fine meat to fancy restaurants.

Once in a while, they will pop by to hand you a bag with something intriguing in it. A haunch of warthog, a loin of takbok (fallow deer), or a quartet of springbok shanks. This is a more-or-less recipe for whatever venison has been bestowed on you.

Cut into small pieces and treat in the way the French and Italians do, which means cooked slowly forever at a bashful temperature.

Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until lightly golden. Add the cans of tomato and braai relish, wine, apple jelly, coriander, turmeric, Worcestershire sauce and sherry. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.

Add the cubed meat and stir to coat. Add the chopped parsley. Bring back to a very gentle simmer, cover, and allow to burble away for several hours. This needs to be very ‘stewy’, with the meat disintegrating so that it almost becomes one with the developing sauce.

About an hour before it’ s likely to be ready, stir the cornflour and milk together until no lumps remain, then add a little at a time to the pot, stirring with a wooden spoon. Cover again and allow to simmer until done.

Serve with buttery mashed potato.

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Tbs olive oil
1 x 410 g can
chopped tomatoes
1 x 410 g can braai relish
(chopped tomatoes and
onions with chilli)
1 large glass dry white wine
1–3 Tbs apple jelly
(or similar)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
dash Worcestershire sauce
splash of sherry (or port)
salt and pepper to taste
800 g lean venison,
cut into small cubes
handful parsley leaves (stems
removed), finely chopped
1 Tbs cornflour
2 Tbs milk

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