Cradock - There are times when the thing you’ve planned doesn’t go the way you thought it would.
You organise a birthday beach party with colourful cocktails and silly hats, but the wind comes up, the horizon turns black and forbidding and the clouds scud grimly closer until they’re ready to drench your party.
We’re just not in charge when it comes down to it.
In popular culture, my favourite illustration of this is the gourmet night episode of the endlessly entertaining British sitcom from the 1970s, Fawlty Towers, in which Basil Fawlty conceives a brilliant idea for a riffraff-free gourmet event in the hotel dining room, at which everything goes wrong.
There can’t be many readers who wouldn’t know the episode, but it’s that final scene, by which time he’s been reduced to offering either duck with orange, duck with cherries or “duck surprise”, that resonated with me last weekend. (It turned out to be duck with neither orange nor cherries, or would have, had the wrong salver not been sent around from the nearby French restaurant, to reveal a huge, moulded blancmange.)
There were no duck surprises at the Bedford Garden Festival last weekend, where we had taken a stall to sell springbok sosaties with mustard mayo to the punters. They had a huge marquee lined on three sides with people selling lamb burgers, koeksisters, biltong, curries and more.
We set up our gas range – a portable two-burner on iron legs – and I began grilling the sosaties to be ready for the hordes who, we had been told, would soon be pouring into the tent for breakfast.
The punters want what they want. And that day they wanted the R25 lamb burgers, not the R35 venison sosaties. We did sell a reasonable number of them (and the price, by the way, was based on us having paid R17 for each sosatie, and let’s not mention the side salad, the fuel to drive the 90km from Cradock, and all the rest).
But the point of this ramble is not to whinge. And by 1pm it became clear that if we did not pack it in soon, the other 80 sosaties would start to spoil and have to be thrown out. So we made a sensible decision to load up the car and head back home.
What was that about the best-laid plans? Oh yes. On Daggaboersnek about 55km from Cradock, we both noticed that the aircon had changed from super-cool to hot. I checked the temperature gauge and it was in the red zone. I pulled over, opened the bonnet, and there was a great hissing. Not having any idea what all those things are under the bonnet, I had to call the AA, and the day ended with us both squeezed into the cabin of a tow truck, to be deposited at home while Misha from Custom Motors took my car off to be nursed back to health.
This being the Karoo, the tow truck guy helped us unload all our stuff from the back of the car and take it into the house, where I eyeballed the plastic bakkie of 80 skewers of springbok and decided what to do with them.
First thought was the party who had booked into our dining room function venue for lunch on Wednesday. Right. They’d be having venison. They’re a friendly bunch who visit us once a month, a lunch club who get together every Wednesday at one or other venue in Cradock.
Maybe I’d call it “venison surprise”, but of course those 80 skewers would be ridiculously too much for them. But the freezer has space for a few bakkie loads of all the remainder, so I’d label them “venison surprise” and we could have them now and then when I didn’t feel like cooking.
I’ll set out a recipe for a fraction of all that, of course. Suffice to say that I made a far greater version in the enormous dek, the Durban word for the sort of pot you find in a busy restaurant kitchen.
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 Tbs olive oil
1 x 410g can chopped tomatoes
1 x 410g can braai relish (chopped tomatoes and onions with chilli)
1 large glass dry white wine
3 Tbs apple jelly or similar
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Splash of port or sherry
800g lean venison cubed
Handful of parsley leaves, no stems, finely chopped
1 Tbs cornflour
2 Tbs milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until lightly golden. Add cans of tomato and braai relish, wine, apple jelly, spices, sauce and sherry or port. Season with salt and pepper, tasting. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add cubed meat and stir to coat. Add chopped parsley. Bring back to a simmer, cover, and allow to simmer for several hours. This needs to be very “stewy” with meat disintegrating so that it almost becomes one with the developing sauce. About an hour before it’s likely to be ready, stir cornflour and milk together until no lumps remain, then add it a bit at a time to the pot, while stirring with a wooden spoon. Cover again and let it simmer until done.
Serve with buttery mashed potato. It’s great, and it beats having your best-laid plans skewered.