Monday, 22 August 2011

Eating local

The locavore movement (also called, with charming political overtones, ‘food patriotism’) encourages people to eat food that’s been grown and processed not further than about 600 km distant. The aim of the movement is both to save on the eco-costs of transporting foodstuffs long distances and to promote economic, environmental and social sustainability within communities.

If you keep an eye on what fruits and vegetables are ripening when within your area, eating local is easy. Here in the Riebeek Valley, we’re fortunate to have a small Crisp outlet, and a regular Crisp emailer that tells us what’s in season.

I recently was given two unusual local ingredients.

Table Mountain mushrooms

‘Are you mad?’ That was Scrumptious author and foodie Jane-Anne’s comment when I told her I’d made soup from mushrooms harvested on Table Mountain. But I did get the mushrooms from my brother-in-law, Buzz, who, like Jane-Anne, is a kitchen wizard, so I didn’t worry about their safety for eating.

Perhaps I should have. I work for Buzz, and our professional relationship isn’t always plain sailing – in fact, it’s fair to say that we spend much of our time in varying states of near-murderous rage with each other. Last year, when my sister (Buzz’s wife) asked him what he thought of the idea of taking me away for my birthday, he replied, ‘As long as it’s near a high cliff so I can throw her off it.’ (My sister sensibly booked a weekend away in a low-lying valley.)

Anyway, to make the soup, I reconstituted the dried Table Mountain mushrooms and supplemented them with bought button mushrooms. I softened onions and garlic in butter, added the mushrooms (including the liquor from the reconstituted mushrooms) and some homemade chicken stock, let it simmer until it thickened up a bit, added lots of fresh parsley, and served the soup with a swirl of cream. The button mushrooms were nicely chewy, while the Table Mountain mushrooms had an almost sponge-like texture and a very strong flavour. By coincidence, a sous chef from a local eatery was visiting, and he declared the soup delicious. And none of us frothed at the mouth (Jane-Anne’s concern).

Shoulder of springbok

My friend Herman is a hunter, and he shot a springbok last weekend, and gave me the shoulder to cook. Springbok is a challenge to prepare, I discovered, because it has almost zero fat, so it’s got to be done with a very light hand if you don’t want to end up eating hot biltong. I marinated the shoulder in a bottle of red wine, lots of garlic, onions, juniper berries, lemon zest, herbs and various other goodies. Then I seared it and wrapped it in bacon. I cut up onions and celery and put them in a large roasting pot, added the springbok, the marinade and some chicken stock, and oven-roasted it for just under an hour.

Using the strained juices, I made a rich gravy by adding a bar of dark chocolate, a splash of port and about half a jar of quince jelly. We were all hungry by this time so the gravy was a bit thin – it should have reduced a bit more. I served it with lightly steamed whole baby marrows and pan-roasted potatoes.

Dirk did an excellent job of carving. The meat was very tasty but fairly tough – it was still pink near the bone, so this wasn’t a product of overcooking; springbok is just like that.

It’s hard to say whether the springbok or its method of preparation had anything to do with how the evening unfolded. We’d started early because everyone was tired after a long week, so when someone mentioned that they could hear a rooster crowing, I said, ‘Oh, don’t worry, it doesn’t mean anything, they just sometimes do that.’ Then I went and had a look at the clock and discovered it was 4.30am. We’d been playing Very Loud Music for hours, so I had a moment of panic about having kept the neighbours awake – but then I pulled myself together and just fervently hoped that we’d given the three yappy dachshunds over the road a sleepless night, to get them back for the endless hours they wreck the neighbourhood peace.

We stripped the springbok shoulder of its meat, but even the bone didn’t go to waste – here’s Sara, polishing it off. (Thanks, Herman, from all of us.)


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